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Health & Balance

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Are You a Workaholic?

You might as well face it -- you’re addicted to work. Could your workaholism be hurting you?

Workaholism: A Life Out of Balance continued...

In a culture that prizes work ethic, overachievement, and financial success -- where gazillionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are household names, and Donald Trump has his own television show -- people who are addicted to working are seen by outsiders as smart, ambitious, and entrepreneurial.

"The system is almost built to reinforce workaholics," says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, associate director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "Those are the people who end up getting positive job evaluations, get opportunities for promotion, and see themselves getting bonuses or raises. It's almost like the system has a built-in model to give them free hits of what they're addicted to."

Even when out of the office, workaholics can satisfy their cravings with cell phones, PDAs, laptops, and WiFi, which ensure that work need never be out of reach.

But blaming technology for workaholism is like blaming the supermarket for food addiction or the corner liquor store for alcoholism, says Bryan E. Robinson, PhD, author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them.

Robinson and other clinicians who treat patients for work-associated stress say that working hard and having easy access to work does not automatically make someone a workaholic.

"It's important to understand the context," says Edmund Neuhaus, PhD, director of the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. "If you're working to the exclusion of your family, your marriage, other relationships, and your life is out of balance, or your physical health is out of balance -- when work takes an exclusive priority to everything else, that's the more extreme end of the spectrum where it becomes a problem," Neuhaus tells WebMD.

"The preoccupation with work is really at the core of what workaholism is," says Robinson, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Asheville, N.C. "I always say that the difference between someone who's a true workaholic and someone who's just a hard worker is that the workaholic is on the ski slopes dreaming about being back at work, and the hard worker is in the office dreaming about being on the ski slope."

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