Are you addicted to your job? Is it getting in the way of your relationships and health overall? Here is why it is a problem and why you need to deal with it.

When you think of the word ‘addiction’, you will likely think of drugs and alcohol, or something like gambling – one that causes actual damage to your health. However, do you consider work to be an addiction for some people? Likely not.

We have heard of the term ‘workaholic’ – someone who devotes too much of their time to their work. While this may not sound like a bad problem to have, it is actually a mental health condition that you may not know about, just like any other addiction.

Similar to the root cause of other addictions, it results from a compulsive desire to get more success and elevate your status, or even to escape stressful events at home or in your life. Another interesting point of note: it often occurs in people that describe themselves as perfectionists.

In addition, it is similar to any other kind of addiction because a person gets a ‘high’ just from working. This makes them repeat the behavior over and over again, and they are unable to stem the behavior even when it is leading to actual damage to their health and relationships.

The signs of work addiction

Let us be honest with ourselves – we live in a culture that praises hard work at every turn and admonishes laziness, so it is very difficult to diagnose work addiction. We are not saying that hard work is a bad thing – it is a very good character trait to be productive – but you need to know and recognize your limits, and workaholics do not seem to have that ability.

A person that is a workaholic will justify their behavior many times, because they believe that it is a good thing and is helping them achieve success, just like a drug addict. The difference is they appear to be very committed to their job, but it is important to differentiate addiction and ambition, since they are very different from each other.

Work addicts will do work compulsively so that they stay away from other aspects in their lives, for instance personal crises or emotional problems. They also engage in the behavior, many times without realizing the negative effects that it is causing in their lives.

The signs include spending very long hours at your workplace even when you do not need to, having an intense fear of failing at work, losing sleep for the sake of finishing projects, disregarding your personal relationships because of your work, and becoming obsessed with achieving success at your job. Someone with the addiction can also use their job as an excuse of avoiding personal relationships, and when others try to bring up the issue, they become defensive.

Diagnosing the problem

There is a scale that is used to pinpoint if someone has the condition, known as the Bergen work scale. It is accepted widely within the medical community, although it was initially developed by the University of Bergen.

The scale utilizes several factors to determine whether you have the condition, and they include how much specific aspects are applicable in your life. They are measured in a scale of never (1), rarely (2), sometimes (3), often (4), and always (5).

The aspects that you are asked about include thinking of how you can free up more time so that you work, you ignore requests asking you to reduce your work time, your work is an escape from anxiety, guilt and depression; you get stressed when you are not working, and you spend more time working than what you initially planned. You also tend to reduce the importance of pursuing other projects like your hobbies and fitness, and your work is actually making a negative impact on your health. If you answer often or always in more than four of these questions, then you might have a work addiction.

Options for treatment

Even though work addiction and drug addiction are almost the same in terms of their outcome and motivation, you do not need as much treatment for work addictions. However, you might want to consider getting into an outpatient or inpatient program that helps you manage the behavior.

Rehabilitation programs for mental health treatment can help, and even those that deal with alcohol and drug addictions can also assist you to recover because of their intensive approaches. The outpatient treatment facilities will allow you to live at home while commencing treatment, while inpatient facilities require you to stay therefor the duration of the recovery period.

Numerous people who are suffering from work addictions get assistance through joining 12-step groups, as well as other recovery programs. You can get group therapy options, as this will allow you to connect to other people going through the same thing, while getting a healthy level of support.

It is important to note that workaholic does not occur on its own in many cases. In fact, it stems from the effects of another mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Because of these reasons, it is a good idea to go through a general assessment of your mental health.

If there are other conditions present, the mental health expert can take you through an extensive treatment plan. This will address both the surface and underlying problems you are experiencing, which helps you to manage stress and impulses better.

Final thoughts

Just like any other addiction, it will usually get worse until you seek help. For instance, you may find yourself experiencing ‘burnout’, a major sign that you are exhausted mentally and physically. It also results in extreme stress, damaged relationships with others, and even drug and alcohol abuse.

The good news is that the condition is treatable and manageable, so it remains essential for the addict to change their relationship to their work into a healthy one. This helps in avoiding feelings of guilt when you are not working, and helps you create a balance between your work and your relaxation times.


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