Overwork (working for more than 40 hours a week) can increase the risk of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Work addiction does not yet have a definition with much consensus within the medical community, but it is an existing problem that can bring stress which often seeks an outlet through drugs and alcohol. Understanding how overwork contributes to substance addiction through stress and behavioral addiction is important for today’s working professionals who should build self-care measures and boundaries into life.
What Is Work Addiction?
Addiction to ongoing work is another lesser-known factor that contributes to a higher risk of substance addiction among overworking individuals. By definition, work addiction refers to a problematic or unhealthy behavior that involves compulsivity and preoccupation with excessive work.
One might call these people “workaholics.” This term describes the similarity between work addicts and alcoholics—they compulsively engage with an activity (work or drinking alcohol) despite suffering from negative consequences. More specifically, work addiction is “a compulsion to work and preoccupation with work activities leading to a significant harm and distress of a functionally impairing nature to the individual and/or other significantly relevant relationships.”
Once work addiction is established, the brain creates a neurological pathway that enhances pleasure from compulsive behaviors, like in all addictions. This brain malfunction may make a workaholic more susceptible to other forms of addictions, such as drugs and alcohol.
Although work addiction may be a transitional personality pattern associated with situational factors, and some aspects of workaholism can be positive, it still has the potential to become a mental disorder. Like other addictions, addiction to work or overwork prevents people from quitting harmful behavior. Though workaholics often think that if they work harder or achieve more they can escape stress or pressure, workaholism almost always leads to more work-related stress.
Many people don’t recognize how heightened their stress levels are because they have become desensitized to stress. Researchers find that in cultures that value hard work through putting in overtime, workaholism can be difficult to detect. It can even be praised as a form of self-sacrifice for a larger cause.
What Is the Connection Between Overwork and Addiction?
People who work longer hours generally experience more stress than those who enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Usually, employers who demand overtime hours are demanding in a range of other ways. Researchers have documented the negative effect of long working hours on mental health due to work-related stress.
Stress is an obvious factor because overwork may reduce one’s family time, relaxation time, even sleep. Fatigue and lack of sleep may increase the risk of many health issues, such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, mental health concerns, and even work injuries. Even in the remote work era of COVID-19, overwork may be the norm since the boundary between life and work got blurred. Extreme workplace stress can lead to burnout, a state of emotional depletion, and exhaustion.
Because overworking has become so accepted, and since it can result in physical and mental health issues, overwork can also cause people to develop substance use disorders. People with higher-than-average stress and those with mental illness are at a higher risk for addiction. These difficulties in their lives can make them turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, which can lead to substance abuse.
What Are Symptoms of Workaholism?
The unhealthy aspect of work addiction is that people use compulsive work to avoid other aspects of life, such as investing in family relationships or solving personal crises. A workaholic may display the following symptoms: putting in long hours at the office, losing sleep to finish projects, obsession with work-related success, having an intense fear of failure at work, inability to maintain healthy relationships because of work, using work as an excuse to avoid personal responsibilities, etc.
Work-related or overwork stress can show up in a person’s body and emotions. One might feel more irritation, anger, depression, anxiety, or a lack of motivation. Again, workaholism and its resulting mental and physical consequences can make over-workers turn to substances to try and relax or tune out the stress of their jobs.
Like most addictions, work addiction will get worse over time. When many people experience “burnout,” it may be that their dual conditions of workaholism and substance addiction have hit a rock bottom. When workaholics develop substance addiction, they rely on one to feed the other, and the two conditions become mutually reinforcing. The co-existing mental health issues related to workaholism and substance addiction need to be treated simultaneously.
Has overwork been a major factor influencing your substance addiction? Americans are the most overworked labor force in the world, but unfortunately, not many people recognize overwork and workaholism’s relationship with the risk of substance use and addiction. Work addiction or workaholism can easily translate into substance use because they activate similar pleasure centers in the brain when one engages with the addiction. When work addiction, mental illness, and substance addiction form triple bondage on people, it can be hard to break. When this happens, it is time for a recovery specialist to intervene. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists can help you break through addiction to substances and/or work and mental health concerns. Through a range of different treatments, you can find healing here. You can have all the support you need to break free from work addiction and substance addiction. Call us at (866) 906-3203. Hope and healing can start today.