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The Addiction of Work

  • 2001 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
The Addiction of Work
If you work to avoid negative emotional states such as anxiety and depression, perhaps work has taken on an addictive quality.

In a state of frustration, Rachel recounted her life. "It's like I married my alcoholic father. Not a day goes by in which my husband spends less than 12 hours on some assignment related to work. When we vacation, he says he wants to rest but I always find him secretly working on his lap top. At night, he steals away to the quiet of his at-home office until wee hours of the morning. After a few hours of sleep, he's up and traveling to the real office job. I don't see him until 8:00p.m. By then the kids are in bed. He grabs a bite to eat and the cycle starts all over again. There is something terribly wrong here. Can a person be addicted to work?"

In the same way a drug addict uses pot or an alcoholic downs booze, work can have an anesthetizing effect on negative emotions. Yes, people do use work to escape and avoid unpleasant emotional states. But because hard work is so sanctioned in our society, it is an addiction often minimized. But the fall out for the family can be just as devastating.

Our once sacred days of rest have vanished as malls and superstores stay open during Shabbot and Sundays. Technology invades our home life. Solicitors assault us during the dinner hour. And the boundary between work and home is blurred by pagers, faxes, cell phones and computers. This instant communiqué turns our play to work and our home fronts to alternate work sites.

Workaholism is real. But how do you know if you are simply a hard worker or a workaholic? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you view work as a haven rather than a necessity or obligation?
  • Does work obliterate all other areas of your life?
  • Can you make the transition from the office to the Little League game without guilt and constant thinking of what you need to do?
  • Do you have work scattered all over your home?
  • Do you regularly break commitments to family and friends because of deadlines and work commitments?
  • Do you get an adrenaline rush from meeting impossible deadlines?
  • Are you preoccupied with work no matter what you do?
  • Do you work long after your co-workers are finished?

If your answers are "Yes" to most of these questions, it's time to reevaluate your love for work and cut back. Workaholism can bring emotional estrangement and withdrawal in your relationships. In the worse case, it can even lead to separation and divorce.

Children of workaholics learn they are valued for their achievements and often lack parent attention. They have high levels of depression and tend to take on parenting roles similar to those in alcoholic homes.

If you think you may be a woraholic, acknowledge the problem. Then, begin making small changes that limit work hours. Pay attention to other parts of life like your family, spirituality, play, friends, etc. Vow to spend more time doing other things and do them. Talk to your family about balance and determine ways to be more involved. Turn off electronics when you come home and be unavailable for certain hours of the day. Leave the office at a reasonable time even if your work isn't perfect or completely finished.

Don't downplay the negative effects workaholism plays in your life. Even though you may be rewarded at the work place for your obsessive efforts, your family needs you, not more work. And as the well-known saying goes, "I've never met a dying person who regretted not spending more time at the office!"