Are Workaholics Prone to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anxiety?

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A new research study suggests that some workaholics may be prone to mental health issues, when compared to people with greater work-life balance. These disorders could include anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the study authors said.

The Study

The findings are based upon a review of more than 15,000 Norwegians, suggest that “taking work to the extreme may be a sign of deeper psychiatric issues,” said study lead author Cecilie Schou Andreassen.
Schou Andreassen said, “Physicians should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic doesn’t have these disorders.”

The research does not go deeply into cause and effect, so it is unclear how mental health issues and overtime work could be linked. Nor should hard workers be labeled as workaholics, although experts say the distinctions between each can be confusing.
Schou Andreassen said, “It is arguable that the term workaholicism is misused, and that in the majority of cases, it is only normal working behavior.”
For this particular study, researchers nearly 16,500 working adults, average age 37 years old. About 6,000 were males and almost 10,500 were females.
The study found that 8 percent qualified as workaholics based upon their answers to certain
questions like the following:

•You think of ways to free up more time to work.
•You become stressed out if you are stopped from working.
•You work so much that it has negatively affected your health.
•You have been told by other people to cut down on work without listening to them.

Of those overzealous workers, testing revealed that one-third appeared to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, compared to 13 percent among the non-workaholics. Twenty-six percent of the individuals showed signs of obsessive compulsive disorder versus 9 percent of those with better work-life balance.

Also, nearly three times as many workaholics were deemed to have an anxiety disorder, 34 percent versus 12 percent. Researchers stated they found the rate of depression was tripled, 9 percent, as compared to 3 percent in the workaholic group.
Genetics might explain the link between workaholism and mental illness in some individuals, stated Schou Andreassen. It’s also possible workaholism could lead to mental illness or the other way around. The study didn’t provide answers on this front.

Steve Sussman is a professor of preventative medicine, psychology and social work at the University of Southern Florida. He states, “work as an addiction is not well-understood by many people.” Some specialists question whether workaholism actually exists as an addiction, he went on to further state.


Dr. Sussman said, “ambiguity,” exists regarding workaholic habits which may be considered an addiction and mental illnesses like obsessive compulsive disorder. Previous research has linked workaholism to compulsive traits and anxiety, he said.

Other experts agreed the subject isn’t well-known and more research is required.


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