Have you ever wondered what drives thrill-seekers and daredevils to participate in terrifying experiences? Whether it is diving with sharks, scaling Mount Everest, or walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope, adrenaline junkies are a breed apart.
What many people don’t know is that sensation-seeking individuals may have something called adrenaline addiction.
What is this condition? How does it develop? And who is at risk? In this article, we will explore in more details about this condition.
But first, let’s understand what is adrenaline and why someone can become addicted to it.
What is Adrenaline?
To fully grasp the meaning of adrenaline addiction, it’s important to first understand adrenaline itself, what it is and what are its functions in the body. The human body is a complex, highly organized piece of machinery that relies on many different systems to sustain life, one of which is hormones.
Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands directly into the bloodstream. Also called epinephrine, it is a chemical messenger that transmits signals to different organs.
In other words, adrenaline prepares the body and mind to either “fight” a danger or take “flight,” i.e., run away from the danger. This can be achieved in many ways.
The release of adrenaline into the bloodstream triggers several responses, including:
- an increase in heart rate
- an increase in blood pressure
- an expansion of airways in the lungs
- rapid breathing
- an enlargement of the pupils
- sweating in the skin
- a heightening of the senses
- preparation of the muscles for exertion
- a decreased perception of pain
The term “adrenaline rush” is used to collectively describe these signs and symptoms. It is a normal response in the body and an important survival mechanism, which prepares the body mentally and physically to deal with the danger.
Adrenaline, therefore, plays a critical role in the body’s ability to cope with stress and danger. Once the acute stressful situation is over and the danger has receded, adrenaline production ceases.
If this is a normal response, how is it possible to develop an adrenaline addiction? First, let’s take a look at what happens when we face danger.
What Happens During an Adrenaline Rush?
Imagine you are being chased by a rabid dog.
Your heartbeat will skyrocket, you’ll begin to sweat, and you’ll find yourself running away at a speed you didn’t think possible. All this is made possible by the adrenaline rush and the body’s fight or flight response kicking in (in this case, it’s the flight response).
When human beings find themselves in stressful or dangerous situations, a series of events occurs very rapidly, before the person is even aware of what is happening in the body. The information about the potential danger is transmitted to a part of the brain called the amygdala. This structure, located deep inside the brain, plays an important role in processing emotions.
The amygdala conveys the information to another part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This small area located at the base of the brain is critical for many body functions, including the release of hormones.
The hypothalamus sends signals to the adrenal glands which are located on top of each kidney. The glands respond by releasing the hormone adrenaline into the bloodstream.
The hormone travels to various organ systems in the body via the bloodstream and produces the symptoms associated with an adrenaline rush.
If adrenaline is an essential hormone with important functions in the body, then how does a person develop an adrenaline addiction?
What is Adrenaline Addiction?
Some amount of adrenaline released during a crisis is necessary because it sharpens the senses and prepares the body to deal with danger. However, some individuals develop an addiction to the “rush” the hormone produces. They begin to seek out this sensation in the same way an addict seeks out a high from an illegal drug.
Adrenaline addiction can lead to compulsive participation in dangerous activities with no regard for physical, mental, legal, or financial consequences.
There are many different ways for adrenaline addiction to manifest. Some people with adrenaline addiction enjoy extreme sports like ice climbing and motorcycle racing. Others participate in thrilling activities like skydiving or downhill skiing. Still, others choose dangerous lines of work such as covering war zones, emergency rescue work, or firefighting.
People who repeatedly and purposely seek out such experiences are called thrill-seekers, daredevils, or adrenaline junkies.
Adrenaline addiction is a type of behavioural addiction. It is similar to gambling addiction, exercise addiction, or shopping addiction because there is no external substance involved. At Rosglas Recovery, we offer programs to deal with all kinds of behavioural addictions through effective, scientifically-backed methods.
There are some similarities between substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) and behavioural addictions. In both, psychological factors such as hedonistic (pleasure-seeking) motives are driving forces.
Some of the signs of adrenaline addiction include:
- Experiencing a strong urge or craving to participate in a high-risk activity
- Suffering from withdrawal symptoms such as frustration and restlessness when not participating in the activity
- Losing interest in other activities and hobbies
- Continuing to participate in the activity despite negative consequences such as injuries
- Becoming increasingly addicted to the sport or activity with increasing exposure and experience
Many of these features of adrenaline addiction are similar to substance abuse. But does thrill-seeking behaviour qualify as an addiction?
