Skydiving. High-speed races. Ziplining through jungle canopies. These can all be telltale signs of an adrenaline junkie. Some people crave the adrenaline rush that comes with high-stakes physical risks.
Yet risky travel and demanding sports aren’t the only ways adrenaline addiction can manifest. Certain people prefer to take risks at work. Adrenaline addiction in the workplace can lead to workaholism, aggressive workplace competition, difficulties getting along with coworkers, and work-life balance issues.
Many workplace adrenaline addicts don’t recognize they have a problem. They enjoy the adrenaline rush, so they might not seek treatment until something goes wrong—a divorce, a job loss, or an allegation by a coworker. Therapy can help workers overcome adrenaline addiction without compromising their performance or undermining their ability to enjoy work.
Adrenaline Addiction: A Craving for Risk
Adrenaline is a core component of the body’s fight or flight response. When the body senses danger, it releases adrenaline. This raises heart rate and blood pressure, increases respiration rate, and supplies the organs and muscles with more blood and oxygen. Many people find this sensation pleasurable. Consider the thrill of riding a roller coaster, or the excitement and fear a person feels right before parasailing.
Yet for some people, this thrill can become addictive. “Adrenaline addiction is like all other addictions. It has both obsessive and compulsive components,” says Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM from Buffalo, New York.
Adrenaline is closely related to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of wellness, motivation, and pleasure. Dopamine also plays a role in addiction. This hints at the potential pleasure and addictive nature of an adrenaline rush.
For some people, physical risks aren’t the only route to an adrenaline rush. In a world that prioritizes work and values high status, careers can offer an ample supply of adrenaline. People may seek adrenaline rushes at work to stave off feelings of emptiness, boredom, lack of power, or anxiety.
Some examples of adrenaline-seeking behavior at work include:
- Taking excessive risks. An entrepreneur may buy a company they can’t afford or take on more projects than can possibly be completed.
- Creating a competitive, high-stakes work environment. People with adrenaline addiction may foster competition with coworkers or become abusive and angry.
- Workaholic behavior. Some professions offer ongoing adrenaline rushes. An appellate lawyer may experience an adrenaline rush every time they submit a high-stakes brief. A surgeon may feel an adrenaline dump before or after surgery. This rush can lead to workaholism, as workers seek more and more adrenaline rushes.
How Adrenaline Addiction Can Hurt Productivity
Adrenaline addiction can undermine performance at work, especially over the long-term. Interpersonal skills and the ability to cooperate with others are key predictors of workplace success. People who continually foster competitive, high-stakes environments may sabotage workplace relationships. This can destroy their reputation and hinder their long-term success.
High-stakes risks can be catastrophic for companies and individuals. An entrepreneur who purchases a business they can’t afford may end up bankrupt. An employee who takes on more projects than they can manage may lose clients or even their job.
Over time, adrenaline addiction may even cause health problems. A person who works too many hours may not have time to exercise, relax, or spend time with their family. This chronic stress can lead to health problems that make it more difficult to perform at work.
Success at work demands balance—the ability to take measured risks while being a good steward of company resources, a willingness to work hard without taking on more than is manageable, and a willingness to promote oneself without insulting or degrading coworkers.
What Causes Adrenaline Addiction?
“In my opinion, all addictions have one major purpose: to keep scary, unpleasant, or upsetting thoughts and feelings at bay,” Urdang explains. This disconnection from unpleasant emotions may also compromise productivity. A person who lacks the ability to address conflicts or painful emotions may eventually find those feelings affecting their workplace performance and relationships.
Ultimately, overcoming adrenaline addiction is about finding better ways to manage the unpleasant emotions that adrenaline addiction conceals.Adrenaline addiction can damage families and workplaces. Though not a clinical diagnosis, it is a well-recognized mental health phenomenon. Sometimes, adrenaline addiction leads to other mental health symptoms. A person who has made a high-risk decision, for example, may struggle with anxiety, guilt, or shame.
Some mental health conditions may also increase the risk of adrenaline addiction. A person experiencing mania may engage in high-risk behavior, for example. For some, adrenaline dumps are a way to escape the pain and frustration of anxiety or depression. For others, adrenaline addiction offers an escape from a troubled marriage, impostor syndrome, a history of trauma, and myriad other painful experiences.
Treating Adrenaline Addiction
Like many other addictions, adrenaline addiction can feel good in the moment. It allows workers to escape the pain and drudgery of daily life, and it offers a powerful rush of positive emotions. So it can be difficult to accept that there is a problem, especially when adrenaline addiction has not yet caused any major suffering. If you think you might have an adrenaline addiction, it’s important to look critically at what that addiction is costing you—or what it might cost you over the long-term. Ask friends and family for feedback. Treat their concerns as valid.
Ultimately, overcoming adrenaline addiction is about finding better ways to manage the unpleasant emotions that adrenaline addiction conceals. Urdang recommends the following:
- “Exercise. If the underlying issue is anxiety or depression, exercise will help you feel stronger, more centered, and change your brain chemistry. This means you’ll be less likely to succumb to cravings for excitement, whether they come from arguing, bungee jumping, telling your boss off, or any other potentially dangerous and self-destructive endeavor.”
- “Sleep. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. This affects every system in your body-mind and helps you feel balanced and in control, both of which make it easier to exercise self-discipline.”
- “Meditation. You might think the last thing in the world an adrenaline seeker could enjoy or benefit from would be meditation, but you would be mistaken. The trick is getting started. I would suggest guided meditations…At first, this will seem counter-intuitive, but training the brain is not just soothing, it’s engrossing and can be an excellent substitute to an adrenaline rush.”
- “Diet. Eat breakfast and don’t allow more than four hours to go between eating. If your blood sugar gets too low, you will be far more likely to succumb to the temptations of an adrenaline-inducing activity than you would if your blood sugar level was stable. Low blood sugar makes people cranky and impatient, which often leaves them searching for something distracting.”
- “Journaling. Whether you keep a written journal or an audio journal, both will go a long way towards helping you work through whatever is going on in your life at the moment.”
The right therapist can help with identifying the cause of adrenaline addiction. In therapy, you might talk about the feelings you are trying to avoid or the pleasurable sensations you are seeking through adrenaline addiction. Your therapist may make recommendations for cultivating a more balanced lifestyle or encourage you to talk about painful life experiences. Therapy offers a sympathetic, nonjudgmental place to discuss and test strategies for managing adrenaline addiction.
When adrenaline addiction causes problems in a family or marriage, family therapy or couples counseling can help all parties feel heard and understood. A therapist gently guides families toward more effective communication and more effective ways of relating to one another.
There is no shame in seeking help. Begin your search for a therapist today!
- Dopamine: Far more than just the ‘happy hormone’. (2016, August 31). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160831085320.htm
- Understanding the stress response. (2018, May 1). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
- Young, R. (2018, July 13). Soft skills: The primary predictor of success in academics, career and life. Retrieved from https://www.pairin.com/2018/07/13/soft-skills-primary-predictor-success-academics-career-life
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