The phrase does not always imply that the person actually enjoys their work, but rather simply feels compelled to do it. There is no generally accepted medical definition of such a condition, although some forms of stress, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be work-related.
The word itself is a play on "alcoholic." The term was apparently coined by psychologist Richard I. Evans, currently professor of psychology at the University of Houston. Dr. Evans may have originated the term workaholic in an interview with him, published in the house publication for oil company Esso (now ExxonMobil), in the 1960s, and widely distributed throughout the world. In response to a question by the Esso interviewer regarding the concern by the corporation for workers who were often overworked, Evans replied that such individuals can almost be likened to alcoholics and might be described as "workaholics." James J. Kilpatrick, a nationally syndicated columnist, read the interview and referred to Evans and his creation of the term workaholic in his column, which Kilpatrick described as a useful new term. Evans' coinage also prompted the widespread use of the -holism suffix for popular compulsions. The origin of the phrase is often also attributed to psychologist Wayne Oates because of his 1971 book, "Confessions of a Workaholic." It gained more widespread use in the 1990s, as the result of a wave of the self-help movement that centered on addiction, forming an analogy between harmful social behaviors such as over-work and drug addiction, including addiction to alcohol.
Clinical researcher Professor Bryan Robinson identifies two axes for workaholics: work initiation and work completion. He associates the behavior of procrastination with both "Savoring Workaholics" (those with low work initiation/low work completion) and "Attention-Deficit Workaholics" - those with high work initiation and low work completion, in contrast to "Bulimic" and "Relentless" workaholics - both of whom have high work completion.
Workaholism in Japan is considered a serious social problem leading to early death, often on the job, a phenomenon dubbed karōshi. Overwork was popularly blamed for the fatal stroke of Prime Minister of Japan Keizo Obuchi, in the year 2000.