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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?

Workaholics: All Work and No Play

A workaholic might seem to be every CEO's dream: an employee who comes in early, stays late, doesn't take vacations, and takes on mountains of work. But those very qualities may make the workaholic a poor candidate for employee of the month because they often have more work than they can handle effectively, don't delegate, aren't team players, and are often more disorganized than their less compulsive colleagues, Robinson says.

In addition, workaholics may refuse to take time off, even when their work performance is affected -- although here cultural expectations and financial realities may come into play.

"People are afraid to take vacations because they're afraid that with all the downsizing and the economy being what it is that they'd be the first to go," Robinson says.

"I train residents at McLean Hospital," Neuhaus says, "and I tell them, 'You have to take vacations. Go away. You're not going to be any good to me if you don't take vacations.'"

Are Workaholics Hurting Their Health?

Like other forms of addiction, workaholism can have significant health consequences, experts say, including significantly higher work-related stress and job burn-out rates, anger, depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches.

Despite the symptoms, workaholics may be in deep denial about their addiction, like a severely emaciated teen with anorexia who looks in the mirror and sees herself as obese.

Montefiore's Rego tells WebMD that workaholics often need prodding from family and friends to seek help when "the seesaw of life is tilted too much toward work."

One highly effective treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy focused on identifying and modifying negative thoughts and thought patterns.

"The workaholic might have a set of beliefs about the value of work which are misguided," Rego says. "And if you can intervene cognitively -- not to correct or get rid of them, but just make them a little more rational -- you might see a change in the behavior and consequent stress reaction."

Robinson helps workaholics develop a self-care plan examining five aspects of their lives: work, relationships, play, self, and spiritual life.

"This helps them see in black and white where their lives are lacking," Robinson says.

He also helps patients understand that they don't have to go cold turkey or quit their jobs, but find a balance in their lives and identify what's most important to them, whether it's family, friendships, religion, or beliefs.

Workaholics Anonymous, a national support group modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, publishes on its web site a list of questions that can help you determine whether you are a certified workaholic or just unusually diligent. Positive answers to three or more of the questions may signal the need for help. The group hosts meetings around the country where people with similar problems can share ideas anonymously and provide support and solutions that will help them balance their lives.

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Reviewed on January 29, 2010

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