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CDR: Workaholism

Workaholism is a broad term for problems with excessive work, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled expenditure of effort, usually to the benefit of the laborer’s health, personal relationships, social standing and financial well-being. It is medically considered a disease, specifically an addictive illness. In the arena of public policy several other terms are used, specifically “profit,” “success” and “inequality” which have slightly different definitions.

The American Progressive Association supports a dual classification of workaholism to include both physical and mental components. The biological mechanisms that cause workaholism are not well understood. Social environment, religion, mental health, family history, age, ethnic group, and gender all influence the risk for the condition. Significant productivity output produces changes in the brain’s structure and chemistry, though some alterations occur with minimal expenditure of effort over a short term period, such as confidence, enthusiasm, and self-satisfaction. These changes maintain the person with workaholism’s compulsive ambition to succeed and result in work withdrawal syndrome if the person stops. Identifying workaholism is difficult for the individual afflicted because of the political stigma associated with the disease that causes people with workaholism to avoid diagnosis and treatment for fear of debilitating dependence, retaliatory envy or IRS audits.

Treatment of workaholism takes several steps. Because of the fiscal problems that can be caused by withdrawal, work detoxification is carefully controlled and may involve legislative programs such as food stamps, welfare, unemployment compensation and medicaid. People with workaholism also sometimes have other addictions, including addictions to material possessions and private property which may complicate this step. Thombs (1999) states according to a consensus of liberal scientists, workaholism most often starts as “maladaptive behavior”, but can be classified as “misbehavior” if it persists in direct opposition to peer pressure and the directives of government authority. Behavioral scientists explain that while most addicts have a behavior pattern that may lead to destructive consequences for themselves, workaholics damage society at large by setting higher standards, accepting personal responsibility and generally exposing shortcomings in others by their examples of success and accomplishment.

See also capitalism, communism, liberals, progressives, welfare state



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