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Workaholism to Alcoholism: Or Vice Versa?

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Any activity to excess can be detrimental to our health. While overconsumption of alcohol is more generally understood to be risky, overwork can be more difficult to define – yet just as problematic. Learn more about the links between workaholism and alcoholism.

At a surface level, there might not appear to be an obvious link between workaholism and alcoholism. People who are “workaholics” are often lauded for what is seen as a deep commitment to their profession and an unshakable work ethic, while those with alcoholism tend to be blamed for their condition. 

However, both are addictions that can negatively alter personal relationships, jeopardise health, and lead to isolation and a lower quality of life. These conditions can also intersect; for example, those who are addicted to work may later become addicted to alcohol in order to cope with the stress of their workload, and those in recovery from alcoholism may end up replacing it with workaholism. Understanding the connections between these seemingly unrelated conditions can shed more light on the underlying issues affecting both, and how to seek help.

Understanding Workaholism and Alcoholism

To better understand how these conditions are linked, it’s important to first know how each is defined. 

  • Alcoholism is the chronic consumption of alcohol despite negative consequences to health, relationships and daily life. 
  • Workaholism is a compulsive need to work incessantly, often at the expense of one’s personal life, relationships and health. 

Though the addictive factor in both conditions differs, the drivers and broader impacts of the addictions are similar.

Underlying Psychological Factors

Alcoholism and workaholism are both conditions that arise from a person’s attempt to cope with stress, anxiety, or social pressure. Whether it is to deal with strong emotions arising from past trauma, current hardship or feelings of inadequacy, or to try and fit into certain social settings, both alcohol and work can serve as a distraction from emotional discomfort or challenging situations. 

Working in a high-pressure environment can also stimulate the brain’s reward centre in a similar way that alcohol does. The reward centre plays a key role in addiction, as does the release of the  neurotransmitter dopamine when this centre is stimulated. Dopamine is a motivator, reinforcing the brain’s memory of what makes it feel good and building a desire to engage in that behaviour again. Addiction essentially rewires this system to focus solely on the addictive behaviour as a way to relax and experience pleasure, despite consequences to one’s health or personal life.

Physical and Mental Health Implications

Both workaholism and alcoholism can have serious and potentially long-term effects on overall health. These include things like:

Workaholism Health Effects:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disorders
  • Chronic stress
  • Headaches
  • Stomach upset

Alcoholism Health Effects:

  • Liver disease (i.e., cirrhosis)
  • Increased risk for certain cancers
  • Increased risk for heart disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive problems

How Society’s Perception Affects These Disorders

Both work and alcohol tend to be glamorised by society. People who throw themselves into their work, work long hours, and embrace “hustle culture” are often perceived as successful “go-getters.” However, the lack of work-life balance can increase the risk of developing a work addiction, and take a heavy toll on mental health. A wellbeing study of UK business leaders recently conducted by The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab revealed that more than two-thirds of C-suite executives suffer from work-related stress, and more than half experienced regular anxiety or panic attacks as a result. A stunning 87% reported that work-related issues negatively impacted their personal lives. The hidden link between workaholism and mental health struggles underscores the significant impacts of this type of addiction.

Drinking is also widely perceived as a way to relax, celebrate, and have fun, and is expected in many social situations. In some cases, drinking to excess is encouraged, with a “wild night out” or even a hangover being seen as a mark of a successful gathering. This social acceptance can make it difficult to recognise early warning signs of addiction, and promote dangerous drinking habits that may lead to dependence.

Despite society’s tacit approval of working and drinking to excess, once addiction begins to create negative impacts in someone’s personal or professional life, people are often blamed for their behaviour. This double standard can create barriers in understanding root causes of addiction and seeking treatment.

How Workaholism and Alcoholism Can Feed Into Each Other

For those struggling with workaholism and work-related stress, alcohol or other substances can provide a temporary sense of relief and a way to cope with the challenges of their schedule. The Dawn’s study found that 35% of high earners in C-suite roles had experienced problems with alcohol misuse or consumption, with around two-thirds of respondents aged 45-54 years old admitting to drinking during the workday, and over half reporting that they also drink alone. These habits can create a vicious cycle, as alcohol can impact work performance, leading to people having to work even more to compensate.

For those who are in recovery from alcohol dependence, work can be used to fill a void that drinking has left behind, acting as a form of escapism and stunting the emotional sobriety that is needed to truly overcome addiction. Replacing one addiction with another prolongs the recovery process and risks further damage to one’s mental health. 

Recognising the Signs of Addiction and Seeking Help

If you are working long hours, or having multiple drinks during the week, being aware of how your behaviour is impacting your life and why you are making these choices is critical in assessing whether you may be developing an addiction. Here are some warning signs for alcoholism and workaholism to watch out for:

Alcoholism Symptoms

  • Prioritising drinking over family, work or other commitments
  • Driving or working while intoxicated
  • Becoming angry or defensive when confronted about alcohol use
  • Trying to stop drinking but being unable to do so
  • Becoming worried or agitated if alcohol is not available

Workaholism Symptoms

  • Consistently working long hours, including on weekends, holidays, and during home time
  • Feeling a need to be constantly connected to work through your phone or computer
  • Feeling unable to talk about the pressures of work with others
  • Often feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or panicky about your workload
  • Work dominates the majority of thoughts and conversations you have with others
  • Becoming defensive when people question your work habits 

If you are experiencing addiction, it’s common to be in denial about what you are going through. Hearing the concerns of your friends, family and co-workers is critical in accepting that you need help to move towards healthier ways of living. They can also offer you support as you make the transition to a more balanced lifestyle through recovery.

Workaholism and Alcoholism Treatment at The Dawn

Alcoholism Treatment at The Dawn

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab offers highly personalised treatment for addiction disorders, including workaholism, alcoholism, or both. Our holistic treatment approach uncovers and addresses the root causes of the addiction while also helping you develop skills to cope with life’s challenges and stresses. 

The Dawn’s signature addiction treatment programme blends a combination of effective psychotherapeutic treatments and proven wellness practices such as yoga, fitness training, and mindfulness meditation to ensure a full, balanced recovery. 

Rehab in Thailand

Located in beautiful Northern Thailand, our stunning grounds feature lush gardens, a swimming pool, and gorgeous architecture designed to inspire calm and reflection. You’ll find the space to relax and recover with all the comforts of home, but a world away from the triggers and stressors that exacerbate your condition. 

Call us today to learn more about how The Dawn can support you in overcoming addiction and living a healthier life.

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