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Work addiction

While many people strive for success, fulfilment and career progression in their respective industries, work addiction, or ‘workaholism’, is a behavioural addiction, causing a compulsive need to work, that can adversely affect other aspects of your life.

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You may have been described as a ‘workaholic’ or a ‘perfectionist’ by colleagues at work, although this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are addicted to your job role. Work addiction is compounded by an inability to manage a preoccupation with working, and can develop as a result of an intrinsic desire to achieve a certain status or level of success.

When you receive treatment for work addiction at Priory, you will embark upon a tailored addiction treatment plan delivered by our specialist psychiatrists and therapists.

Free work addiction assessment at your nearest Priory hospital

After your free initial addiction assessment, you will gain a detailed understanding of your addiction and learn coping methods through both individual and group therapy sessions to manage the condition in future.

If you feel a compulsive urge to work, you may often find that you feel physically exhausted. Working long hours or working until the early hours of the morning is common with work addiction, which can have a negative impact on your closest relationships and your social life, particularly if you don’t take holiday leave for an extended period.

Treatment for work addiction at Priory

Despite work addiction sharing many of the same symptoms and behaviours as any other addiction, you may not require the same level or length of treatment as someone with a substance addiction such as drugs or alcohol.

Since a full medically assisted withdrawal detoxification programme or intense inpatient rehabilitation isn’t required for work addiction, unless your addiction is severe, treatment is more likely to focus on day and outpatient psychotherapy sessions, with the ultimate goal of re-training your thoughts and emotions to reduce your compulsive desire to work.

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Treatment options for work addiction

If required, residential inpatient treatment for work addiction involves 24-hour care and support at one of our hospitals. This safe and supportive environment is the most effective way to separate your mind and body from your addiction, and involves a comprehensive therapeutic treatment plan involving a multidisciplinary team of, psychiatrists and therapists.

For the most severe cases of work addiction, we also offer a 28-day Addiction Treatment Programme involving free weekly aftercare support for 12 months after completing the programme, and family support during and after treatment.

Priory Residential Treatment Programmes

The programme can be adapted to suit your individual needs, and can include medication management should it be required, individual and group therapy sessions, as well as a variety of additional activities including highly regarded 12-Step addiction recovery meetings and yoga sessions.

A 12-Step support group for work addiction involves other members of the group helping each other to find ways to manage work so that it does not dominate your life, although it is recognised that abstinence from work is not the ultimate goal, as it is necessary for many people to work in order to support their livelihoods.  

Residential treatment for work addiction may be recommended if you have co-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression which may have been caused or worsened by your compulsion to work excessively.

Priory Outpatient Treatment Programmes

Day care and outpatient therapy are the most common treatment options for work addiction. Day care offers a similar treatment environment to residential, although which, and for how many days you visit a Priory hospital for treatment is more flexible than with inpatient care.

Outpatient therapy acts as the ideal step-down from inpatient and day care, and includes expert outpatient therapy as part of a bespoke treatment plan that is flexible around work and personal commitments.              

No matter what treatment option you receive for work addiction at Priory, you will be provided with 12 months of free aftercare, which helps to prevent relapse and allows you to return to your work and personal life with the comfort of knowing that you have a healthcare support system in place should you require it.

What is work addiction?

Maintaining a job and progressing in your chosen career is often necessary in order to be able to pay your bills, rent or mortgage, buy food, and support any dependent children. The necessity for many people to go to work in order to live comfortably means that in order to diagnose work addiction, any preoccupation with work must be having an adverse effect on other aspects of your life.

This behavioural disorder is characterised by an inability to control a desire to work beyond your contracted hours to an extent that your relationships and spare time are often compromised, and you may be described by family members or colleagues as a ‘perfectionist’ or ‘workaholic’. Research has estimated that around 10% of modern workforces such as those found in the USA and the UK may meet the criteria for work addiction diagnosis.

Think you're suffering from work addiction?

If you regularly find yourself compulsively working long hours or late into the evening, even if it is not required in your current role, then you may have a work addiction. Finding it difficult to manage the urge to work can be due to a desire to achieve a certain level of success or status, and can also be a way to manage symptoms of stress or underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

While a desire to work hard and even put in overtime can be expected or admired in the modern day working environment, if you have work addiction, working excessively can give you a ‘high’ similar to that of someone with a substance abuse addiction. This means that it can be extremely difficult to break a pattern of behaviour amounting to excessive working, despite knowing that it could have a detrimental impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, as well as your closest relationships.

