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Meditation As a Treatment for Work Addiction

In a previous article on AddictionNews, we looked at work addiction and the problems it causes for individuals and organizations. Work addiction is not recognized as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it is seen as a problem by those who suffer and the therapists who treat them.

A team of researchers working under Filip Borgen Andersen at the Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen, in Norway, performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of work addiction in 2023. The total number of participants in the studies reviewed was 71,625 people from 23 different countries.

They define work addiction as “excessive and uncontrollable work behavior.” To gauge the level of addiction to work, they used two different scales: the Dutch Work Addiction Scale and Bergen Work Addiction Scale. The Dutch test involves 10 items that measure “working compulsively” and “working excessively.” A score of greater than 75% on both measures is considered work addiction.

The more nuanced Bergen scale measures the seven work addiction components outlined in previous research as:

  • mood modification (working to avoid unpleasant feelings)
  • tolerance (having to do more work to get the same satisfaction)
  • salience (always thinking about getting more work in)
  • conflict (work causing problems with social relationships)
  • withdrawal (stress and anxiety when restricted from working)
  • problems (health problems such as sleep disruption and depression)
  • relapse (return to the same work patterns after time away)

After extensive statistical analysis comparing the results of dozens of studies, the authors offered a rate of 14%-15% of full-time, working adults are addicted to work, or roughly one in seven. One thing the authors did not find was much information on interventions or treatments for work addiction:

[W]e recommend for future research to examine the effectiveness of interventions to prevent and treat workaholism, both at the individual and organizational level… In order to spur proactive action against workaholism, we believe that recognizing workaholism as a serious behavioral addiction will facilitate the development of treatments and combative strategies.

The literature on interventions is indeed thin. The authors of the systemic review point to a controlled study of the impact of meditation awareness training on work addiction conducted in the United Kingdom. Volunteers were recruited and then assessed using the Bergen Work Addiction Scale. Those found to be work-addicted were then directed to a control group or a group receiving eight weeks of meditation awareness training.

The training included sitting meditation, walking meditation, working meditation, mindfulness, concentration, compassion, and “guided group exercises that involved contemplating how their thoughts, words, and actions can influence both themselves and others, as well as society and the world more generally.”

The researchers found that “participants demonstrated significant improvements over the control-group in levels of workaholism, job satisfaction, psychological distress, work duration, and work engagement.” They also found that people who underwent the training logged significantly fewer overtime hours without reporting a decline in job performance. The results persisted three months after training.

This only scratches the surface of possible interventions for work addiction. The authors do not pinpoint which elements of the training worked and why. Three months is not much of a followup. Logic dictates there would be some relapsing or decline in efficacy over time. One or two years would be a better measure.

When it comes to understanding work addiction, we have a lot of work to do. With more research should come more targeted interventions. The fact that meditation techniques have proven helpful is a good start.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published March 26, 2024.


“The prevalence of workaholism: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” Frontiers in Psychology, October 2023.

“Meditation awareness training for the treatment of workaholism: A controlled trial,” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, April 2017.

Image Copyright: serezniy.


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