Understanding Workaholism

workaholicIn Japan, there is a health problem that causes 1,000 deaths every year and nearly five percent of that country’s stroke and heart attacks among employees under the age of 60. It is called "karoshi," death by overwork. Workaholism is also a problem in the Netherlands, where three percent of its entire population is affected by "leisure illness" wherein workers get physically sick on weekends and vacations as they stop working.

However in the United States, a person who suffers from workaholism is viewed as someone who has a "respectable addiction," someone who is working doubly hard whether or not he or she has a job. This addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder is dangerous and could affect millions of Americans.

Difference between "hard work" and "workaholism"

People who are "addicted" to work are often mistaken as someone who "loves" to work, who puts in long hours more often than the rest of the organization. However, that does not necessarily mean that hard work and workaholism are one and the same.

The difference between a hard worker and a workaholic can be seen on how they balance their lives. A hard worker, although can also put in long hours in the workplace, can also look for ways to achieve balance in their lives such as where to relax over the weekend and have fun.

Meanwhile, a workaholic may get a vacation on an exotic island and still think about the deadlines and the briefings in the coming weeks. Another example is a parent who misses his child’s soccer match. While a hard worker misses the game because he "has" to work, a workaholic skips the match because he feels he "needs" to work.

These all-occupying attitudes have prevented workaholics from maintaining healthy relationships, outside interests, or even take measures to protect their health.

Causes of workaholism

There are various roots to workaholism. For one, workaholics tend to have an insatiable addiction to adrenaline, a hormone released during times of short-term stress. We may have heard the term "adrenaline rush," but unlike the extreme sports enthusiasts or people who like to ride roller coasters, workaholics get their rush from working in a really stressful environment.

Adrenaline gets their heart beat faster, pupils of the eyes dilate, boosts the supply of oxygen in muscles and brain, elevates blood sugar, but this also suppresses the digestion system as well as the immune system. And because work is done more often than extreme sports and other high-risk activities, workaholics are exposed to the hormone on a daily basis and its effects on the body are felt on a long-term basis.

Another cause of workaholism is psychological in nature, particularly when a person had low self-esteem during childhood and carried it into adulthood. Many workaholics are children of alcoholics or a dysfunctional family, and their addiction to work is seen as an attempt to control a situation that is not controllable.

They can also come from seemingly perfect families with parents who put pressure on their children to achieve unreasonable success, but they end up thinking that nothing is good enough thus pushing themselves harder until they find approval, which they will never find. After all, perfection is unattainable.

Seeking help for workaholics

It cannot be denied that workaholics need help to relieve themselves from such heavy stress of overworking. They have to recognize that there is a need to balance their lives and savor other aspects of life such as friends, family, hobbies, and themselves. Counseling is often recommended for workaholics, as well as support groups such as Workaholics Anonymous.