Work Addict? What To Do If You’re Addicted to Work

If you are a work addict, a person addicted to work, change is possible. But first you must determine why you are a work addict. Read more.

The main task in treating a work addict is helping him/her reconnect with their feelings, which can be a slow and difficult process, but recovery for a person addicted to work is possible.

If you're an unhappy work addict, there are steps you can take to change your lifestyle for the better, says Dr. Steven Ino, a clinical psychologist at the University of California-Santa Barbara who specializes in work addictions.

"There are stressors in the workplace that are very real," he says. "Organizations expect more and more from us, and employees without great energy, drive and determination may not make it. It's often true that you have to be somewhat work-addicted to survive. But most work addicts I see in treatment resent the time they spend on the job. They think it ruins whatever personal life they might have, but haven't a clue about what they need to do to change things around. They take on everyone else's responsibilities because they don't think anyone else can do the work as well as they can," he says.

Why Are You Addicted to Work?

To start dealing with an unhealthy work addiction, you should carefully appraise why you continue to work so single-mindedly despite the physical and emotional harm. You also must change how you relate to your subordinates, says Dr. Ino. Instead of being driven by distrust and micro-managing, focus on using your subordinates' time more productively and offering them greater direction and encouragement.

Of course, before you can change your behavior, you must examine the basis of your work addiction, such as who taught you to be a workaholic and what you can do to change the messages you were given about work as a child, says Dr. Cynthia Brownstein, an associate professor at Bryn Mawr College's School of Social Work in suburban Philadelphia.

"Overly controlling people are deeply distrustful, and need to change the reasons for their distrust," she says. "If work is the only personal life you have, you must be challenged to examine your fear of relationships and be shown how work is a poor substitute for love and affection."

From Work Addict to Peak Performancer

Alan Machican, chief computer analyst for the Bureau of Land Management in Bozeman, Mont., is a former work addict who decided to become a peak performer.

"It isn't easy to change a lifetime of believing that work has to be central in your life," he says. "While work is still very important, I've discovered that time-outs to relax, a personal life and other interests make me much happier. What used to take me 80 hours to accomplish now takes only 50. That's 30 hours each week for myself."

The key to Mr. Machican's success was his new-found ability to delegate. "I did most of it by just letting my subordinates do their work without constantly trying to do it for them," he says. "Change is tough, but I saw a counselor and it became clear that unless I stopped being so obsessive about work, it would end up killing me."

Getting Help When You're Addicted to Work

To help you diagnose a possible work addiction, review the following questions. If you answer yes to any of them, it's likely that you have an unhealthy addiction to work, says Susan Mendlowitz, a clinical social worker at Pacific Clinics, a treatment facility in Pasadena, Calif.

  • Is work more exciting than family or anything else in your life?
  • Do you often take work with you to bed?
  • Have your family and friends given up expecting you to be on time because of your work demands?
  • Do you become impatient with people who have priorities besides work?
  • Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going well?
  • Have your long hours at work hurt your personal relationships?
  • Do you think about work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
  • Is your life full of work-related stressors that affect your ability to sleep, diet and health?

Take our Workaholic Test.

Unhealthy work addictions are best dealt with by counselors and therapists who specialize in workplace problems. "Like all addictions, it's tough to stop the addicting behavior without professional help," says Ms. Mendlowitz. "Many agencies advertise help on the Internet, and a number of free self-help groups have sprung up. But like all addictions, workaholism gets worse with time. If you are a work addict, seeking help in the early stages may save you many years of unhappiness." (read about Workaholism Treatment)

Mental and Physical Health Effects of Being A Work Addict

A study of several large public and private social agencies in Southern California clarified the harmful effects of unhealthy work addictions. Mid- and senior-level managers were asked to estimate the amount of time they spent on the job each week. The productivity and effectiveness of their work was then evaluated. The study found that highly effective managers worked an average of 52 hours a week, while less productive managers averaged 70 hours of work per week.

Common standardized tests were administered to evaluate anxiety and depression levels in both groups of managers. Not surprisingly, managers who put in more hours and were considered less productive suffered from significantly greater depression and anxiety. They also reported twice the level of stress-related health problems, such as stomach ailments, headaches, lower back pain, and common colds. In fact, unproductive managers were absent from work almost three times as often as productive managers.

In this performance-driven economy, working hard is necessary to succeed on the job. But when work consumes you and makes you unhappy, you must face your addiction, perhaps with professional help. On the other hand, if you love your work and don't need to control every aspect of your job, you're one of the lucky people whose addiction to work is positive. You can expect the emotional, monetary and personal benefits of a happy career. Truly, some addictions can be good for your health.

About the author: Dr. Glicken is a professor of social work at California State University in San Bernardino, and a frequent contributor to the National Business Employment Weekly.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 16). Work Addict? What To Do If You’re Addicted to Work, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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