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Are You a Workaholic?


Are you a workaholic? Part-way through January, how is your work-life balance? Who’s winning – life or work?

The Macquarie Dictionary defines “workaholic” as a person who is addicted to work.

In my earlier working life, being a workaholic was regarded as a badge of honour. It definitely didn’t have the same stigma as being an alcoholic – someone addicted to intoxicating drinks.

Alcoholism can have devastating effects on the person themselves as well as those around them e.g. if they drink-drive. The “One Punch can Kill” media campaign began in response to intoxicated people – generally young men – taking out their anger on someone else, often causing fatal or long-term debilitating injuries.

So, are the effects of being a workaholic any less devastating?

“A workaholic will die faster than an alcoholic any day,” says Diane Fassel, PhD, author of Working Ourselves to Death.

Workaholism is regarded as a coping strategy and can be a symptom of emotional problems including underlying anxiety and depression shaped by obsessive-compulsive personality traits.

How do you recognize work addiction in yourself?

If staying late and working weekends are what get the job done, do these factors indicate an “addiction” to work? Not necessarily.

A question to ask yourself is whether or not you can enjoy life and feel energetic and purposeful when you’re not at work? If you say no, you may be in the danger zone.

Workaholics tend to love the adrenaline rush of deadlines, long hours and work focus which tends to cause other parts of their lives to come a poor second.

Experts say constant work-related activity can mask anxiety, low self-esteem and intimacy issues. Similar to addictions to alcohol, drugs or gambling, a workaholic’s denial and destructive behaviour will continue despite feedback from loved ones or danger signs including deteriorating relationships.

Poor health is another factor. Because there’s little stigma attached to work addiction, poor health can be ignored or unrecognized.

Overwork creates huge surges of adrenaline to sweep the body and stress every physical function, especially the heart. This can contribute to high blood pressure and to the buildup of plaque in heart vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. There can also be stress disorders, including anxiety attacks, ulcers and burnout, as well as depression which can lead to suicide.

The problem with huge surges of adrenaline is that workaholics can become physically dependent on this rush – which can mask tiredness, exhaustion or other physical symptoms. Workaholics usually have a heart attack, stroke or a collapse of catastrophic proportions.

Overwork can cause similar symptoms, but overwork is not the same as workaholism. (Someone who works more than one job to make ends meet is not addicted, because they would happily work less.)

People who are hard workers should not be confused with addicted workers. It’s good to love your work and go the extra mile to meet a deadline or finish a project.

Workaholics’ lives are out of control. Their lives are controlled by work – it’s all they think about. Their holidays are not about relaxation; they are often more about high risk extreme sports or very goal-oriented or crammed tours. They don’t enjoy their accomplishments; they keep pushing for the next goal – and the next – and the next.

Barbara Killinger, author of Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts, says workaholics are addicted to power and control. She considers there are three groups of workaholics: “controllers”, “pleasers”, and “narcissistic controllers”. The last group have no empathy for others and no understanding of how their actions affect others. Generally, the longer they are in charge, the more tyrannical and harmful their behaviour becomes.

Bryan Robinson, author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners, Their Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them, is a recovering workaholic. In one study Robinson found that the children of workaholics are more depressed and exhibit more symptoms of “parentification” – acting like responsible adults in the absence of their parent – than children of alcoholics.

A survey of women married to workaholics, published in the American Journal of Family Therapy, indicated these women experienced more marital estrangement, higher divorce rates, and felt less in charge of their marriages and lives.

Now that women are increasingly in the workforce, they too are suffering from workaholism. With both partners working, many women find themselves working hard in their jobs as well as doing the lion’s share of family and child-raising. In a paper investigating sex roles, women reported higher levels of job stress, perhaps due to conflicts between family and work.

Can workaholics recover?

Workaholics can recover from their addiction once they acknowledge it in their lives.

A good coach will help you work through the underlying reasons for your addiction and assist you to formulate strategies to gain a healthier work-life balance.

If you feel this article is talking about you, call  0407 585 497 or email me NOW to discuss how we can work together to get your life back in balance.


Adapted from an article Workaholism: It’s no longer seen as a respectable vice, but as a serious problem that can have life-threatening consequences by Loren Stein at

About David Lawson

Finding the Light is a locally owned and operated counselling and life coaching business based in Bundaberg. We seek to empower our clients to find their way forward to a better life by using the approaches of counselling or coaching. If this blog article has raised more questions please contact us by email or call us on 0407 585 497 to arrange a time for us to discuss the article. Mention this blog and we will give you a FREE 30 minute session to discuss.

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