How to Beat a Work Addiction

There's a distinct difference between being highly engaged in your work and having an addiction to it. While both involve working excessively, workaholism is a real and serious behavioral addiction that's characterized primarily by the negative consequences it causes, including reduced satisfaction with your job, which can permeate other areas of your life. Like other addictions, overcoming an addiction to work requires more than willpower alone.

Are You a Workaholic?

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale was developed by researchers from the University of Bergen to help differentiate between workaholism and a high level of engagement with work. If you answer "often" or "always" to four or more of the following seven criteria, you may have a work addiction:

  • You're always considering ways to free up more time for work.
  • You typically spend more time working than you intended.
  • Work helps reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt, or helplessness.
  • You've been told by friends, co-workers, or family that you spend too much time working, but you don't listen.
  • When you're prevented from working, you become stressed or anxious.
  • You prioritize work over your hobbies and other leisure activities.
  • Working excessively has affected your health.

Additionally, Dr. Steven Sussman, a professor of psychology and preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, identified several elements of addiction to help better define workaholism. According to Sussman, any behavioral addiction, including workaholism:

  • Satisfies an instinctive physical desire, but the satisfaction is only temporary
  • Is characterized by a preoccupation with and a loss of control over the behavior
  • Results in negative consequences

The Negative Consequences of a Work Addiction

Up to 17.5 percent of college educated people suffer from workaholism, according to Sussman, and it has been shown to result in a number of physical and mental health problems that can lower your quality of life, including:

  • Insomnia and other problems with sleep
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Weight gain
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety
  • Stress-related conditions like high blood pressure
  • Frequent stomachaches and headaches
  • Burnout, which may include feelings like exhaustion and loss of control
  • Feeling dissatisfied with your life in general

In addition to the health problems caused by a work addiction, those with workaholism experience more work-family conflicts, and they function more poorly outside of work than their non-workaholic counterparts, according to an article published in the Journal of Behavioral Addiction.

Treating Workaholism

If you have a work addiction, you likely have underlying issues that contribute to your need to work excessively, and it's probably not realistic for you to take others' well-meaning advice and simply "stop working so much."

If the negative consequences of your working habits have affected your health, your relationships, and your overall quality of life, three treatment approaches in particular can help you make meaningful changes in your life and lead to a better work-life balance:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you identify and replace self-destructive thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes about work with those that are healthier.
  2. Motivational Interviewing helps you to identify how you would prefer your life to be, determine the steps you need to take to achieve that life, and strengthen your intrinsic motivation for making the necessary changes to make your vision a reality.
  3. Workaholics Anonymous (WA) is a well established self-help support group dedicated to those who wish to overcome a work addiction and find a higher level of satisfaction in both the work place and in the other areas of life. You can engage with WA online, or find a chapter near you to meet with others struggling with workaholism.

Excessive work habits shouldn't keep you from enjoying your life. Striking a balance and defining clear boundaries between your work and your life will help you more fully enjoy both.

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