Work Addiction

Hard Worker


Eating, sleeping, working etc. are normal human behaviors. Any lack or excess in these normal activities call for a disturbance in human health, for example, insomnia, Hypersomnia, are sleep related disorders, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are eating related disorders and work addiction is a disorder characterized by a human urge to work over and above what is considered normal.

While it may sound like a colloquial way of describing an ambitious professional, work addiction (or the condition of being a “workaholic”) is actually a recognized and documented medical condition. It is described as the compelling urge to continue working until exhaustion hits. The addict is too much absorbed in the task that he forgets everything, including his friends and family, in order to satisfy his addiction.

Individuals afflicted with this disorder experience an increase in dopamine secretion when they are exposed to work. They usually seek more and more challenges and often put in more thought and effort into a task than it may essentially require. This disorder may stem from a need to satisfy their ambitions, ego, or financial goals. However, the difference between being “compelled” to work overtime and being a workaholic is that addicts usually get a “high” from working long hours and are unable to stop themselves in spite of knowing the negative consequences of their addiction.

Signs and Symptoms

It is quite tough to recognize this addiction, especially in cultures where spending long hours at work is appreciated and accepted as a “normal” part of life. However, the following signs and symptoms can help you recognize a work addict.

  • Spending long hours at work even when it is not required
  • Losing sleep over work and often getting up in the middle of the night
  • Being obsessed with professional achievement
  • An underlying fear of failure, especially in the eyes of coworkers
  • Always feeling obsessed with performing at work
  • Convoluted and degenerated personal relationships due to putting in long hours at work for continuous periods of time
  • Being defensive about your attitude towards work
  • Evading other responsibilities and relationships of life by using work as an excuse

Causes and Risk Factors

It is believed that work addiction is also caused in the same way other addictions are brought about. Monoamines play an important role in relaying the feelings of “pleasure” and joy onto the person. These individuals often experience an unnatural increase in dopamine secretion when they are faced with challenging situations at work.

In some extreme cases, even the thought of working can cause a chemical imbalance in the monoamines of the brain, making it a “pleasurable” experience. Monoamines not only cause addiction to certain activities, but also result in “teaching” the human brain about the activities that give pleasure. In this way, a person gets addicted.

People who look to escape a troubled family life may find enjoyment in keeping themselves busy for long hours. Over years of following such a  routine, people become addicted without knowing it. In other words, people cannot do anything else except working when they have been using it as an alibi to escape certain social situations.

Workaholics are exposed to certain risks:

  • Loss of social life
  • Rift in personal relationships
  • Fatigue
  • Occupational hazards (weak eyesight, injuries etc)
  • Depression from leading a monotonous life
  • Distress
  • Substance abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide


Treating this addiction can be difficult, especially in the light of the fact that it is not really seen as a negative aspect in many societies. In most cases, the person needs to go to support programs offered by a rehabilitation center to realize the importance of maintaining work-life balance. Individuals may undergo CBT (Cognitive behavior therapy) in order to understand the negative consequences of their actions. Sometimes, medications and anti-depressants may be administered to overcome aggression and restlessness surfacing as withdrawal symptoms. Before enrolling in a program, it is important to talk to the physician to explore options and figure out the best options for the respective case.


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