Help! I am an addict.

If you’d rather work than do a spot of gardening on a Saturday, or if your dog has forgotten what you look like, you’ve become a work junkie. So, ease off, chill out and read on.

The sad fact is that work addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the industrialised world. An American economist has labelled the ethic as “squirrels in a cage working and spending”. Blame it all on the capitalism-driven, materialistic society we live in. People want to identify themselves through their work, they want to possess things and ‘keep up with the Joneses’.


Work addiction is a clinical condition characterised by an obsessive and compulsive interest in work. As such, work junkies usually work more than they’re required to, investing so much time and effort in work that it impairs other important life areas.

The line between excessive enthusiasm and a genuine work addiction is a thin one. Generally, the consensus is that the following criteria indicate work addiction: being totally preoccupied with work; using work to alleviate emotional stress; gradually working longer and longer hours to get the same mood modifying effects; suffering emotional and physical distress if unable to work (withdrawal); sacrificing other obligations (personal relationships, social activities, exercising, etc) because of work conflict; desiring or attempting to control the number of hours spent working without success (relapse); and suffering some kind of harm or negative consequence as either a direct or indirect result of the excessive working. [1]

Interestingly, a study in France [2] found that women were more predisposed to developing work addiction than men. And workers suffering from depression were twice as likely to develop work addiction compared to those without a mental health issue. Poor quality sleep, high levels of stress and low levels of overall wellbeing were also identified as high risk factors.


The biggest problem with workaholism is burnout. This stress means you have difficulty making decisions, you procrastinate, become forgetful, have mood-swings and use daydreams as an escape mechanism. Other symptoms include weight gain or loss, headaches, stomach upsets, susceptibility to illnesses, depression and chronic fatigue. Even more concerning is that work addiction is linked to poorer mental health.

Workaholism also creates dysfunctional families where emotional intimacy is in short supply. Marital strife may be another consequence because excessive work patterns alienates a partner. And because work addiction keeps you busy, you stay estranged from your essential self.


To conquer work addiction, re-organise your life so that work becomes proportionate to family, friends and self. Slow your work pace and learn to walk and drive slower. Relax through yoga or massage. Also cut back on your work hours and force yourself to delegate.

By setting boundaries between work and personal life and limiting your availability, you’ll have time to take up interesting hobbies and activities to broaden your horizons.

Yes, workaholism is an illness similar to alcoholism. Alcoholics don’t drink because they’re thirsty. Similarly, workaholics often use work as escapism, or a crutch to help ailing self-esteems. They need to change the way they feel about themselves.

Recognise this affliction, seek help and get a life.