Work addiction may be challenging to see within ourselves. Here’s how to recognize the signs of work addiction in yourself or a loved one.

Have you ever questioned your relationship with work? Maybe you feel so consumed by it that you don’t realize that your life could be different? If your career was taken from you tomorrow, would you feel lost in the world? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then they may be signs you are workaholic. Work addiction is a process addiction that can be all-consuming and difficult to overcome. 

Being dedicated to your career is something to be proud of, but a work-life balance is just as integral to your success. To understand your relationship with work, read about these common signs of a workaholic to identify if any of these work addiction symptoms are present in your life. If so, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with your career and build a better work-life balance.

1. You think about how you can free up more time for work.

Are you constantly looking for ways to get in more work time? Maybe you neglect relationships because working on the weekend seems more productive than anything leisurely. Or, you find ways to get out of events and gatherings because your dedication to your work is more important. 

If you find yourself freeing up time to get more work in, it’s usually a sign that you are working too much. Even when you are not working, you are constructing ways to get back there, feel productive, and get a dose of adrenaline that work may be providing you with. You may even be aware of how much you think about work in a 24-hour period, but when you add all that time up, are you ever not working? 

It can be easy to fall into the trap of workaholism, and it usually starts with your thoughts. Be mindful of where your mind goes when you have some time off. If you find that you’re only able to concentrate on a work project or deadline, you likely aren’t truly being present in your life as a whole. Your work will always be there when you return from time off. Discover and find ways to properly shut your mind off from work at the end of the workday.   

2. You spend more time working than intended.

One of the large contributing factors of work addiction is the fact that most people must work every day to make a living. It is typically not an activity that you can take a break from to regain control. Even if you are aware of your own work addiction, you may find yourself feeling trapped and thinking what would upper management think about you needing some time to yourself if they are used to you over-performing? 

This thinking plays a big part in your inability to separate yourself from your work. Working too much becomes a part of you — or a necessity for survival — even when your job doesn’t ask it of you. A 2008 study affirmed that in regard to work addiction, “When work is motivated primarily by psychological needs, rather than the requirements of a job, an addiction is more likely.” With this knowledge, ask yourself how much of yourself are you willing to give up to remain the high performer you pride yourself on? 

3. You can’t remember the last time you took a sick day.

Sick days are important to take, even if you are almost never physically ill. If you work in the corporate world, you get a certain amount of time allotted to be used for sick days, or paid time off. Most of the time, this time is wasted at the end of the year if you never took time for yourself. 

A sick day can go a long way every once in a while. Sick days can help you recoup, focus on your mental health and practice self-care — all of which are vital to your overall health and well-being. Although you might find using sick days in this way to be somehow dishonest, this time is given to you for a reason. It is unhealthy and unrealistic to expect yourself to work 365 days a year. Take advantage of your earned sick days — they’re rightfully yours to take — and take some much-needed time to refocus your energy on your physical and mental wants and needs. 

4. You have trouble sleeping because you’re thinking about work.

Take a second to think about how much consistent sleep you get each night. Most people need at least seven hours of sleep to be the most functional the next day. If you’re consistently getting less sleep than that, you most likely need more sleep. Without a healthy amount of rest, you aren’t able to perform at your best, which is a difficult realization if you are already pushing yourself to the limit. 

If your level of productivity is so important to you, then check in with how much sleep you are getting. Do you stay up late at night worrying about a deadline that is approaching or feeling stressed about a meeting that you have soon? Regardless of the type of work stress-related insomnia you struggle with, recognize that doing so is only hindering your efficacy. 

If you focus on sleep hygiene, you’ll work more productively the day after. There is only so much you can do in a day, so practice separating your mind from work when you’re at home, so that you can fall, and stay, asleep.

5. Not being able to work stresses you out.

If not being able to work causes you stress, practice being honest with yourself about the reasons why. Some research indicates that people with work addictions felt the weight of high expectations from their parents during childhood, and therefore tied a sense of approval to success.

You may have taken on the role of a high achiever because, historically, that is when you felt appreciated the most. However, this realization isn’t to assign blame; it’s important to be conscious of the roots of work addiction. Fortunately, you are not beholden to your past, and you can make the choice to free yourself from childhood conditioning that no longer serves you in your adult life.

