The Truth About Workaholism

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The Dangers of Becoming Addicted to Work

Most of us are familiar with AA (alcoholics anonymous) and NA (narcotics anonymous) – 12 step programs and addiction recovery centers help those through their recovery by means of a strong “support” network. But how many of us have heard about Workaholics Anonymous (WA)? We have always been aware of the phenomenon regarding those among us who put in the “extra” hours at work – 60+ hours a week at the office and much time at home working on job related issues. Often we assume that these people are in a profession that demands this type of work ethic: Lawyers, stock market brokers, high-end salespersons etc. Their intensity about their jobs relates to the financial rewards and security that those jobs offer. We generally don’t consider them to be “addicted” – their behaviour revolves around the materialistic rewards associated with the competitive nature of their job. We may even be envious of their devotion and commitment (two words highly esteemed in our capitalistic society) and wish we were in a position to “reap” the rewards that they seemingly achieve. We rarely ask ourselves (or them) if they are happy with their situation. We assume that they are. They are “successful”. Bill Gates and Donald Trump work like this and they epitomize the concept of “successful achievement”. Dare I say that we admire those who work at these extreme levels; we may even be inspired by their behaviour.

But there is a growing concern within the medical and psychological communities that this type of behaviour has some serious consequences. Workaholics tend to have a certain “compulsion” that drives their working habits. The compulsion overrides the “necessity” for the long hours – their success would not necessarily suffer if they were to “slow down” a bit. Their “desire” to work as many hours as they do is not always directly related to the “needs” of the job. The work becomes a kind of “escape” or “relief” from other “issues” that may be affecting their life. In the world of “addiction”, this is now sounding quite familiar. Admittedly, there are those who demonstrate the patterns of the workaholic because they do not necessarily have security in their job and recognize the competitive reality that stipulates that without the extra work, they could find themselves unemployed. They would rather NOT put in so many hours – they believe that they have to. But for others, the work becomes something more. The structure of the “work ethic” spills over into their personal lives and they find themselves consumed in a 24-hour pattern of regimental behaviour that consumes their weekends, vacation time (if they take any), hobbies and family relations. They feel that to live differently would constitute a “failure”. These are the people that could be suffering from an “addiction”.

Our society encourages hard work; and this “masks” the possible detrimental ramifications involved in the workaholic mentality. Studies have indicated that those who work excessively are more prone to serious health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, alcohol problems and even dementia. The stress levels involved often require extreme methods of “down time” decompression – alcohol or drugs to “unwind” at the end of the day. But it is still difficult to distinguish between compulsive and/or obsessive behaviour and “addiction”. Again, the societal acceptance of the equation: hard work = success, enables a dismissive attitude regarding the term “addiction” as it relates to the work place. But, where is the “line” that separates work from personal and family life? Ultimately, the individual has to decide where that line lies. If, however, he or she is “trapped” within the confines of “addiction”, determining if there even is a line becomes a difficult task indeed.

So we come back to WA. The fact that such a support group exists is strong evidence that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. When quality of life is being compromised by working habits and a mentality manifests that becomes “dependent” upon work related issues, it is easily possible to recognize the similarity with those “acknowledged” addictions that society is able to recognize and sympathize with. Addiction is defined as: “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.” For workaholics, their activities are consumed with work related issues. They can become “enslaved” to their work, just as someone with alcoholism becomes enslaved to alcohol and someone with a drug addiction becomes enslaved to a narcotic. The similarities are undeniable and our society would do well to engage in a reassessment of their attitudes towards workaholics and to encourage the medical and psychological research that is being done in this field. Just as there are those who can stop after one or two drinks and those who can’t; there are those who can “stop” work at 5pm and those who can’t. 

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The Truth About Workaholism