One of the most powerful and addictive drugs is actually made inside the body – the stimulant known as adrenaline. Sometimes compared to the addictive influence of morphine, adrenaline is the chemical that allows athletes to perform at top levels and people to carry out seemingly inhuman feats in emergencies. However, when the addiction goes too far, an adrenaline addict needs more and more, even to the point of health risks or putting themselves in dangerous situations.
Also known as the fight or flight mechanism, the adrenal glands send out the chemical called epinephrine (an interchangeable term with adrenaline). This neurotransmitter is one of the strongest parts of the sympathetic nervous system.
Adrenaline can be released at the same time as a flood of feel-good endorphins. These chemicals can provide powerful pain relief and a burst of energy, but over time, the body can become accustomed to a steady stream. The body will crave more and more adrenaline, with potentially deadly side effects if the person resorts to high-danger activities.
Like illegal drugs or alcohol, people who are addicted to adrenaline can crave the next “high,” especially its pain-relieving effect.
Once it is released, adrenaline (or epinephrine) causes the heart rate to rise, can reduce blood flow or speed it up, and even causes changes in the intestines and metabolic processes associated with digesting sugar and fats.
So why do people chase adrenaline rushes over and over? Many experts say they are addicted, because adrenaline gives repeated feelings of reduced pain and increased joy. The chemical’s natural purpose is for helping a person through a tough or emergency situation, but if overused, adrenaline can become the energy drive that allows a person to carry out even everyday activities.
Even for non-thrill seeking people, symptoms of adrenaline addiction can be very real. They may include sleep problems, irregular heartbeat, feelings of panic, headaches or digestion problems. Some experts, including Archibald Hart, professor and psychologist and author of “Adrenaline and Stress,” say adrenaline dependence may even be connected to heart disease.
Withdrawal from this powerful stimulant can require major life changes. Symptoms of adrenaline withdrawal can be manifested as depression, anger, a state of confusion or reduced energy.
In order to use up extra adrenaline, it is recommended that people spend time burning off the chemical through exercise. Accepting the attitude that life isn’t completely exciting at all times, but can ebb and flow, may also be helpful.
In some cases, the cravings for adrenaline can actually drive a person’s actions and control their life. Exchanging old behaviors for new ones that don’t promote high levels of adrenaline may be needed, with the help of professional counselors. Recovery may take several months, but as the adrenaline addict finds a new source of passion, the benefits to themselves and their relationships will be life-changing.