Picture this: you are 10,000 feet up in an airplane with a skydiving instructor on your back and a parachute that you are hoping will open. Your heart rate is sky high, your knees are trembling, your eyes are wide open. Then the door of the airplane opens and the countdown begins – 3…2…1 – and 30 thrilling seconds later, your feet touch the ground. It is the adrenaline that heightens the senses and allows you to experience every moment of that free fall.
There is little doubt that adrenaline can be an intoxicating thing. Those who pursue that feeling are often referred to as ‘adrenaline junkies,’ in that they may pursue that sensation the same way a drug or alcohol addict pursues their drug of choice. Adrenaline is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that heightens the senses in times of extreme stress. This could be through extreme sports like skydiving, bungee jumping, white water rafting, or motocross, among many others. Others may get their adrenaline fix more safely, like maintaining an extreme amount of commitments or procrastinating on projects until the last minute.
The Addiction Cycle
To help identify if someone is addicted to adrenaline, a substance like drugs or alcohol, or another behaviour like sex or gambling, there is a basic addiction cycle that many addicts go through.
Experimentation: This is the first time an individual uses drugs or alcohol, or for those who seek extreme behaviours, it is the first time they try skydiving, bungee jumping, or rock climbing.
Withdrawal: After experimenting with extreme behaviours or chemicals, some individuals may experience a withdrawal period. Though the research is inconclusive, some research has shown that those who pursue or seek dangerous situations have been known to have withdrawal symptoms.
Preoccupation: This is the stage where all the addict can think about or do is seek out their next experience. It can become an all-consuming thing until they get their next binge.
Identifying an Adrenaline Addict
Identifying an adrenaline addict can be a very difficult thing to do. Currently the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Addictions (DSM-5) does not recognize adrenaline as an addiction. There can also be a very fine line between pushing one’s boundaries in the name of athleticism or experience, and being an addict. However, there may be some signs to look out for:
- Consistently driving well above the speed limit
- Intentionally picking fights
- Consistently putting yourself or others in extreme or dangerous situations
Just because one does not seek out extreme sports or activities does not mean they are not addicted to adrenaline. Other signs of adrenaline addiction could include:
- Keeping an extremely busy schedule with minimal time to rest
- Procrastinating on projects until the last minute
- Being a workaholic
Dopamine and adrenaline are two hormones that are naturally produced in the body. Dopamine tells the body that what is being experienced is good and pleasurable. Adrenaline tells the body that it is in a state of extreme stress and the blood rushes to the organs deemed necessary to survive. Each of these hormones can be produced individually without the other, however in some cases the adrenaline rush can produce both. Scientists have discovered some similarities in the brains of thrill-seekers and of those with drug and alcohol addictions. This feeling of pleasure and satisfaction can lead the high sensation seeker or ‘adrenaline junkie’ to pursue these behaviours repeatedly.
The research into adrenaline addiction is inconclusive at best. Thrill-seeking behaviour is generally not considered to be an addiction. Many of the individuals who have participated in studies did not follow the traditional addiction cycle or exhibit typical withdrawal symptoms. This is not to say that it is not possible. If individuals do follow the addiction cycle and consistently put themselves or others in harm’s way, with little regard for safety, it may be time to consider a break or to seek some help.
For those who want to try thrill-seeking activities, there is a variety of safe ways to spike one’s adrenaline. Many regions offer guided white-water rafting tours with highly experienced guides, indoor skydiving offers a sensation of floating without the risk of a parachute not opening, ziplining requires individuals to be harnessed in, and car racing on designated tracks can all offer a thrilling experience in a safe environment. Alternatively, for those who need to take time to come down from their adrenaline spikes, activities like yoga, light exercise, and precious time with family allow for breaks in adventures.