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Food for Thought: Adrenaline junkies

| May 12, 2021 12:00 AM

Adrenaline is part of the “flight or fight” response our bodies experience when coping with acute stress.

The adrenal glands are part of our immune system and keep us healthy. In stressful situations, our adrenal glands secrete a hormone called adrenaline which increases our rate of blood circulation, breathing and metabolism giving us added energy.

It helps us to respond faster and deal more efficiently with the crisis at hand. Unfortunately, many people begin to rely on, and in some cases, actually enjoy the “rush” or “high” they experience. It makes them feel alive and relieves the boredom.

Adrenaline helps us get through the tough times and more often it serves as a respite from pain and negative emotions.

It creates an urgency that gets people into action. Unconsciously, they begin to recreate the circumstances that produces the adrenaline until it becomes a habit. Adrenaline addicts are often workaholics and/or overachievers who perform well and are constantly on the go.

While adrenaline can be a great resource, it can also have some serious side effects. Frequently, a sudden demand from the boss can trigger an adrenaline surge that quickens the pulse, raises blood pressure, and produces anxiety.

In caveman days or during war this ‘flight” or “fight” response was useful in dealing with acute threats. Now those reactions are not necessary and in the long run very harmful physically and psychologically.

Many soldiers suffering from PTSD are adrenaline junkies. They can’t physiologically shut down and remain in a constant state of hypervigilance.

Neurobiologists at Cornell University, studying the adrenal glands of rats, discovered chronic stress cranks up the intensity of this adrenaline response.

Another study demonstrated stressful experiences are remembered and biases us to responding forcefully to subsequent threats; thus, producing an adrenaline addiction. As mentioned above this phenomena is often seen in post traumatic stress disorder.

The cost of adrenaline addiction produces tremendous stresses on the body, which over time weakens the immune system and leads to illness. Addicts lose the ability to focus, tend to live in the future and fail to enjoy the present.

They get depressed and constantly berate themselves because they feel they are never enough. They live life on the edge. It impacts personal and professional relationships.

Adrenaline junkies find themselves over promising and under delivering. They create stress and crisis by waiting until the last moment to do things. They drive everyone around them crazy. As they get busier and busier, the rush subsides and the activities that were once enjoyed become less and less satisfying.

Recovery for the adrenaline addict is not easy and usually takes about three to six months. It requires a change in lifestyle, a change in thinking and a commitment. Professional help is usually needed.

If you think you may be an adrenaline addict go to the web site proofpoint.com and take the self assessment test.

Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D., LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She can be contacted at 827-0700.