When does the commitment to a job become an addiction? Learn the signs and symptoms of work addiction, understand the causes of this disorder, and find treatment.

Dedication to work is in most cases positive. However, like many other parts of life, work dedication can cause disturbances in other areas of life when taken to the extreme. Overly dedicated employees, sometimes referred to as called “workaholics,” often find they are unable to disconnect from work. Working long hours occasionally is normal, but for a person who struggles with taking a step back from their job, working late is likely to be the norm. Overworking oneself can lead to negative effects on personal life, physical health and mental health. When a person’s work habits fit this pattern of compulsive overworking, work addiction may be present.

Signs and Symptoms of Work Addiction

Work addiction may be difficult to identify. Employees are expected to show initiative and go above and beyond the call of duty. Ambition is rewarded while doing only what is needed to get by is often frowned upon. When does the commitment to a job become an addiction? The answer often is determined by thoughts and fears that are hidden by what is perceived as discipline and dedication. Some common signs of work addiction include:

  • Obsessing over work and success
  • Intense fear of failure at work
  • Excessive worrying and paranoia about performance at work
  • Feeling defensive towards others about their work
  • Experiencing overwhelming negative feelings
  • Avoiding dealing with other problems such as loss of a loved one

Work addiction symptoms are not likely to be observed by other people. However, some symptoms that may be recognized include:

  • Working extra hours when not necessary and without extra compensation
  • Losing sleep due to work
  • Reducing other activities that were once meaningful in order to work
  • Becoming isolated due to overworking

Causes of Work Addiction

While there are no definitively known work addiction causes, there are some likely hypotheses. Much like a drug addiction, a person with work addiction likely experiences a psychological high from working. This high may come in the form of recognition, success or perceived status. Much like drugs or alcohol, work addiction may also provide a socially acceptable distraction from emotional stress. Whatever the cause of the work high, a person with work addiction is likely to continually run themselves into the ground at work despite the negative effects of their behavior.

Effects of Work Addiction

Burnout is one likely outcome of work addiction. Pushing oneself to the point of physical and mental exhaustion at work on a regular basis is a major factor in developing burnout. A person struggling with job burnout is likely to feel dissatisfied at work and may experience depression. Putting in countless hours at work typically means cutting back hours at home which is likely to cause relationship problems. These problems are especially likely with a person’s spouse or significant other. Frequent conflict and arguing are likely to occur at home as a result of work addiction.

Negative effects of work addiction are not limited to the areas immediately affected by work; physical health can be affected by work addiction as well. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the stress caused by work addiction can weaken the immune system which in turn increases a person’s risk of illness.

Diagnosing Work Addiction

Mental health care providers and medical professionals have adopted the Bergen Work Addiction Scale to diagnose work addiction. This scale consists of rating several factors on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always). Questions are related to negative health impacts of working, reduction of previously important activities, inability to reduce working, attempts to find more time to work, and psychological motivations for working.

Are You a Workaholic?

In a culture where hard work is valued, and achievement is often linked to worth, it is likely that at least some people are asking themselves “Am I a workaholic?” This thought may be common, but work addiction is less common than may be expected. If you are wondering if you could be addicted to work, take our quiz to learn more.

Work Addiction Statistics

Self-proclaiming workaholism is relatively common. As many as one-third of workers may identify as a workaholic. However, often these self-identified cases do not meet the criteria for a work addiction. Reviewing work addiction statistics can begin to shed light on the seriousness of this disorder and its prevalence.

  • Researchers have found that 5-10 percent of the population struggles with work addiction
  • Estimated rates of work addiction increase with the level of education, with 17 percent of individuals with a college education struggling with work addiction
  • Work addiction appears to be more common among women with rates climbing as high as one-quarter of female workers

Work Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Symptoms of work addiction may trigger the development of other disorders. For example, feeling excessively stressed at work can lead to insomnia. Feelings of work anxiety may be related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other anxiety disorders. Chronic stress has also been linked to developing depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

Substance use is very common among people with work addiction. This may be due to a person having an addictive personality or it could be the result of attempting to relieve stress caused by work. No matter the root cause, when a co-occurring disorder is present along with work addiction the negative effects are likely to be magnified. A person with work addiction and substance abuse difficulties is more likely to experience psychological stress, depression and relationship problems.

Treatment for Work Addiction

Total abstinence is not the goal of work addiction treatment, unlike treatment for other forms of addiction. As work is a necessary aspect of life for most people, work addiction treatment focuses instead on creating a healthier relationship with work. This may include drawing boundaries or learning how to manage stresses outside of work.

Is work taking over your life or the life of a loved one? Has ambition turned to addiction? If so, reach out to one of our representatives today to learn more about treatment for process addictions. Recovery is possible, and help is available. Our representatives are available to speak 24/7.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more
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Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Hetland, J., & Pallesen, S. “Development of a work addiction scale.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, April 10, 2012. Accessed April 16, 2019. Cohen, S.,

Janicki-Deverts, D., & Miller, G. E. “Psychological Stress and Disease.” JAMA, October 10. 2007. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Freimuth, Marilyn, et al. “Expanding the Scope of Dual Diagnosis an[…]havioral Addictions.” Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, December 12, 2008. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Quinones, C., & Griffiths, M. D. “Addiction to Work: A Critical Review of the Workaholism Construct and Recommendations for Assessment.” Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, October 10, 2015. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Sussman, Steve. “Workaholism: A Review.” Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, January 10, 2012. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.