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Is your life revolving around work to the point that you feel stressed when you're not working? Not only may you be a workaholic, you could also be more likely to suffer from other mental health challenges.

Does your life revolve around work? If you spend much more time working than you first planned, actually think about ways to free up more time for work, and you feel stressed when not working, you may be a workaholic. Other red flags include prioritizing work above all else and having been told by loved-ones that you work too much, only to ignore them. The symptom of workaholism to trump all others, however, is working to reduce negative feelings related to other parts of your life or related to mental stress. 

If you are a workaholic, you are not alone: research indicates that around 10 percent of Americans could be affected by this unlikely addiction. It isn't hard to come up with ideas surrounding what a person's work addiction does to their loved-ones. What does it do to the workaholic themselves, however, and what could be some of the underlying causes of workaholism?

What Makes A Workaholic?

A new study published in PLOS One and conducted by researchers from the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Bergen, Norway including Cecilie Schou Andreassen, sought to gain insights into the mental states of workaholics. They defined workaholism as "being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and to investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas".

Using the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, which contains many of the questions from the first paragraph, they first determined how many of their 16,426 adult working participants were workaholics. 

Those study subjects who scored high (in the form of "always" or often" answers to the questions) on the Work Addiction Scale were deemed workaholics, and they made up 7.9 percent of the overall research sample. With this in mind, the research team then set out to find out how workaholics' mental states compare to those of the general population — the control group. 

Workaholics More Likely To Suffer From Psychiatric Disorders

Once assessed for workaholism, the study participants were asked to complete the following diagnostic questionnaires:

  • The Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale
  • The Obsession-Compulsive Inventory-Revised
  • The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale

As you'll notice, together, these questionnaires test for four separate disorders. The study's results were fascinating, in that they indicated that those who met the diagnostic criteria for workaholism were also much more likely to score high for these other disorders. Of those subjects who were deemed workaholics, 32.7 percent met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, though only 12.7 percent of non-workaholic test subjects did. While 25.6 percent of workaholics was likely to suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the same held true for only 8.7 percent of non-workaholics — and 8.9 percent of workaholics, compared to a mere 2.6 percent of others, suffered from depression.

The biggest difference the researchers recorded was related to anxiety, however. They found that 11.9 percent of non-workaholics struggled with anxiety. In the workaholic group, meanwhile, that figure rose to a whopping 33.8 percent!

What Do These Results Mean?

The authors of the study concluded that "more research is warranted to elucidate these important relationships further".

They added: 

"It is recommended that physicians and therapists should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic does not have ADHD-related clinical features. However, more research is needed to examine whether workaholism is totally negative for all individuals as it may be that workaholism may serve an important structuring function for those with mental health problems and those with social dysfunction."

The study authors' data seemingly shows that their workaholics "have it all": they were most likely to be young, well-educated, managers. That alone isn't enough to surmise that someone doesn't need the assistance of mental health professionals, this study made it all too clear. Whether pressure at work leads to workaholism, which then leads to mental health challenges, or whether mental health challenges lead to workaholism isn't clear at this point. However, if nothing else, this study makes it quite clear that the demographic found to be prone to workaholism requires better mental health support.

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