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Workaholism: The Glorious Addiction

Posted on August 20, 2013 under Career & Work, Coaching


This month I had the honor and privilege to train as a certified Recovery Coach.   The education has been eye-opening and inspiring to say the least.  I'm excited to share my insights within the context of workaholism over the coming months.


The role of a Recovery Coach, according to New York State OASAS (Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services), is to help initiate and sustain an individual and their family in their recovery from substance abuse or addiction; promote recovery by removing barriers and obstacles to recovery; and serve as a personal guide and mentor for people seeking, or already in recovery.


Recovery from addictions of all kinds – both chemical (alcohol and drugs) and process-based (work, gambling, sex, internet, shopping, etc.) – is highly complex and fraught with layers of emotion.


Decades of scientific research combined with the personal experience of millions of people worldwide prove that while there are many paths to recovery, quite predictable behavior remains.  Fortunately, these recognizable behavior patterns across different addictions do then provide us with a roadmap of how and where to begin when unraveling many years of well-worn and detrimental habits.


One of the hottest debates in recovery, is that of the concept of Harm Reduction.  This technique is the substitution or gradual scaling back of the use of chemicals or behaviors with the ultimate goal of either abstinence or healthy habits.  For example, with an alcoholic, the addict commits to drinking 12 daily beers with a schedule of reduction (10, 8, 6, etc.) each subsequent week.  This is where politics start to come into play with public health policies around drug maintenance programs and safe sex initiatives.


However, the big question remains regarding dealing with addictive behavior we cannot live without.  Namely, work to make money to survive and of course food in order to sustain health.  There is an abundance of conversation in society about food, nutrition, weight-loss, beauty, and transformations through medical and fitness regimens.  We do not experience a shortage of methods, gurus, and surgeries to alter our relationship with food.  And the general mood is that weight management is desired.


What's been shocking and incredibly disturbing to me is how little professional assistance there is to help workaholics recover from their life-threatening habits.  I've had to look high and low for authoritative research and advise on workaholism.  What little I've found (maybe a half dozen experts) has been enlightening but mostly outdated and a victim of the problem itself – very few take it seriously.


In fact, workaholism is one of the most insidious addictions because our society constantly showers “over-achievers” with recognition, money, titles, authority and power.  We actually joke about this serious condition and egg-on the addict to keep working!


The issue is that some over-achievers have made themselves dangerously ill with over-work and neglect of self and their family and friends.  What company doesn't want a loyal employee who works tons of extra hours?  Companies that pride themselves in being white collar sweat-shops are guilty of ignorance of the problem, and prey on adrenaline-addicted workaholics.  Workaholics who are deep into addiction are actually inefficient, so the “joke is on them” so to speak.


The harsh truth is that workaholism kills.  It's that simple.  How many times have we heard stories about men and women who have “died with their boots on” with a heart attack at their desk?  It's tragic and sad…and likely no one reached out them.


Epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline, is the hormone that triggers the fight-or-flight response in humans.  Workaholics feed off of this natural drug by over-committing; over-promising; constantly multi-tasking; working beyond physical limits (no proper sleep, food, hygiene); creating their own drama with self and others when there isn't any to be had; working in professional fields that are notorious for stress, conflict, and unrelenting deadlines; and turning hobbies/play into competition or achievement.


Being an “adrenaline junkie” through workaholism leads to real physical problems such as: heart palpitations, tachycardia, arrhythmia, anxiety, anxiety attacks, headache, tremor, hypertension, and acute pulmonary edema to name a few.


Does it still feel glamorous or funny to be a workaholic?  That is if you're still alive.


Harm reduction is the road to recovery for workaholism.  Just like with weight-loss, there must be vegetables and workouts instead of pizza and the couch.


As a recovering workaholic, I know it's a hard task to better manage daily work habits.  It's my deepest want to help as many wonderful professionals as possible with improving the quality of their lives while transforming their relationship with work.


The harm reduction of many, many working hours is the first step.  Way beneath the work is the emotional hurt.  But the road recovery begins with the willingness to take a hard look at your habits.  Are you in denial or are you ready to regain your health?


Let me know where you're at and I'd love to help.


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