A recent New Zealand study has identified a significant association between longer working hours and alcohol abuse or dependence. In fact, the study, conducted by the University of Otago, found that people who work at least 50 hours a week can be up to three times more at risk of alcohol problems than people who work fewer hours. According to the study, the higher risk of alcohol abuse amongst those who work longer hours is evident in both men and women. Obviously these findings are cause for concern and in particular for those in recovery. Replacing alcohol or drug addiction with workaholism may offer distraction, but at what cost?
Most of us are familiar with the saying; ‘An idle mind is the devil’s playground’. People in recovery will be familiar with the inherent danger of having too much time on your hands. In early recovery the chances of slipping in to negative thinking and old habits is particularly great, leaving many vulnerable to relapse.
Quality versus quantity
Heeding the advice of occupying the mind in early recovery will likely support your sobriety. However, the invitation is to reflect on whether you occupy your mind with activities and surround yourself with people that are conducive to your recovery, as opposed to silencing your cravings in mountains of work. Few employers will stop you from working extra hours, so the responsibility for your mental health and your recovery lies with you. Working 50 hours or more leaves little, if any time, to engage in activities that support our life long dedication to sobriety. At the end of a long day in the office, the last thing we might fancy is to squeeze in a fellowship meeting. Going out for a bite to eat with work colleagues, forgetting to eat properly during the day, not allowing for any exercise, are some of the things that can contribute to a build up of a relapse. When we don’t allow enough space in the day to support our recovery, we become vulnerable to suggestions and old destructive habits.
Let’s face it; successful recovery is contingent on your ability to put your own recovery first. Before work, before friends, before family and loved ones. Upon completion of addiction treatment we all know this, -at least intellectually. But what activities will support this priority? Quality activities could include taking a more gentle approach to work in the initial stages, and remaining mindful of work induced stress. Taking an active role in your recovery community by getting a sponsor, aiming to become a sponsor, sharing at meetings, reaching out, learning new things, reading, talking, and first and foremost, not isolating. While we all need a bit of down time not everyone is yet able to fill this space with things that are conducive to recovery. Learning to gauge how much down time you can tolerate is a crucial step in your recovery. As we become increasingly aware of the quality of our thinking and have integrated supportive habits into our day to day living, a bit of idle time need not be the devil’s playground.