Workaholics: Not Just a TV Show

When hearing the word “addiction,” most think about alcohol and drug dependency, which conjures images of individuals who are unhealthy to the point of emaciation, unwashed and unkempt, having plunged themselves into lives of financial despair due to the high expensive of a daily substance abuse habit. Although alcohol and drug addiction represent a disease that has become an epidemic in the nation and even the world at large, there are many other forms of addiction that can be destructive and harmful as well. 

Often referred to as behavioral addictions or impulse control disorders, these types of dependencies involve an individual developing a compulsion to certain behaviors and the effects they experience when they act on those compulsions. Some of the most common behavioral addictions include exercise addiction, internet addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, and even addiction to working.

Workaholics on Comedy Central is a comedic television show that depicts three stoners working dead-end jobs as telemarketers, sharing one in a labyrinth of cubicles. Other characters on the show—though not usually portrayed as fun-loving, pot-smoking merry men like the main three—are similarly low-reaching, making the show’s title more ironic than accurate. 

While the characters of the show—Blake, Adam, and Anders—are more illustrative of workplace slackers than workaholics, there have been a number of studies seeking to definitively determine whether work addiction was real. What we’ve come to learn about these so-called workaholics and this unique form of addiction is very enlightening.

Work Addiction: Is It Real?

The term “workaholic” began as a portmanteau (“work” + “alcoholic”) that was first used in the 1960s to describe individuals who exhibited similar patterns when working excessively as alcoholics or drug addicts. While the term was often used in a comical way to refer to those who are particularly driven and motivated for workplace success, work addiction has actually been found to exist in a number of those who cannot control the compulsion to work.

For most individuals, working is a means to an end; holding a job means having steady, reliable income, which affords the ability to support oneself by keeping a roof over one’s head, paying the bills, and perhaps treating oneself now and then—dining out, seeing a movie, yearly vacations, and so on—as a reward for hard work and perseverance. In short, the average person continues to go to work because it’s necessary to live; however, for a small number of individuals, it would seem that instead of working to live, they live to work.

Work addiction, or workaholism, refers to an individual’s compulsion to work. When an individual is an actual workaholic, he or she is unable to control or stop working; although it often begins as ambition to succeed or sometimes due to a possible promotion, work addiction is present when the individual isn’t necessarily working toward any particular goal, but rather feels compelled to work for the sake of working.

Same Addiction, Different Drug: How Work Addiction Works

Like any other type of addiction—whether to alcohol, harmful drugs, or a type of behavior—work addiction indicates that an individual has become powerless to the compulsion to work. As such, individuals who are suffering from work addiction experience a sort of intoxication from the effects of working, which has become their drug of choice. 

However, the pleasure derived by a person with a work addiction when he or she works is increasingly short-lived, causing individuals who develop a work addiction to quickly escalate how much they work in order to obtain stronger or more frequent reinforcement. Another hallmark of addiction, workaholics will also experience the consequences that accompany working excessively, typically to their mental health, personal lives, and especially their relationships.

Addiction to work is often classified as a behavioral addiction as well as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since for those who have become workaholics, working has become an obsession to which they feel an ongoing compulsion. However, there are many other similarities between work addiction and OCD, especially with regard to how the obsessive, repetitive behavior satisfies an individual’s mind-encompassing desires. 

The obsession becomes so all-consuming that these individuals will often experience anxiety when they aren’t working or are unable to work. Moreover, similar to what a heroin addict experiences when he or she injects heroin, workaholics experience a rush of certain chemicals in the brain when they work, including things like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin; this provides feelings of pleasure that reinforce the behavior, making it more addictive and a stronger obsession.

Identifying & Treating Work Addiction

Work addiction has proven to be a very difficult condition to validate and identify with certainty. In our culture, being someone who works excessively is actually rewarded, commended, and even encouraged regardless of what such single-minded determination might cost someone. Individuals who work in a wide variety of industries are told to not only meet expectations but also encouraged to routinely exceed expectations. 

This makes it extremely difficult to determine when individuals are actual workaholics or whether they are working so obsessively due to some motivating factor, such as the promise of a promotion or pay raise. However, it’s been found that high-ranking executives and heads of industry tend to often be prone to addiction, which could illustrate the frequency with which work addiction is mistaken for motivation and determination.

Fortunately, there have been diagnostic criteria devised for a diagnosis of work addiction, making it somewhat easier to determine whether an individual’s compulsion to work is due to an external variable or because of an underlying addiction. It’s been found that workaholics will try to brainstorm strategies that would allow them to work more, which often entails sacrificing what would otherwise be important parts of their personal lives.

Additionally, workaholics will often spend more time working than they had actually intended. Many workaholics will have been told by loved ones or colleagues that they should cut down on their work hours for their health, but this advice will often go unfollowed. Workaholics have a strong tendency to de-prioritize activities that involve relaxation or leisure and become incredibly stressed or anxious if they are unable to work. For those suffering from work addiction, working excessively has begun to show signs of negatively affecting their health and wellness.

While it’s important to understand whether an individual’s compulsion to work is due to internal or external variables, it’s of almost equal importance to understand why an individual works so excessively and what he or she gets out of it. It’s been suggested that there are two types of work addicts: those who fill their lives with the excitement of constant work and those who work as a means of escaping their problems or personal lives. Being one type of workaholic or another will have an effect on the individual’s treatment and recovery.

Recovery from work addiction happens in a very similar way as other addictions like alcohol and drugs. Workaholics receive counseling and psychotherapy, which helps them to learn why they developed work addiction and is central in overcoming the compulsion to work. However, another important component of overcoming work addiction is the development of a support network. Individuals who are overcoming work addiction are strongly advised to find a nearby

However, another important component of overcoming work addiction is the development of a support network. Individuals who are overcoming work addiction are strongly advised to find a nearby Workaholics Anonymous group in which to participate, connecting them to individuals in their communities that have suffered from and overcame the same condition. Part of overcoming work addiction also involves finding balance and happiness in one’s personal life, including finding ways to enjoy leisure and relaxation rather than depending on the daily grind of work for happiness.

Find Your Way to Recovery Today

Although it may seem harmless, work addiction can have a very toxic effect on one’s life. Like other addictions, being a workaholic entails a variety of negative health effects as well as deterioration of one’s personal life and important relationships. If you or someone you love is suffering from work addiction or any other type of dependency, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help. Call today at 855-619-8070 to speak with one of our experienced recovery specialists who can offer a free assessment, which matches individuals to the treatments and programs that can best meet their recovery needs. A better, healthier, sober life is only a phone call away.