Some people are seemingly 'addicted' to their work and by doing work itself, almost to the point of precluding all other activities and interactions (usually social). By this question, I mean when people go beyond a 'passion' for the work, into an almost obsessive approach. (I have met a few people like this).

Is this addiction to work similar to other addictions? or is there something else triggering this almost obsessive work-ethic to the preclusion of almost all other activities?

I am after peer-refereed articles about any studies that have been performed on this.

  • $\begingroup$ thank you for the fixup of the title, Chuck...don't know how I missed that one - was sneezing while posting. $\endgroup$ – user3554 Sep 22 '13 at 22:36

This is a great question - one that resonates with me especially when reflecting on my own professional life.

My answer to your question would be both speculative and (hopefully) empirical. From personal experience, I have met people in my professional life that may exhibit 'workaholic' behaviours but it is unclear whether it is driven by fear and anxiety or behaviours aligned to values to achieve almost perfect work performance.

I would start with defining precisely what workaholism is. Spence and Robbins (1992) defines a workaholic exhibiting three specific properties:

  1. Highly work involved
  2. Compelled or driven to work because of inner pressures
  3. Low in enjoyment of work

If we compare those properties against an addictive disorder such as Bulimia Nervosa, some surprising similarities arise. Compensatory self-vomitting behaviours tend to be a product of overevaluation of body weight and shape (Lamparda et al., 2011). Let's assume that "inner pressures" represent an individual's need to achieve their body weight and shape. Analogously, "inner pressures" such as perfectionism and responses to fear can cause this seemingly addictive workholic behaviour. I would dare say that the cognitive processes involved between these two cases would be quite similar.

Examining workaholism from a neurological perspective, in my opinion, would mimic neurological studies on addictive disorders. However, I couldn't find much. Randles et al. (2010) make reference to neurological mechanisms in describing how perfectionism and rumination can contribute to goal-oriented behaviours.

The drive to work harder and harder is likely to be influenced by the level of perfectionism and anxiety experienced by an individual (Shafran & Mansell, 2001). Catastrophising and ruminating about work performance can theoretically compel an individual to work harder to the point of psychopathology (of course, we lack the criteria). On another note, personality traits such as narcissism would probably play a role in triggering workaholic behaviours.


  • Spence, J.T. & Robbins, A.S. (1992). Workaholism: definition, measurement, and preliminary results. Journal of Personality Assessment, 58(1), 160-178
  • Lamparda, A.M., Byrnea, S.M., McLeana, N. & Furslandb, A. (2011). An evaluation of the enhanced cognitive-behavioural model of bulimia nervosa. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49, 529-535
  • Randles, D., Flett, G.L., Nasha, K.A., McGreggor, I.D. & Hewitt, P.L. (2010). Dimensions of perfectionism, behavioral inhibition, and rumination. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 83-87
  • Shafran, R. & Mansell, W. (2001). Perfectionism and psychopathology: A review of research and treatment. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(6), 879-906.
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  • $\begingroup$ +1 great answer. To be honest, I never linked workaholism to bulimia nervosa - but I can see the link now. $\endgroup$ – user3554 Sep 23 '13 at 7:57
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, nor did I. It only occurred to me looking through some basic information about addictive disorders. I'm also curious to know, if possible, whether workaholism can manifest itself as a compulsive behaviour within OCD. $\endgroup$ – coeus Sep 23 '13 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ that is an interesting point about the OCD - I would imagine that there would be a definite link, possibly even a phobia-like mechanism involved. $\endgroup$ – user3554 Sep 23 '13 at 8:55
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    $\begingroup$ Another possible complex issue arises - if workaholic behaviour is a compulsive behaviour within an OCD diagnosis - there must be an associated obsession causing that behaviour. However, a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) could also trigger workaholic behaviours. How then do we make the singular diagnosis? Or can OCD and GAD be comorbid and both contribute to workaholic behaviours? Hmm. I'm aware that this is deviating from your original question. $\endgroup$ – coeus Sep 23 '13 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ not really deviating, I'd say, adding to the understanding of this 'condition', because if workaholism is not so much a condition, but a symptom then I think you are on to something. $\endgroup$ – user3554 Sep 25 '13 at 15:06

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