Work Addiction Is No Joke: It Could Be a Sign of Mental Illness

Being driven to succeed, working hard and setting aggressive goals for your career are all fantastic traits in a person. But for some people, this is just scratching the surface. If you have trouble leaving work alone on your time off, if you check your work phone on vacation, or if you max out your overtime whether or not you need the money, your addiction might be the sign of another mental illness.

We aren’t talking about addiction in the colloquial sense. In fact, a group of researchers at Bergen University in Norway developed a test for work addiction that takes a great deal of influence from drug addiction identification tools.

Work Addiction Is No Joke: It Can Be a Sign of Mental Illness

Work Addiction Is No Joke: It Could Be a Sign of Mental Illness

Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.

– Stephen R. Covey

What’s the relationship between work addiction and mental illness?

Those same researchers in Norway performed an extensive study that demonstrated a statistical relationship between work addiction and illnesses including anxiety, depression, ADHD and OCD.

I should take a moment to mention that what they discovered is correlation, not a causational relationship. Put in simple terms, it means that there is a statistically relevant likelihood that someone with work addiction also has an additional mental illness. It does not establish that work addiction causes mental illness, that the inverse is true, or that people with work addiction definitely have additional mental illness.

What the research does mean is relevant for anyone who feels a lack of control around their relationship to work. If you think you’re showing the symptoms of work addiction, you might have an undiagnosed mental illness to contend with.

What if you don’t have other illnesses?

Work addiction is still a legitimate and potentially serious problem in its own right. The major problem with work addiction is that it isn’t sustainable. Mentally or physically, you’re likely to eventually burn out. And when that happens, you might end up crashing hard, becoming jaded with your career or suffering physical health effects.

Work addiction can be a cause of significant workplace burnout. When that happens, if you don’t have the tools to recharge your mental health, the downward spiral could have long-lasting repercussions on your career as well as your health.

Work addiction - What can you do?

What can you do?

The first thing you should do is consult a professional and find out whether you’re dealing with an additional mental illness. Recovering from work addiction just won’t happen if you’re also managing an undiagnosed illness of another kind. Once you’ve established what your specific challenges are, you can begin a treatment plan. Again, I really can’t restate this enough, if your work addiction is serious, you’ll probably want to consult a doctor for a referral to the appropriate specialist.

No matter which way you approach it, recovery will likely mean slowing down, and changing your daily routine to make time for self-reflection, leisure and reevaluating your priorities in life. There are a number of everyday activities that help lessen the risk of burnout, like getting out of the gym and exercising in nature.


Overcoming mental illness of any type is a process that you need to approach from many different angles:

  • The medical angle, that allows you to maintain the clarity of thought to work on yourself. Not everyone needs chemical intervention with drugs, but don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can cure depression by just going outside every day.
  • The introspective, therapeutic angle that allows you to look back on your experiences and plan for the future based on guided goal-setting.
  • The daily angle that involves maintaining a routine conducive to keeping your life balanced and avoiding the pitfalls that make you spiral.

No one solution is going to cure you and lighten the load of your life. But combining professional help with strategies to make time for yourself and de-clutter your life from work obligations and other negative influences can significantly improve the quality of your life.

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