Though it’s not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the handbook or “mental health bible” of psychiatric disorders used by mental health clinicians, many addiction experts say that work addiction or workaholism is very real. One estimate suggests that it impacts 10 percent of U.S. adults – and a large portion of that percentage includes lawyers, doctors, and psychologists.
Work addiction is different than just being a diligent employee or working long hours; it’s characterized by a compulsive need to work and to stay busy — even if that means jeopardizing relationships with family and friends, sleep, exercise, and other aspects of a healthy life. For the workaholic, working becomes a necessity and the mere thought of not doing it can trigger feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety and/or worthlessness.
Much like other types of behavioral addiction, people who are addicted to work tend to:
- Build up a tolerance
- Become dependent on work as a way to cope with emotions and “feel normal”
- Continue despite physical and/or mental harm. Carpal tunnel syndrome, disabling back pain, gastrointestinal disturbances, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, and even suicide have been linked to work addiction.
- Have trouble cutting back despite wanting to stop
- Consistently go beyond the intended amount/intensity; workaholics work longer and harder than their peers.
- Experience symptoms of withdrawal (like depression, irritability) when not working
- Minimize or hide the true extent of their addiction
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? If you recognize workaholic habits in yourself or in a loved one, it may be time to seek help. Or, at the very least, try to slowly disengage from work and rediscover other aspects of a full, rich life.
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