Everyone knows a person like this. They love all forms of adventure, speed, and height, and can’t stop coming back for more. They can never be satisfied, and always look for something bigger, higher, or faster to check off the bucket list. I am talking, of course, about the adrenaline junkie. But are they really addicted to the “rush” from their high-octane adventures? I think that this in indeed a form of addiction, similar to getting a high off of drugs or sex.
While not officially listed as an addiction, there is an official label of “adrenaline junkie” in the scientific community. Temple University’s Frank Farley made the first official classification of these personalities in 1980’s, calling those who gravitated to danger and risk “Type T” personalities. But just because science hasn’t confirmed it as an official addiction doesn’t mean it isn’t.
I therefore dug deeper into what could possibly be addictive about an adrenaline rush itself. What I found was that when the body senses a potentially dangerous or frightening situation, it responds in several ways that create the “rush” people associate with these extreme sports. First, the adrenal gland produce, you guessed it, adrenaline. In addition, the pituitary gland creates its own endorphins, which add increased pleasure and decreased pain to the experience. Dr. Bernard Beitman of the University of Virginia looked at the first part, the adrenal gland secreting adrenaline, and explained how this could be the addictive factor. As is stated in this Q&A, adrenaline is closely linked with dopamine, which “plays a major role in pleasure and addiction” Is this the link that could settle the matter once and for all?
A look at a helpful guide called HelpGuide courtesy of Harvard’s medical program explained to me why dopamine causes addiction. Dopamine combines with the chemical glutamate to rewire the brain such that it begins to associate the addictive “thing” (in this case adrenaline) with pleasure and positive feelings and desire more and more. Thus begins the cycle of addiction.
A single statement from a single doctor doesn’t confirm that adrenaline rushes are addicative. No single statement is enough to conclusively overturn a null hypothesis. I turned to search engines, with page after page of search results using the term “adrenaline addiction” but without a link to a study or experiment that actually proves this to be a real addiction. For although it may seem like all signs point to this being a real affliction, science cannot simply assume something to be true. Thus, my alternative hypothesis that adrenaline rushes can be addictive is in limbo, not rejected but not a proven medical diagnosis either.