Workaholism and Addictions

Workaholism and Addictions

Many people who are living with addictions fall into patterns of workaholism. Workaholism can be defined as a struggle to step away from working or work-related tasks. It can also be a struggle with Struggling to step away from work and focus on elements of self-care coincides with addictions in several ways. In fact, some would even describe workaholism as its own addiction because it holds many of the same qualities as other process addictions.

Overworking is normalized

Workalism is one of those patterns that our culture sort of props up and celebrates. We’re taught that hard work equals excellence. The truth is that many people are using work to detach from uncomfortable feelings and pain. Although work helps you detach from these experiences, it doesn’t help to create changes in addictive patterns or the underlying things that contribute to these patterns. Over time, these patterns can be harmful to your relationships.

Overworking behavior patterns are often romanticized by our workplaces.

Overextending yourself and overworking is a norm in our culture. However, norms aren’t always healthy. When it comes to workaholism, it’s important to challenge the norm and learn how to deactivate, connect, and relax.

Just like other problematic behaviors, the biggest challenge can be identifying the problem. Because workaholism is normalized, it can be difficult to see it as a problem.

It can also be difficult to separate overworking from having meaningful goals, which is actually a positive thing. There is a middle ground here. One one hand, you can engage in work in way that reflects your values. On the other end, you can get caught up fears of not being enough for your supervisor, clients, or even your co-workers, etc.

When you’re working with other addictions such as sex addiction, workaholism is often another obsessive behavior that these clients regularly deal with. Overfunctioning is one common theme with many addicts because it helps with managing intense feelings. What I mean by over functioning is over extending yourself without identifying personal boundaries.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you should be lazy or careless about your job or career. However, there is a middle ground here, which often gets lost in fear about not being enough to your supervisor, clients, or even your co-workers, etc.

Falling into a Cycle

There is a cycle that often happens when you fail to hold personal boundaries with your workplace. When the perception that you wish others had about you doesn’t match how you feel about yourself, you can fall into a maladaptive work and perfectionistic cyclone. This is where workaholics work harder to become noticed, thanked, recognized, or praised. However, this rarely works out in the long run. The more you do, the more it’s expected and under appreciated.  The lack of recognition and appreciation continues, because those around you have become dependent on the extra work that you’re doing. They don’t notice it at all. To further perpetuate this cycle, in the rare situations that someone does notice, many workaholics don’t feel like it was genuine or that the thankfulness was adequate for the work accomplished. The times where you went unnoticed still stand strong, and the cycle then continues. The bar then gets lifted again, with the thinking that if you further increase the threshold of work, then someone will notice you in a way that makes you feel worthy.

Self-esteem vs. other-esteem

Pia Mellody often talks about this concept of other esteem. This is where we fail to esteem ourselves and instead focus on trying to get our esteem from the outside. This can be a root cause of workaholism. It’s critical to orient to more confidence in your own abilities and qualities. This takes time and practice. Over time, you can focus on an appreciation for your skill and talents. What do you appreciate about the work that you do? It’s nice to have compliments and attention, but we have to balance that we our own beliefs about our work.

Boundaries and workaholism

Another problem is in how we culturally view workaholism. On the surface this appears admirable, and in the beginning, the efforts are all based in good intentions. Boundaries are confusing in this way. Often times good intentions lead us to avoid confronting an issue that needs to be confronted. Being uncomfortable with confrontation, especially if it’s with a supervisor who could terminate you from your job, is understandable. It is true, that you do have to be cautious when confronting supervisors about issues, because not all supervisors are open to feedback. Some people, though, do not communicate their problems to the ones who can actually make a change for them, yet continue to expect these things to change, and then get frustrated when everything remains the same.

Workaholism is a serious issue that is often disguised as ambition and altruism. In order to take control of these issues, finding other social supports is vital. It’s also important to learn to tolerate greater levels of vulnerability. It’s normal to have periods of feeling uneasy or uncertain. It’s also important to identify feelings and emotions that you might be trying to avoid. Common feelings that are avoided with workaholism are insecurity, anxiety, loneliness, and weakness. If you identify these feelings, you can do something about them.

It’s also important to get support. Talk to someone at work who you can trust and who can make change, or at least will listen to you. Be careful not to become passive-aggressive by trying to make changes through manipulating others to feel sorry for you. Find a therapist to help you identify what things are missing in your life to learn more about how you go to this place. Over time, and with a lot patience and practice, you will regain a balance in your life and learn to maintain this balance.


If you’re in the Dallas area and looking for a therapist who can help you rediscover balance in your life, feel free to contact us to see how we might be able to help.


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