As Hong Kong’s cost of living rises and employees face increasing pressure to deliver at work, many turn to alcohol to relieve stress. On the flip side, those recovering from alcoholism often switch to a largely misunderstood process addiction – workaholism. We explore the links between the two.



  • People who work more than 48 hours per week are 11 per cent more likely to drink alcohol excessively.
  • Too much work can lead to alcoholism, and recovery from alcoholism can drive people to workaholism.

It is easy to see how being overworked and stressed to the point of a nervous breakdown could lead people to take to the bottle, but few people realise that recovering alcoholics often replace alcohol addiction with an addiction to work. However, this is rarely a good idea, as workaholism leads to broken relationships, a loss of personality, and in the end, the need to address the underlying problem and find effective addiction treatment.

Unfortunately, employers and family members often do not recognise the symptoms of workaholism and instead simply think of sufferers as extra hard-working individuals. Hong Kong’s skyscraper-laden skyline and high cost of living push us to think only the go-getters can achieve true happiness, but the difference between working hard and work addiction is becoming clearer.

Of course, it is not only those in recovery who are at risk of becoming workaholics. It often works the other way round, with workaholics turning to alcohol to relieve stress, and many similar traits are recognisable in both addictions.

As people are being encouraged to work harder than ever before and Hong Kong’s cost of living continues to rise, could workaholism be the next hidden epidemic? And, could the rate of alcohol addiction and substance abuse increase as employees face more and more pressure at work? We examine the link between the two conditions, how to recognise the symptoms and what can be done to battle addiction.


Why Sufferers Substitute Alcoholism for Workaholism

Alcoholism is an addiction that affects both the mind and body, and while the body can adjust to a life without alcohol relatively quickly, the mind can take years or even a lifetime. The problem is, many sufferers of alcohol addiction get treatment and eliminate their habit without getting to the bottom of what spurred them to drink in the first place. There is often an underlying issue in a person’s life that leads to substance and alcohol abuse, and it needs to be brought to the surface for them to truly move on and start again.

Many alcoholics imagine returning to their previous life after getting sober, but it could have been something about their previous life that led them to drink in the first place. Without recognising what problems led them to alcohol abuse, sufferers may substitute a process addiction such as gambling, food, sex or work to avoid going back to the bottle because they view it as healthier.  This is especially true in the case of work.

Some people may try to escape urges to drink again by focusing their mind solely on work. While there is no problem trying hard at work, obsessing with work as a distraction can become an addiction, and similar symptoms can be seen in both sufferers of workaholism and alcoholism.

Workaholism Often Leads to Alcoholism

The link between working too hard and drinking is easy to understand–most of us can admit we have had one too many after a stressful workday on occasion. But problems can arise when drinking becomes a regular coping mechanism and the amount of alcohol required to get intoxicated increases. Researchers in Finland found that people who work more than 48 hours per week are 11 per cent more likely to drink alcohol excessively, a figure that applies to both men and women.

Workaholics Experience Similar Symptoms to Alcoholics

Sufferers of alcohol addiction and workaholism often display many similar symptoms, such as hiding away from personal relationships and focusing energy and resources overwhelmingly on their addiction. Workaholics may hide their real emotions by overworking, and it can also be very difficult for them to recognise the severity of their problem.


The Symptoms of Work Addiction

Working extra-long hours on certain weeks does not mean somebody is addicted to their job. Sometimes, tight deadlines and external pressures leave employees with no choice but to work harder than usual, but overworking becomes a problem when people constantly bury themselves in work, become controlling and start to lose their personality. Common signs of workaholism include:

  • Sneaking in work-related communications such as phone calls or emails when loved ones are not looking
  • Feelings of anxiety and inability to relax
  • Regularly working long hours and working on days off
  • Rarely delegating work, believing others cannot handle the task
  • Overscheduling and isolating yourself from co-workers and loved ones
  • Engaging in substance abuse

New studies are showing that stress-related illnesses, such as heart disease, are much more common among workaholics.  People who work more than 55 hours per week are one-third more likely to suffer a stroke than those who manage their private life and work life effectively.  But if the addiction starts to extend to alcohol abuse, the consequences could be much more immediate.

It is Time to Stop Glorifying Workaholism and Fight Addiction

Unfortunately, overworking is still largely commended in corporate culture in economic hubs like Hong Kong, and what starts as a go-getter attitude can soon turn into a full-blown work addiction. Perhaps more worryingly, both conscious and unconscious stress build-up can lead to severe health conditions and alcohol abuse, and an alcohol addiction can quickly spiral out of control.

Fortunately, there is help available. At The Cabin Hong Kong, our professionals are specially trained treat behavioural and substance addictions.  Our holistic, confidential rehab programme can help you address underlying issues and make positive changes that will improve your work life and personal relationships. Contact us today to find out how we can help.