“Workaholism,” or work addiction, is a behavioral pattern in which a person experiences an excessive and compulsive drive to work. This may lead to reduced self-care, relationship issues, and health problems.

Work addiction is not currently a formal disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

However, the behavior involved shares similarities with other addictive behaviors and has been the subject of research and psychological inquiry.

Personal and situational factors may contribute to the development of work addiction. Personality traits and a person’s working environment may play a role.

This article explains work addiction in more detail, including its symptoms, potential causes, and when someone may need to seek help with an addiction to working.

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Work environments can be demanding, and people may experience pressure to overwork from employers. However, the following symptoms may potentially indicate an addiction to work:

Spending excessive time on work

People experiencing work addiction typically spend an excessive amount of time working.

This may include working long hours, including during weekends or holiday time, and consistently bringing work home.

They may find it challenging to detach themselves from work mentally and emotionally. This can lead to difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries between work and personal life.

A person may:

  • constantly think about work
  • make themselves permanently available for work-related tasks
  • check work-related emails or messages during personal time
  • feel guilty or anxious when not working
  • have difficulty saying no to additional work demands
  • feel reluctant to take breaks or vacations

Difficulties with forgetting about work during free time may lead a person to neglect their personal life and relationships.

A compulsive need for achievement

A person experiencing work addiction may experience an intense drive to succeed and may define their worth by their accomplishments.

This can include:

  • setting excessively high goals
  • constantly seeking recognition
  • feeling unsatisfied even when achieving milestones

People who develop work addiction often exhibit perfectionistic tendencies, striving for flawless performance.

They may have difficulty delegating tasks and experience significant stress over minor mistakes or imperfections.

Neglecting self-care

With this pattern of behavior, a person may prioritize work over self-care activities such as exercise, relaxation, and leisure time. They may not allocate time to tend to their physical and mental well-being, increasing the risk of stress and burnout.

Excessive work and chronic stress can lead to physical and mental health problems. People may experience symptoms such as:

Read our article about work anxiety.

The causes of work addiction or a tendency to overwork can be multifaceted and vary from person to person.

However, some common factors that can contribute to the development of this behavior pattern include:

  • Work culture and environment: A 2023 article suggests industries or workplaces that promote long working hours and excessive competitiveness or place a high value on constant availability and productivity can foster “workaholic” behavior.
  • Fear of failure or loss: A person may fear failure and believe their self-worth aligns with their achievements. This can drive them to work excessively to maintain a sense of control and security.
  • Coping mechanisms and avoidance: Some people may use work as a coping mechanism if they are experiencing personal issues or difficult emotions. Immersing themselves in work may offer a distraction from other areas of their life that are causing stress or dissatisfaction.
  • Work-life imbalance: Work addiction can stem from a lack of balance between work and personal life. Factors such as blurred boundaries and difficulty prioritizing personal activities and self-care can lead to a disproportionate focus on work.

Learn more about self-care.

A 2021 article suggests that certain work environments and occupations can increase the risk of work addiction.

This is particularly true in industries that value long working hours, high competitiveness, and constant availability. The article’s authors suggest that external pressures and expectations in the workplace may contribute to work addiction.

This may include:

  • demanding, heavy workloads
  • strict deadlines
  • high expectations from supervisors, peers, or clients

A 2023 article suggests that people who display traits that fit the category of a type A personality may be more likely to show a tendency toward work addiction.

They suggest certain character patterns of behavior, such as perfectionism, may contribute to work addiction.

Learn about taking stress leave from work.

Experiencing one or two of the tendencies this article describes does not necessarily mean someone has an addiction to work.

However, if these symptoms persist and significantly impact a person’s life, this may indicate a pattern that warrants attention and intervention.

Because work addiction is not a formal disorder that the DSM-5-TR or the ICD-11 recognizes, doctors cannot formally diagnose it.

However, these behavior patterns can contribute to physical and mental health conditions that may require treatment and management.

Treating an addiction to work may involve establishing healthier work-life boundaries and adopting strategies for stress management and self-care.

According to a 2021 article, some approaches that can help manage and prevent work addiction include:

A person may also be able to speak with a supervisor or a member of the HR department at their workplace about their stress levels.

If someone is experiencing chronic stress, burnout, or an inability to recover and recharge from work-related demands, it is important that they seek medical help and support.

Mental health professionals can assist in developing alternative behavior patterns and stress management techniques.

Some indicators that suggest a person may benefit from professional help include:

  • persistent physical and mental health issues related to difficulty detaching from work
  • an impact on overall well-being, including impaired functioning in daily life and relationships
  • difficulty managing or stopping certain behaviors, such as working excessive hours
  • experiencing chronic stress and burnout

Read on for answers to some common questions about work addiction.

Is work addiction a good or bad thing?

A 2018 literature review suggests there is a distinction in existing research between “positive” and “negative” forms of work addiction.

However, the article’s authors suggest that any short-term benefits of excessive work do not outweigh the potential consequences of work addiction. The behaviors it leads to can cause chronic stress, burnout, strained relationships, and a lower quality of life.

What personality types may experience work addiction?

People with various personality types may experience work addiction. However, it may be more likely in people with certain traits, such as high levels of perfectionism, conscientiousness, drive, and ambition.

A tendency toward work addiction may also correlate with having a “type A” personality, but further research is necessary to confirm this.

Work addiction is a complex phenomenon and is not currently an official medical condition. It can cause a person to experience obsessive thoughts about work and difficulty detaching from work or putting boundaries around personal time. This may lead to physical and mental health problems.

Overcoming work addiction may be a gradual process that requires commitment and persistence. However, people can speak with healthcare professionals to access support.

Treatment may involve CBT, learning to prioritize self-care, and practicing setting boundaries.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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