Burnout and Addiction

What Leads to Burnout and How to Control It

This article will discuss what can cause burnout and ways that it can lead to addiction. Learn how to avoid feeling burnout and treatment options for substance abuse caused by it.


Burnout and Addiction

What Leads to Burnout and How to Control It

This article will discuss what can cause burnout and ways that it can lead to addiction. Learn how to avoid feeling burnout and treatment options for substance abuse caused by it.

The information presented on this page is a general overview and is offered here as a comprehensive resource. At Ampelis Recovery, our programs are customized and tailored to the individual’s needs. Specific details below that cover treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols used for our clients.

If you would like to learn more about Ampelis Recovery and our customized programs for professional men, please do not hesitate to reach out.


What is Burnout?

What is burnout? How does it affect a person, and how is it avoided? Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term burnout in 1974.1  It refers to an overwhelming feeling of tiredness, apathy, and depression, all relating to one’s job and often leading to substance use. The link between burnout and addiction is considered fact. However, many medical professionals have yet to agree on a rigid definition for burnout. Primarily, describing the combination of the symptoms mentioned above provides a working definition of burnout.

High Stakes Jobs

Burnout and addiction are most likely to occur in high stakes, service fields such as medical professions, entrepreneurs, lawyers, athletes, and c-suite executives. The studies show that the medical fields suffer the most. It’s not uncommon to hear about doctor burnout or caregiver burnout.1  That said, burnout can occur in virtually any job field where a worker maintains large amounts of responsibility and experiences lingering feelings of dissatisfaction with their job.1

Recovery Takes Time

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does recovery. The best method is to avoid burnout altogether, but this isn’t always possible. Here’s what we know about burnout and addiction and how to get help.

Learn More About Healing the Brain

Aspects of Burnout and Addiction

Severe Burnout Connected with Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

Severe burnout, even in an individual with no past issues with substance use, can cause the idea of drugs and alcohol to become more appealing.2  People experiencing burnout are more likely to engage in cocaine and other illicit drugs.2  Furthermore, the more responsibilities a person experiencing burnout has, the more likely they are to abuse substances.3  Substances such as alcohol can increase the feelings of depression and, in time, cause a bevy of other negative emotions, all of which occur during the throes of addiction.3


People experiencing burnout often self-medicate. Burnout leads to substance use to relieve feelings of stress. Self-medicating increases the risk of falling victim to the circular nature of burnout and addiction.2

Causes of Burnout

Enormous Burdens

What constitutes an enormous burden or responsibility varies individually. The common theme is that the individual feels overworked or is otherwise operating at, or beyond, their max capacity. Enormous burdens, regardless of success, cause feelings of inadequacy and depression. Feelings of being overworked can come from one significant source or be any combination of workload and personal life.4  Enormous burdens are an important factor in doctor burnout and caregiver burnout.

Repetitive or Prolonged

Repetitive jobs and those with exceptionally long hours can wear a person down over time. Either with the mundane nature of the work or from constant activity. Overall, job satisfaction is key to preventing burnout.

Promises of Great Success

Jobs that promise future financial security, recognition, or achievement without delivering or establishing an avenue of advancement contribute to executive burnout. It ties back into the effects of job satisfaction and mental health. These feelings can intensify over time as more and more time is spent not advancing.5

Overwhelming Problems

Overwhelming problems and responsibilities can cause a person to spiral into burnout and depression. Being overwhelmed can cause a person to become withdrawn. Isolation increases the chance that a person will begin to abuse drugs and alcohol.3

Inadequacy or Guilt

Inadequacy and guilt are heavy burdens to carry. They cause severe psychological trauma. Frequent feelings of guilt are early signs of burnout.4 In the workplace, guilt can take the form of feeling that you are not doing enough or feeling like you’ve let the team or your boss down.

Not Acknowledging the Sacrifice

Validation and reward are essential to personal growth and productivity. If you work hard on something, you inherently expect a reward befitting the labor. Being denied this validation can lead to burnout.

How Stimulants Seem to Help with Burnout

People experiencing work burnout may turn to stimulants to help increase productivity. Stimulants improve alertness, clarity, and efficiency. However, stimulants intensify work burnout when they begin to wear off. Over time, a dependency is built, which is a precursor for substance use disorder. Worth noting, illegal stimulants can cause severe long-term depression, irritability, and negative thoughts. These side effects contribute to the long-lasting impacts of work burnout.