6. Your hobbies get deprioritized because of work.

Aside from the time that you give to work, how much time do you put into your own passions and hobbies? You may enjoy the work you do and the effort that you put forth, but making time for activities outside of work is important to your well-being overall. This is how you live authentically, passionately and creatively. Paying your bills on time is a dire need, but so is being able to partake in fulfilling activities that give your life purpose.

7. Overworking has negatively impacted your health.

There are many reports of the type of health issues that come with being addicted to work. The effects of being a workaholic can be both physical and psychological. On the extreme end of the spectrum, some people who lose their job and sense of security are often overwhelmed with thoughts of suicide. Those who put so much pressure on themselves to support their family may find that losing their job is simply too much to deal with. 

While being in the thick of the effects of workaholism, you may be plagued with a constant state of acute anxiety, experience panic attacks and even back pain. There is no shortage of health problems that can occur when you’re addicted to work. Fear of failure can generate high amounts of adrenaline in your system that can lead to depressiondepersonalization and severe fatigue. 

If your self-worth is based on the amount of work you complete, then your health is already being impacted. There are serious concerns to be worried about if you find yourself overworking, and you have all the more reason to take a sick day.

8. Your friends or family have asked you to cut back on work.

Not only does working too much affect you, but workaholism affects your family and friends and can strain your relationships. Your loved ones may feel like you are never around, and even when you are present, you may seem distant due to being mentally elsewhere. 

If a loved one has asked you to cut back on work, listen. These conversations can be eye-opening to someone who doesn’t see what they are doing is a problem, but it is important to take into consideration what others are expressing to you. They care about you and your well-being, and because they are not involved in the work itself, they have a different perspective on the work you do. It may not be a conversation you want to have because it puts you in a position of having to look at the issue, but that is no reason to avoid the concerns of those closest to you.

9. You work to escape your problems.

A big sign for whether you might be addicted to work is using it to avoid emotional pain. Many of those who struggle with work addiction are not even aware of the underlying reasons for it. They have been able to push aside the emotion by jumping headfirst into their work, but like all addictions, this is only a temporary solution. 

If emotional avoidance is the main cause of your work addiction, there should be less time spent at the office, and more time spent working on your personal life. This self-work is not easy, but is necessary for personal growth. It may feel as though external work is the most important aspect of your life, but on the contrary, it is the internal work on yourself that can foster growth.

10. Your obsession with work is consuming your life.

When you become obsessed with work and do not make time for family, friends, hobbies or even yourself, take a step back and reevaluate your priorities in life. It is admirable to be passionate about your career, but most of the time, that is not the case with work addiction. You might feel the need to work to compensate for something that is lacking in your life, or maybe you use work as a distraction from the real issue. When you are away from work, are you still thinking about work to be done, or what you will do tomorrow at work? Take time to think about how you can have time for yourself, the things you are passionate about and the people in your life. You will likely be happier in the moments you create outside of the office.  

Overcoming Work Addiction

When it comes to work, and a career, put boundaries in place that allow you the space you need to breathe, take a break and discover various avenues in life that provide you with more fulfillment than financial success. Memorable experiences, deep conversations and nourishing relationships may not pay the bills, but they certainly do provide a level of wealth to your life that a job cannot. 

If you are unsure of whether you struggle with a work addiction, take a work addiction assessment to understand your symptoms.

Overcoming work addiction begins with establishing a sense of work-life balance for yourself. Aim to be honest with yourself about the work you are doing, both at the office and personally. If you are giving more than you are receiving, it’s time to reevaluate what you find most important in your life.

If you struggle with drug or alcohol abuse and a work addiction, don’t wait to get help. The Recovery Village can help you heal from both issues through comprehensive treatment. Call today to speak with a representative who can help.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more

Sussman, Steven. “Workaholism: A Review.” Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, January 10, 2012. Accessed July 2, 2019.

Freimuth, Marilyn; et al. “Expanding the Scope of Dual Diagnosis and Co-Addictions: Behavioral Addictions.” Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 2008. Accessed, July 2, 2019.

Killinger, Barbara, PhD. “The Workaholic Breakdown – The Loss of Health.” Psychology Today, April 2013. Accessed July 2, 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.