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Are You a Workaholic? Better Read This

Workaholics are more likely to suffer from anxiety and other disorders.

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Woman stressed at work

Kieferpix/Thinkstock

Looking at the “20 Questions” on the Workaholics Anonymous website, I’m a little torn. Some of these seem like obvious cause for concern, such as, “Do you use stimulants to stay awake longer?” But others, they just sound like modern life. Try these on for size:

  • “Do you take work with you on weekends?”
  • “Do you try to multitask to get more done?”
  • “Do you feel like a slave to your email?”
  • “Do you regularly underestimate how long something will take and then rush to complete it?”

My point is, defining workaholism is a bit more nuanced than some other addictions, because unlike chugging a bottle of merlot or snorting a white powder, workaholism is associated with some positive traits in our modern culture, like drive and success. Besides, taking work home on the weekends is no longer unusual for many people, and many employers expect their staff to be accessible by email 24/7.

But a new study from the University of Bergen in Norway has shown that we may be wise to pay close attention to our work habits, and ensure things don’t get too out of balance. That’s because there’s a strong link between workaholism and other psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, OCD, anxiety and depression.

The study looked at 16,426 working adults, and asked them questions to draw the line between addictive and non-addictive behavior. Answering “often” or “always” on four or more of the following identified workaholic tendencies:

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

About 7.8 percent of the respondents classified as workaholics, in line with previous work on this subject. Researchers found that the workaholics scored higher on all psychiatric symptoms. “Thus, taking work to the extreme may be a sign of deeper psychological or emotional issues,” wrote researcher and clinical psychologist specialist Cecilie Schou Andreassen, at the Department of Psychosocial Science, at the University of Bergen. “Whether this reflects overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, disorders leading to workaholism or, conversely, workaholism causing such disorders, remain uncertain.”

As we wait for more research, Schou Andreassen writes, “physicians should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic does not have ADHD-related or other clinical features. Their considerations affect both the identification and treatment of these disorders.”

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Savannah. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!.


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