Is Adrenaline Addiction Really an Addiction?
By definition, addiction is participation in behaviour despite serious risks and negative consequences. This definition can be applied to individuals with an adrenaline addiction who continue to participate in dangerous activities despite physical injuries and damage to relationships.
There are other similarities between substance abuse and participation in extreme sports.
Adrenaline junkies and extreme sports athletes frequently describe a “natural high” and liken the experience to drug use, stating they just “can’t get enough.”
Studies on Adrenaline Addiction
A study on rock climbers found that the athletes experienced withdrawal symptoms when they were not participating in the sport. The withdrawal symptoms, which included cravings, decreased interest in other activities, and restlessness and/or frustration were comparable to the symptoms experienced by people with other types of behavioural and substance addictions.
Another study on skydivers found many features of addiction were strongly associated with the sport. For example, the adrenaline addiction was low in novice skydivers but increased with more experience, which is consistent with drug addiction where the severity often correlates to the duration of use.
Is Adrenaline Addiction a Medical Diagnosis?
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), used by healthcare professionals worldwide to diagnose mental disorders, thrill-seeking behaviour or adrenaline addiction is NOT currently listed as a medical diagnosis.
This is because the studies that have been done on adrenaline addiction are small in number and size. There is not enough peer-reviewed research to support listing it as a medical diagnosis.
Yet, why it could be dangerous for you and your loved ones?
Who is at Risk of Adrenaline Addiction?
Some people love to ride tall roller coasters or go BASE jumping. Others are drawn to activities such as whitewater rafting and shark diving.
These are the obvious adrenaline junkies who are always signing up for activities that require waivers. However, adrenaline addiction does not always involve life-threatening situations. It can manifest in much more subtle ways.
We have all met or heard of high-level business executives or investment bankers who “perform best under pressure.” Some people take to destructive behaviour like stealing or damaging property for the thrill.
Some people work best with the energy and excitement created by the frantic need to complete the work. Such individuals are at risk of developing an adrenaline addiction where they begin to purposely leave things to the last minute. Thrill-seeking may also be exhibited by a constant need for crisis or conflict (such people are often labelled “drama queens”).
Adrenaline addiction can even be something as simple as maintaining a jam-packed work schedule or social life for the buzz of never having enough time. It may develop in people who love starting conversations on hotly debated issues because they relish the thrill of picking a fight with others.
What are the Traits of an Adrenaline Junkie?
There is no single test that can tell whether someone has adrenaline addiction. However, certain personality traits are common among daredevils and sensation seekers. A 2016 study of parachute jumpers revealed that personality is the biggest predictor of risk-taking behaviours.
Some of the traits commonly seen in people with the T (thrill) type personality include:
- Impulsive and spontaneous
- Flexible and open to change
- Creative and curious
- Driven to pursue challenges
- Desire novelty and complexity
These personality traits in and of themselves are not something to worry about. They may even be positive life influencers. However, if someone with adrenaline addiction is regularly putting their own and other people’s safety at risk, it may be time to evaluate things.
What Are the Dangers of Adrenaline Addiction?
There are some obvious dangers of adrenaline addiction, such as injuries, paralysis, and fatalities. The danger to life and limb increases with prolonged exposure to the activity as individuals tend to become increasingly more reckless or do even more dangerous things to feel the adrenaline rush.
Adrenaline Addiction in Daily Life
You don’t have to be a skydiver or bank robber to get hooked to the rush of adrenaline. Many people have an unconscious need for stimulation in daily life that does not involve obvious thrill-seeking behavior, daredevil acts, or extreme sports.
A person’s adrenaline addiction can manifest in everyday life and result in potentially dangerous situations, for example:
- Driving above the speed limit
- Behaving aggressively and picking fights with people
- Lying or manipulating others
- Stealing or damaging property
- Mixing alcohol and drugs with known dangerous interactions
As long as adrenaline addiction is limited to how a person manages their schedule or approaches a deadline, it is relatively harmless, although even this can backfire if they end up losing their job or missing any important event.
Adrenaline Addiction and Substance Abuse
Another potential danger of adrenaline addiction is the risk of progression from sensation-seeking behaviour to substance abuse. Many adrenaline junkies describe the need to participate in extreme sports as a strong craving. They report feeling unhappy, stressed, or itchy when they abstain from the sport.
