Latest developments in causes and treatments



Can Work Become an Addiction?

Most adults know a workaholic, someone who labors inordinate hours at a job when they’re not required to, often to the detriment of other aspects of their lives. But is it really possible to become addicted to work, resulting in a compulsion to work and withdrawal symptoms when prevented from working?

A new study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational Health Psychology gathered work/life data from 139 full-time workers and discovered that work does not make workaholics happier:

The anxiety workaholics feel is displaced into working, but it doesn’t do the trick and so they push themselves harder and yet they become less satisfied. They end up with elevated cortisol levels throughout the day and a negative disposition, according to the study.

[I]t does not appear to be true that people who are addicted to work derive more pleasure from their work activity; quite the opposite, the results seem to confirm that, as in other forms of behavioural and substance addiction, the initial euphoria gives way to a negative emotional state that pervades the person even while at work.

The authors recommend that employers consider interventions to prevent workaholics from damaging the work environment for others. “[I]t is necessary to foster an environment that discourages excessive and dysfunctional investment in work.”

In a study published in the journal Work, researchers in Spain followed 332 workers and found that “feelings generated by work and excessive work predict anxiety and depression.” An article for Psychology Today claims that “workaholics report lower levels of energy, happiness, and engagement, and high levels of anxiety, depression, and fatigue.”

Workaholism may not yet be classified as an addiction, but it appears to be operating through the displacement mechanism with predictable outcomes of compulsion and withdrawal.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published November 30, 2023.


“People struggling with work addiction feel unwell even when they are working,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, November 2023.

“Work Addiction as a Predictor of Anxiety and Depression,” Work, March 2021.

“Recognizing Workaholism: The Dark Side of Productivity,” Psychology Today, November 2023.

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