Being a workaholic, like being a shopaholic or--my personal favorite--a chocoholic, is the sort of thing people confess with a little guilt but also a bit of humor. We all know that irresistible urge to have just one more Hershey's kiss or stay that extra hour or two at the office isn't the healthiest impulse, but we don't exactly treat the condition with the grave concern we reserve for "real" addictions.

And it's true that, except in the most extreme cases, these vices generally have milder negative impacts on our lives, waistlines, and credit card bills than the truly grim physical and emotional toll of, say, substance abuse. But are we underestimating the seriousness of workaholism, making it more of a joke (or sometimes even a badge of honor) and less of an actual diagnosis than it should be?

A new study out of Norway suggests the answer might be yes. Research from the University of Bergen attempts to investigate workaholism with scientific rigor, pinning down exactly what percentage of the population has a genuine unhealthy compulsion to overwork, as well as defining the boundaries of true workaholism versus simple passion for your profession.

Diagnosing Real Workaholism

The team looked at a large sample of more than 1,100 Norwegians to develop a diagnostic test that can determine when workaholism crosses the line from the realm of jokes and moderately annoyed spouses to a serious problem. The end result is a seven-question test called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS), modeled on diagnostic tests already used for traditional addictions.

If you have to admit that at least four of these statements sounds like you "often" or "always," the researchers suggest you might want to stop laughing about your overwork and consider intervention.

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work but you don't listen.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You de-prioritize hobbies, leisure activities, or exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively affected your health.

You're Not Alone

If alarm bells of recognition are going off in your brain, you can take some comfort in knowing that you're not alone. The study also determined that 8.3 percent of Norwegians suffer from problematic workaholism.

What were the demographics of a true work addiction? "We did find that younger adults were affected to a greater extent than older workers," commented study co-author Cecilie Schou Andreassen. "However, workaholism seems unrelated to gender, education level, marital status, or part-time versus full-time employment."

If you're among the nearly one in ten seeing serious negative impact on your life from your overwork, you should take the matter seriously, according to the team behind the research. "Problems relating to work may not be conceptualized by those people suffering as something that needs treating," they write, but true workaholism merits treatment with real therapy.

How did you rate on the Bergen Work Addiction Scale?