It surprises some people to learn that workaholism is an actual condition rather than simply a catchphrase used to convey to others how much time you spend working. You may joke about being a workaholic, but if you have trouble separating yourself from your work and it’s negatively impacting your life, you may find that you actually suffer from this condition and are at risk of suffering the dangers associated with a work addiction.
Workaholism has been studied for nearly 50 years, and while no single definition has been embraced by the medical and mental health communities at large, there is widespread agreement that workaholism is characterized by working so much that you no longer find enjoyment in your work.
Workaholism is an addiction in that it meets the following criteria of a physical or behavioral addiction, as identified by University of Southern California psychology professor Dr. Steven Sussman (1), who has devoted his career to the study of addiction and workaholism:
- It satisfies a physical and instinctive desire
- Its effects are only temporary
- It’s characterized by an obsession with the behavior
- It’s marked by the inability to control the behavior
- It results in negative consequences
If you work your fingers to the bone and find yourself energized and inspired afterwards, you probably don’t have workaholism. But if you put in seemingly endless hours at work and suffer negative consequences because of it, you likely do.
The Dangers of Workaholism
The work-life imbalance that comes with workaholism lowers your overall quality of life and causes problems related to your health and your interpersonal relationships. Some of the health problems identified by Sussman that are associated with workaholism include:
- Insomnia and related sleep problems
- Physical and emotional exhaustion and mental burnout
- Weight gain
- A sedentary lifestyle that involves sitting for extended periods of time, which is highly detrimental to your health, even if you exercise regularly
- Emotional and mental health problems like anger, anxiety, and depression
- High blood pressure and other problems related to stress
- Frequent headaches, including migraines
- Problems with digestion, including constipation, diarrhea, and stomach pains
- Nutritional deficiencies from neglecting to eat or from eating unhealthy food
- An increased risk of heart disease, a heart attack, or stroke
- A weakened immune system and frequent illnesses
But the negative effects of workaholism don’t end with physical symptoms. If you’re a workaholic, you may feel like you’ve lost control over your life, and you may feel like your quality of life leaves a lot to be desired. You may find find that the strain of never being around negatively impacts your relationships with your significant other, your children, and your friends.
Hobbies and other leisure activities typically take a back seat to work, which seems to infiltrate other activities, further reducing the enjoyment of life and satisfaction with familial and social relationships.
What You Can Do
Like any addiction, workaholism usually involves underlying issues that have led to the proclivity to work until you suffer the negative consequences. Identifying and addressing those issues are central to beating a work addiction.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and other traditional “talk” therapies, as well as various alternative therapies like meditation and biofeedback, can help you achieve a work-life balance and improve your quality of life, your relationships, and your attitude toward your job.