A similar emotional withdrawal is frequently noted in drug users when they are abstinent. Illegal drugs and alcohol stimulate the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical that produces intense euphoria. It may only take a few steps for an adrenaline addict to seek a high from other means.
If you are worried about yourself or a loved one being addicted to drugs, our self-assessment test can help you decide whether you need professional care.
What Are the Health Consequences of Adrenaline Addiction?
When adrenaline is released suddenly in response to an exciting, stressful, dangerous, or life-threatening situation, it causes what is commonly called the “adrenaline rush.” As noted, there is a flurry of activity in the body and several responses are triggered. The heart beats faster, breathing becomes more rapid, and the skin begins to perspire.
Unknown to the person, other responses are occurring silently in the background, such as increased availability of glucose (sugar) to provide energy.
For example, if you see a car approaching at high speed, the adrenaline rush will occur within seconds and allow you to dodge out of its way. But once the danger is out of the way, the effect of adrenaline quickly dissipates and the body returns to its normal state.
However, in people with an adrenaline addiction, the persistent surges of hormone over time can lead to many health problems, including:
- Damage to blood vessels
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Weight gain
Limiting the Damage from Adrenaline Rushes
As mentioned above, frequent and repeated adrenaline rushes can be harmful to your health. Yet, you can limit the negative health effects of adrenaline addiction by learning to manage stress. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and Tai-Chi are healthy ways of coping with stress.
At Rosglas Recovery, we have a number of therapy programs that can help you or a loved one lead a healthier and more balanced life.
For example, we can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who experience elevated adrenaline levels with memories of traumatic events.
It is important to note that certain medical conditions associated with elevated adrenaline levels require definitive treatment. For example, adrenal tumours, although extremely rare, can potentially lead to an overproduction of adrenaline which may cause adrenaline rushes.
How to Get an Adrenaline Fix Safely?
Yes, it’s possible to get an adrenaline fix safely.
People with an adrenaline addiction do not have to put their own and other people’s lives in danger to get their heart pounding. There are plenty of ways to experience an adrenaline rush in a safe and controlled environment, such as:
- Riding roller coasters
- Bungee jumping
- Rock climbing
- Whitewater rafting
- Cage diving with sharks
- Racing on tracks within designated speed limits
- Playing escape room games
- Watching horror movies
The important thing is for thrill-seekers to perform adrenaline-pumping activities in a monitored environment with the proper equipment.
How to Cope with Adrenaline Addiction?
As noted above, it is possible to lead an exciting life without the risks of adrenaline addiction. You don’t have to constantly create crises, become unnecessarily involved in stressful situations, or put life and limb in danger.
People who have mild to moderate cravings for high-risk activities may benefit from self-help techniques. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, getting enough sleep, and practising mindfulness and meditation are all useful techniques you can start with.
How to overcome adrenaline addiction? 3 Step approach
Do you think you might be struggling with adrenaline addiction? Below are the 3 steps you should take to overcome this potentially dangerous condition:
Step 1: Acknowledge there is a problem and become motivated to eliminate it.
Step 2: Tell family, friends, and colleagues about the desire to change. This creates accountability. It also encourages enablers to stop feeding the addiction.
Step 3: Confront the problem and take concrete steps to alter your behaviour. For example, ask yourself whether driving above the speed limit accomplishes anything other than putting lives in danger. Try not to be wildly busy all the time and strike a better work-life balance. Limit participation in potentially dangerous sports to within reason and with appropriate precautions. The trick is to balance thrill-seeking behaviour with periods of rest and relaxation.
Sensation-seekers with severe adrenaline addiction frequently require professional help. This is especially true if the thrill-inducing activities are putting their own or other people’s lives in danger.
If you or a loved one is fixated on the next adrenaline rush or find these experiences all-consuming, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Private addiction treatment with one-on-one therapy is very effective because it is tailored to the needs of the individual.
Find the Help You Need
Adrenaline addiction is a lesser-known but potentially dangerous type of behavioural addiction that can be managed effectively with therapy.
To find out more about our counselling programs, give us a call at +353 1 458 3575 to reach our office in Ireland or +1 646 918 8223 to reach our office in New York. All calls are private and confidential. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team of specialists is available 24/7 to answer your questions and concerns.