how to handle addiction in the workplace

Addiction in the Workplace

Addiction in the Workplace
by Mike Saxton, PhD

In previous posts on the Goodwin University blog, I’ve discussed specific issues like workaholism and study addiction. Both are somewhat stealthy in that the behaviors exhibited can at first appear to be “desirable,” until the negative influences of the addiction begin to manifest. Addiction goes much further than just these two examples, of course. I’d like to take the time to discuss addictions in general, as well as how they affect the workplace.

We should first identify two main categories of addiction: behavioral and substance. Behavioral addictions include gambling, video games, shopping, sex, internet, workaholism, studying, and other activities an individual might engage in.

Substance addictions include alcohol and drugs (Griffiths, Demetrovics, & Atroszko, 2018) that an individual ingests.

Despite the obvious differences, the effects of the two categories can be quite similar.

It is not a secret that addictions, whether behavioral or chemical, have negative influences on addicts as well as those around them. Both categories can yield higher levels of depression and trait anxiety (anxiety that is carried over permanently as opposed to a temporary response to a situation) than non-addicted counterparts (Wong, et al, 2017). Behavioral and chemical addictions can also lead to physical ailments. While constantly introducing harmful substances as part of chemical addictions is known to produce physical symptoms over time, addiction to behaviors also carry harmful results. An example would be Matsudaira, et al’s (2013) study linking workaholism to back pain and sickness. The increased stress levels inherent with behavioral addiction can break down the body just as a chemical addiction would.

What are the implications? First, paying more attention to one type of addiction over the other is folly. They are both damaging, and employees who suffer from increased depression significantly affect the work environment. Excessive absenteeism of workers who call out due to sickness, pain, or other ailments is felt by coworkers who have to pick up the slack, regardless of the source. A toxic work environment that festers due to the deteriorating mental state of unchecked addiction will still bring about a negative atmosphere, whatever the addiction that built the foundation of negativity.

Addressing addiction in the workplace is both challenging and imperative, but the rewards are well worth the effort. As mentioned in my previous posts, behavioral addictions such as workaholism and study addiction can masquerade as desirable traits. Other addictive behaviors are common activities that are normally benign or recreational (exercise, video games, etc.) until taken to the extreme. It’s not always apparent what is happening, and the addicted person may not be forthcoming, or may just blame the difficulties on vague areas such as “family stuff.” People addicted to chemicals will likely try to hide their addictions, for example carrying a small bottle of mouthwash to cover the smell of alcohol or applying cosmetics to cover surface tissue damaged by chemical use.

Full-time employees spend a significant amount of their waking hours around colleagues. It is entirely conceivable that family members may miss signs of addiction that are apparent to co-workers. While it is important to respect privacy boundaries, it may be prudent to have resources available to identify and intervene in situations where an employee is showing signs of addiction. After all, addiction harms everyone in the environment, not just the addict.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any type of addiction, it is important to seek help. If you are a Goodwin University student or employee, Counseling Services are available to assist you at


Griffiths, M. D., Demetrovics, Z., & Atroszko, P. A. (2018). Ten myths about work addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7(4).

Matsudaira, K., Shimazu, A., Fujii, T., Kubota, K., Sawada, T., Kikuchi, N., & Takahashi, M. (2013). Workaholism as a risk factor for depressive mood, disabling back pain, and sickness absence. PLoS ONE, 8(9), 1–8.

Wong, M. F. Y., Chan, E. M. L., Cheng, G. L. F., Lo, C. K. M., Ma, E. K. Y., Wong, R. H. Y., … Toma, M. A. (2017, January). Multiple expressions of addiction: Psychosocial correlates and clinical trajectories of treatment seekers. Retrieved January 28, 2020, from

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