Like most illegal drugs, cocaine activates the reward center in the brain. The long-term result of repeated use is addiction.


Adderall, a prescription drug, is frequently used on college campuses to avoid academic work burnout.6  Adderall is addictive when taken in excess.

How Stimulants Actually Contribute to Burnout

Stimulants do provide short-term boosts to energy and mood. However, stimulants overexcite the dopamine receptors. The brain’s dopamine receptors control feelings of happiness and euphoria. The initial surge may feel good, but the overexcitement depletes the brain’s supply of dopamine. This leads to short-term depression, most notable during withdrawal or when the drugs wear off.

Symptoms of Burnout

The signs of burnout are relatively easy to spot. Work burnout results in a drastic personality change. These are the most common signs:

Chronic Fatigue

High stress levels increase the risk of insomnia resulting in poor or inconsistent sleep and performance.3


Anger increases with the severity of work burnout and responsibilities.


Feelings of inadequacy often appear as self-criticism. The perceived notion that despite trying your absolute best, you could’ve done more. Alternatively, self-criticism undervalues your completed work.7


Stress increases cortisol levels, which can add to or increase depression and negative thoughts. Prolonged cortisol production has long-lasting risks to physical and mental health.

Hair-Trigger Emotions

Stress throws hormones and mood regulation out of whack. Additionally, depression from work burnout causes high highs and low lows.

Who Gets Burnout? 

Frankly, everyone is subject to burnout under the right conditions, regardless of their field of work. However, certain professions and personality types are at a greater risk. 

Managers and Executives 

Executive burnout or manager burnout occurs due to the enormous responsibility that comes with the position. Managing people carries inherent stress. Executive burnout is often the direct result of this. 

People in Competitive Jobs 


Athletes, by nature, continually strive to improve and be better than their competitors. This can result in feelings of inadequacy. 


Modern entertainment is a 24/7 job for most entertainers. Meeting, greeting, and maintaining a public persona can be mentally draining. Social media identity and presence increase this pressure. 

-Stages of Burnout

Signs of burnout appear in the following stages:

  • Frustration – Caused by feeling unheard or having issues solving a problem
  • Anger – Caused by being overworked or neglected
  • Apathy – Caused by feeling frustrated, angry, or dissatisfied for a long period of time
  • Burnout – The culmination of the stages above
  • Withdrawal – At this stage, a person retreats into themselves as a way of relief
  • Self-Knowledge – Understanding that one is experiencing burnout and trying to figure out how to recover from burnout
  • Recovery – Returning to a healthy state of mind

How Burnout Leads to Relapse

The circular nature of executive burnout can cause drug and alcohol relapse. This happens gradually, but a person begins to perceive drugs and alcohol as increasingly positive things. Burnout also affects a person’s ability to make well-thought-out decisions.8

Managing Burnout 

These are the best ways to manage executive burnout before seeking professional help: 

Work/Life Balance 

Executive burnout occurs when a person puts their job over their wellbeing. Self-care is important. Having a life outside of work is essential. Seek out things that interest you and invest time into them. 

Practice Detachment 

Detachment in this context means not letting work get to you. Easier said than done. However, keeping your self-worth separate from work concerns can reduce executive burnout. 

Reduce Stress 

There will always be stressful situations but removing stress you don’t need is a great way to take back your happiness. It can be something small like drinking tea or something more substantial like seeking new employment. 

Eat Healthfully 

Diet and exercise play a bigger role in mood than most people realize. Eating healthy foods gives your body the fuel it needs to thrive in the workforce or, at the very least, the energy required to pick a new path. 

Create Strong Boundaries 

Create a firm boundary between work and home life. Not taking work home with you or not taking your home life to work are examples of that. 

Treating Burnout and Addiction 

Burnout and addiction don’t go away on their own. A person must make functional changes to ensure their future mental and physical wellbeing. Taking time away from work to focus on yourself helps control burnout and addiction. Addiction treatments can be slightly more complicated but entirely possible thanks to the advancements in treatment options. Burnout and addiction are tough to overcome alone. Seeking help is the first step. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information. 

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