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Difference between Alcoholic and Workaholic

Difference between alcoholic and workaholic

Alcohol, tobacco and drugs are the most common forms of addiction. Workaholism, as an addiction is still less talked of. Studies indicate that nearly 10% of the total working population in the US are workaholics and for those who work for more than 50 hours a week, the chances of growing alcohol abuse is quite high. 1  On the other hand research on alcoholism by the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that there are almost 140 million alcoholics in the world and most of them are untreated 2.

The term “workaholism” is actually the combination of  the two words “work” and “alcoholic” and was first used in 1947 in Toronto Daily Star in Canada 3. Apart from the similarity in names, alcoholism and workaholism have quite a few things in common.

  • Both the conditions are equally stressful for the person having it as well as his surroundings. It damages relationships, friendship and family life.
  • Physical and psychological breakdown is common for both workaholics and alcoholics. Physical problems include nervous system damage, heart problems among many others; psychological issues include depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
  • There is a common pattern of negative thoughts in alcoholics and workaholics that provokes the negative behaviour.
  • There are common warning signs of alcoholism and workaholism like withdrawal from real life, feeling uneasy in the absence of work/alcohol, remarkable changes in behaviour that never existed before, ignoring family and friends, and many other.

The links between these two types of addiction has been a well talked issue, however, there are many distinct areas where workaholics differ from alcoholics.

Main difference between alcoholics and workaholics

The first and obvious one is there is no “drug” or “substance” involved in making a person workaholic. The discomforting urge to excel at work, or a self imposed pressure to meet all the professional goals are enough to call someone a “workaholic”. Not only do workaholics spend extra hours at work, they are always engrossed in work related thoughts to an extent that they overlook all other aspects of their life. Other than that, there are several issues that can be considered in discussing how an alcoholic is different from a workaholic.

The health hazards —  By health hazards, I mean both the physical and mental health hazards here. The physiological effects associated with any substance abuse is massive. Especially for alcoholics, the detriment is enormous. The uncontrollable desire for alcohol leads to compulsive drinking which affects the

  • Nervous system
  • Increases stress
  • Reduces the secretion of sex hormones
  • Cause liver problems and diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal troubles
  • Hypertension and
  • Heart diseases like cardiomyopathy 4

The damage is not limited to the body. Prolonged dependence on alcohol leads to chronic depression. Alcoholics find it comforting to depend on alcohol in the face of any stressful event. The level of comfort keeps increasing with increasing the amount of alcohol they consume daily and eventually it reaches a stage where it is beyond the person’s control to restrict it.

Workaholics, on the other hand, are at a lesser risk of developing such huge physical problems. Depression is common in workaholics as well, but more than the consequence, depression is often the reason for workaholism. Many people divert their mind into work to avoid life stresses like loss of someone close, divorce or relationship stress. The mental hazards are more for workaholics. They commonly suffer from

  • Acute sleep disturbances
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased stress
  • Hypertension

Behaviour changes — There are stark behaviour patterns alcoholics exhibit. Alcoholism nurtures behaviours like

  • Abusing people at home and work
  • Lying — alcoholics are common to grow pathological lying habits. They can even mislead their health professionals (for those who seek medical help)
  • Taking financial debts and not returning
  • Binge drinking – including drinking in the morning, or at work
  • Experiencing tremors and anxiety while doing an important work. Alcoholics even lose their writing skills owing to the nervous breakdown
  • Alcoholics have a marked deterioration in their work performance

The behavioural changes in workaholics are deep rooted and cause emotional distress to the person as well as his surroundings. The common behaviours that workaholics show include

  • Walking, talking and eating quicker than others
  • Working for extra hours without a deadline to meet
  • Emotional withdrawal from all pleasurable activities and an excessive urge to gain success at work
  • Complete withdrawal from social life
  • Anger outbursts

Difference between alcoholic and workaholic-1

Genetic predisposition — The role of genes has been proved for alcoholics. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has stated that alcoholism may pass through genes. The offspring of an alcohol abuser is more at the risk of developing alcoholism than someone with no known family history of alcoholism. The genetic influence is so strong in alcoholism that almost half of the alcoholics have been found to have family history of AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder). 5

Workaholism, on the other hand has not yet been established as a specific psychological condition in the DSM or ICD 6. It is a combination of different psychological factors that together contribute to make a person a workaholics. The role of gene in workaholism is yet to be asserted.

Treatment —  There are three stages in the treatment of alcoholism.

  • Stage 1 – Detoxification :- where the main aim is to reduce the urge of drinking and eventually cut down on the quantity of alcohol consumption. It involves medicines mainly that creates painful withdrawal symptoms in alcoholics.
  • Stage 2 – Rehabilitation :- where the negative thoughts and behaviours related to alcoholism is modified taking psychotherapy and counselling as the tools.
  • Stage 3 – Maintenance :- the final stage where the positive changes are sustained to prevent the person from becoming an alcoholic again.

Treatment for workaholics is more often a combination of different psychotherapeutic methods than medicinal treatment.

  • Cognitive therapy,
  • Behaviour modification,
  • Stress management,
  • Relaxation and Meditation
  • Anger management and
  • Supportive counselling.

Workaholics rarely go through a physically painful treatment procedure and the recovery is also sooner than alcoholics. However, individuals sometimes may require medicines for specific conditions like depression or insomnia that is triggered due to the work addiction.

Prognosis The prognosis of alcoholism is poor and the treatment is equally hazardous for the person suffering as well as his family. The biggest criteria for treating alcoholics is to ensure that they are willing to recover; if the individual is unwilling to recover, there is not much hope even in case of early diagnosis. The mortality rate in alcoholism is hard to establish as it indirectly causes many other illness.

The prognosis of workaholics is better than alcoholics. Guiding workaholics to find the “balance” can help them draw the line between work and life. Mortality rate related to workaholism is not very common. The problems that workaholics suffer (depression, insomnia, stress, etc.) can mostly be modified by psychotherapy. Even if medical help is needed, it does not create withdrawal symptoms like other forms of addictions.

The following comparative chart briefs out the differences discussed above:-

Summary of the points
Ground of Difference Alcoholics
Health Hazards


Heart disease, liver problems, gastrointestinal disorders, nervous damage, depression.
Behaviour Frequent lying, abusing people at home and work, inappropriate monetary debts, binge drinking.
Genetic influence Substantial genetic influence has been established.
Treatment Combination of Psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and rehabilitation.
Prognosis Generally poor if the person is unwilling. Even if cured, there remains a risk of further relapse.

The first step in getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are. Knowing where to draw the line is the main issue when talking about any addiction and their management. Be that for drinking alcohol or working, we must know where to stop.

Guidelines For Workaholics

  • Do not bring your work home
  • Appreciate your efforts and do not be harsh on yourself.
  • If you have a problem, talk about it rather than escaping it through work.
  • Know yourself and your capabilities. Set goal accordingly.
  • Relax and take out time for family and friends.

Guidelines for Alcoholics

  • Keep a check on the amount of alcohol consumption.
  • Never hesitate from seeking medical help.
  • Abstain from falling prey to other drugs.
  • Join mutual support groups to discuss and get better insight of the problem.

As mentioned earlier, addiction can be managed by the person himself if he is willing to.

One must remember, addiction is just a way of adapting (the negative way). People can always choose to adapt in the healthier way and live a life free from menace — that is the best road to recovery for any addiction.

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References :

[0]1 https://www.justbelieverecovery.com/workaholic-and-alcoholic/

[1]2 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/157163.php

[2]3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workaholic

[3]5 https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders

[4]6 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders | DSM Library ICD-10 Codes: Lookup & Conversion | NueMD



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