a man covers his face as he considers negative health effects of compulsive work addiction

Compulsive Work Addiction

With 5.9 million people out of work, anyone who is still employed is understandably worried about the future. Will they still have a job tomorrow, next week, or next month? What do they have to do to keep their job? Additionally, with so many companies downsizing within the last few years, the remaining workers have to do more work to pick up the slack. However, even without the current economic downturn, the simple truth is that more and more Americans are slaves to their jobs. In short, they suffer from a condition known as compulsive work addiction.

Compulsive work addiction could be a result of conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is important to note that not everyone who is a workaholic has OCD, but many people with OCD are also workaholics. It can also lead to substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety. If you’re ready to find treatment for your addiction and mental health issues, Recovery Ranch TN is here to help. Call 1.844.876.7680 to learn more about our addiction and OCD treatment center.

Is Compulsive Work Addiction Real?

According to a recent University of California Santa Barbara study, more than 31 percent of college-age male workers worked more than 50 hours per week on a regular basis. That’s just one study. Corporations know that compulsive work addiction and burnout are serious problems. Additionally, many have engaged consultants or initiated programs to try to deal with the issue. This isn’t compassion on their part. Lost productivity due to burnout, workplace stress, and compulsive work addiction can seriously impact the bottom line. But experts are concerned with the effects of compulsive work addiction on the individual and his or her family and friends.

Burnout vs. Compulsive Work Addiction

Classic burnout is a severe condition involving physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that intensify over time. Without treatment, burnout leads to clinical depression. Work addiction is a very different condition whose roots often lie in the individual’s childhood. However, similar to burnout, without treatment, the worst-case scenarios end in the same type of clinical depression. Both burnouts and work addiction seem to be driven, committed, dedicated, and completely identified with their jobs. It’s the internal mechanism that is different.

Work addiction is internally like an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling in that the person has to have the fix. However, in this case, the fix that work provides. They simply can’t do without it.

It is important here to further differentiate between a hard worker, or type A personality, and a workaholic. The hard worker appears, in many respects, to have the same traits as the workaholic. However, they are always able to set healthy boundaries, clearly delineating work from play or non-work. Driven by underlying emotional issues, the person with compulsive work addiction experiences compulsive behaviors. Workaholics never take vacations, or they bring their work with them on vacation. Research, however, shows that too much work without balance and rest will eventually result in a breakdown. Compulsive work addiction is extremely dangerous to your health.

Negative Health Effects of Compulsive Work Addiction

Each individual has a unique tipping point as to how much stress and tension they can endure. As such, the physical and psychological symptoms of work-related stress, work addiction, and exhaustion will vary. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Anger and irritability, which is often unpredictable and explosive
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Extreme fatigue or low energy levels
  • Chest pains, shortness of breath
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
  • Overeating or eating too little

This list is not exhaustive, but it can indicate a problem.

How To Recognize Compulsive Work Addiction

Workaholics, like other people with addictions, may often be in deep denial about their addiction. The following signposts of a workaholic are adapted from Workaholics Anonymous (WA), a 12-step organization dedicated to helping individuals overcome their work addiction.

Inability to Relax

The workaholic finds it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to put aside work and relax. This spills over into every facet of the workaholic’s life, often seriously jeopardizing relationships.

Concerned with Image

Image is all-important to the workaholic. Without the constant approval of others, the workaholic feels less important and unlikeable. They feel that working harder will make others like them more.

Unreasonable Self Demands

No demand is too unreasonable for the workaholic who pushes more and more tasks on their plate. The workaholic no longer is able to distinguish between job-related demands and those that are self-imposed. The lack of ability to pace results in issues such as:

  • Overscheduled commitments
  • Racing to beat the deadline
  • Being afraid to fall behind
  • Working in a furious last-minute burst of frenzied energy to complete the mountain of work.

With no end in sight, no conclusion of work, no rest, inevitably, breakdown and burnout result.


The workaholic has to do things the right way. Mistakes are not acceptable to the workaholic. Since no one else can do the job quite as well, the compulsive work addict can’t delegate tasks to others. Instead, he has to do the job himself. As WA says, “Thinking ourselves indispensable often prevents our progress. Unrealistic expectations often cheat us of contentment.”