Due to the requirement for a large proportion of the population to work at any given time, the persistent exposure to a working environment and the perception that working hard is regarded as a positive behavioural trait, as opposed to the societal stigma found in drug and alcohol addiction, means that it is important to seek professional treatment for a work addiction as early as possible.                   

What are the signs and symptoms of work addiction?

Work addiction can develop if you or someone that you know has a strong desire for perfection or an extremely driven personality. While these are commonly seen as positive traits, in the context of a working environment, they can cause a cycle of compulsive working in order to meet the high expectations of yourself and senior colleagues at work.                         

Observing the difference between someone that is simply hard working and a person with a work addiction that is damaging social and emotional aspects of their lives can be difficult, although the below signs and symptoms may indicate that you have an unhealthy relationship with work that goes beyond simply meeting the demands of a job role:

  • Regularly thinking of ways to create more time to work, even on days off
  • You find yourself working late at night or doing overtime in the office, beyond what you initially intended
  • Believing that work helps to reduce symptoms of emotional stress, anxiety, helplessness or depression
  • Ignoring requests from loved ones or work colleagues to reduce the amount of work that you take on
  • Becoming stressed and irritable if you are not able to work for an extended period of time
  • Hobbies such as exercise or leisure activities with family and friends become less important than completing work tasks
  • Working excessively has negatively influenced your overall health and wellbeing         

Negative effects of work addiction

If you are worried that a loved one is overworking and may be showing signs of a work addiction, sometimes it can be easier to spot the consequences of work addiction on their mental and physical health.

If you spot one or more of these signs and believe that it is linked to a compulsion to work, then you should advise the person to seek professional help and support as soon as possible:

  • Symptoms of depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Involved in conflict with family and friends more easily
  • Increased substance use
  • Heightened stress levels

What causes work addiction?

As with many forms of addiction, there isn’t considered to be a specific cause of work addiction, although it is believed to be linked to a combination of factors, which can include:

Genetics - research into many forms of addiction has indicated that inherited personality traits may be involved in the likelihood of you becoming addicted to work. Your genetics and brain chemistry are believed to play a role in how likely you are to develop an addiction of any kind, which combines with environmental and social influences to determine how likely it is that a compulsion to work begins to impact on your life.

Environment and family upbringing - while a good work ethic is always a valuable attribute to have, your family upbringing and their attitude to work in general can have an impact on whether you are likely to overwork later in life. For example, if your parents placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of work and success, or often worked long hours, then you may learn similar traits and believe that working around the clock is normal and to be expected.

Risk factors of developing work addiction

Personality - if others regularly describe you as a perfectionist and you like everything to be right, including the work of your colleagues, then you may spend additional time in work making sure that everything is up to your standards.

You will embrace being considered a workaholic, as you believe that it sets you apart from others, while each task that you complete may involve going above and beyond what others expect of you, as you believe in an ‘all or nothing’ approach to your work.   

While people without the desire to overwork realise that sleep and rest are required in order to remain productive and look after their mental and physical health, you may enjoy overcoming such obstacles that stop you from completing work. Knowing that you are pushing yourself harder than anyone else becomes a great source of pride, although this risks you becoming addicted to work and ultimately suffering physical and mental ‘burnout’.

Previous addictions - having a history of addiction or currently experiencing an addiction can indicate that you may be more prone than others to overworking. If you are currently, or have been addicted to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or have an unhealthy relationship with food, then learning to control your urges with a therapeutic programme such as that offered by Priory, is particularly important.

If you are having problems managing your urge to work and believe that it may be affecting your wellbeing, then you can book a free initial addiction assessment so that you can learn more about your addiction and the variety of treatment options available at Priory to help you recover.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding work addiction treatment, please call 0800 691 1490. For professionals looking to make a referral, please make an enquiry.

This page was reviewed by Sam Hickey in July 2021 is scheduled to be reviewed again in July 2023. To view all Priory work addiction specialists, please click here.

What is work addiction?
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What are the signs and symptoms of work addiction?
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What causes work addiction?
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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding work addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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