Inability to Wait

Waiting is painful to a person with compulsive work addiction. Their motto is, “Gotta get it done today.” As a result, the workaholic is more concerned with the quantity of the output rather than the quality of the work. Impatient to the extreme, the workaholic’s work is often not the best because of their skewed sense of crisis timing.

Being Too Serious and Responsible

Everything has to have a purpose for the workaholic. There’s no time to just stand by idle. Because they find it difficult to relax, workaholics often work even at play and are less and less able to laugh or feel a sense of renewal. How can they, when there’s so much work to do?

Work Is an Addiction

Just like alcohol is to alcoholic, drugs to a person dependent on drugs, gambling to a compulsive gambler, work is an addiction to the workaholic. The person stashes work away, so there’s always something meaningful to do. They take no pleasure in vacations and would rather be working. They may also lie to themselves and others about how much work he has to do.

Home Is Part of the Workplace

To the workaholic, home is just part of the office. There’s no boundary separating them. The work still has to be done – at the expense of a good night’s rest, spending time with the family, relaxing. Everyone around the workaholic arranges their time to suit their schedule in the fruitless hope that they’ll eventually get face-time.

Work Helps Deal with Life’s Uncertainties

The workaholic constantly worries and plans and overcompensates for every contingency. They may be hoping to be thus able to rationalize and deal with every uncertainty in life. Always having to be in control, the workaholic loses all sense of creativity, spontaneity, and flexibility.

Overworking Impacts Other Areas

In all this, the compulsive worker’s health gets neglected, their relationships become strained or broken, spirituality is forgotten, and recreation also suffers. The workaholic’s life is so out-of-balance that they are always thinking of the next assignment or task, everything is work-related, and there’s never a moment to enjoy life.

They Can’t Love or Accept Themself

Work has become so integral to the workaholic’s life that they can’t feel any love or self-acceptance. The workaholic uses work to gain others’ approval. In essence, the compulsive worker justifies their existence and finds his identity in work.

They Escape Feelings Through Work

Since feelings are too painful, the workaholic uses work to hide from them. As a result, the compulsive work addict has no idea who he really is or what he wants and needs.

Why Does Compulsive Work Addiction Occur?

Many work addicts grew up in highly stressful, chaotic homes. As they matured, they sought to replicate the level of intensity and stress in the workplace. If there isn’t a crisis, the workaholic creates one. In fact, the workaholic needs to simulate a crisis in order to become motivated to do their best work. This, however, is often just the opposite. After the adrenalin kicks in and overworking to get the job done, the workaholic often suffers withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and depression. See-sawing back and forth, these mood swings wreak havoc on the individual’s mental and physical health.

Treatment for Compulsive Work Addiction

Often the workaholic needs the prodding from family and friends to seek help when their lives are out of kilter or skewed as they are all toward work. Compulsive work addiction is treatable, but it takes time. The standard treatments include seeking help through therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, or trained and certified mental health professionals. Specialists in compulsive work addiction may be tough to find, as this is a new and growing field.

One form of therapy that may be helpful is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. This is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying negative thoughts and patterns of behavior and modifying them. CBT concentrates on five aspects of the client’s life:

  • Work
  • Relationships
  • Play
  • Self
  • Spiritual life

Self-help groups such as Workaholics Anonymous offer meetings by phone, online, or in person. Their website lists meeting locations by state and international. The organization also provides literature, links, and other resources. There are no dues, and anyone can join. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop working compulsively. In the end, if a compulsive work addict truly wants to regain balance in their life, reconnect with family and friends, and honestly put the obsession to work behind, there is help available. To be successful in recovery requires time and a real commitment.

Seek Treatment for Mental Health and Addiction at Recovery Ranch TN

Recovery Ranch TN is a residential treatment center located in Nunnelly, Tennessee that specializes in the care of people struggling with mental health and addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with compulsive work addiction, we urge you to seek help. Our expert staff can provide the guidance and support necessary to help heal any underlying issues that may be driving the addiction. We offer a variety of programs and services, all of which are designed to help our clients achieve sustainable sobriety. For instance, our treatment options include:

  • Inpatient rehab
  • Outpatient rehab
  • Men’s rehab
  • Women’s rehab
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Family recovery services

If you’re ready to take the first step in your recovery, contact us today by calling 1.844.876.7680 or using our convenient online form. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about our program.

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