Feeling Alive through Adrenaline

adrenaline life forceThe psychology of a thrill seeker is baffling to most. What could possibly motivate a person to deliberately put themselves into a risky situation? This quality in a person is at the opposite end of the spectrum from where most people exist. The average person is looking to keep themselves as safe as possible and avoid risky activities. Though it is difficult to empathize with a thrill seeker, understanding the basics of how their brains work will make you understand their plight a little bit better.

One thing that has been observed repeatedly in thrill seekers, by psychologists and casual observers, is that they have brains that do not want to turn off. They are compulsive thinkers and they have a very hard time stepping out of that role in order to have meditative moments. The trouble is, people need to shut off the activity of their brains sometimes in order to stay level and healthy. For thrill seekers, this is more difficult than it is for most. However, all thrill seekers report that when they are engaging in their thrill seeking, they are living completely in the moment instead of thinking and overthinking. When people discover that thrill seeking can do this for them, they are often sold on it for life.

Thrill seekers do extreme things because it allows them a freedom that they otherwise have a hard time coming by. The adrenaline rush of doing something incredible that involves risk opens doors for them that tend to stay closed in their lives. This does not necessarily mean that they should engage in risk seeking constantly. It can still become an unhealthy addiction. But for the joy it brings them, thrill seekers should have the freedom to pursue activities that make them feel the most alive. Thrill seeking is a chance for them to turn their calculating brains off, feel a rush of pleasure and experience the feeling of pure escape.

Flirting with Danger

thrill seekingIt is very hard for the average person to understand why someone would be a thrill seeker. Most of us spend our lives thinking about safety and how to acquire more of it. Thrill seekers literally have an opposite brain type of the average person. They spend their lives seeking out activities that put them at risk. This may seem counterproductive to a person’s well being, but the opposite is true for this brain type. In order for thrill seekers to be happy, they need to pursue activities that meet the following criteria.

  • Extreme. In order for an activity to be adrenaline inducing and exciting to a thrill seeker, it needs to be extreme. Thrill seekers are not fond of tame activities that people can do with a safety net in place. For them, excitement comes from doing the most extreme version of any activity instead of going halfway. For example, if they get a thrill from heights, they will probably want to sky dive out of an airplane rather than simply ride a roller coaster.
  • No guarantee of personal safety. While other people work hard to protect their safety, thrill seekers are often looking to get rid of it. For them, safety is a buzz kill. Their thrill seeking is an art form to them, and safety kills their inspiration. The level of focus required in the face of danger and the way that the activity totally consumes thrill seekers is a major part of their attraction to it. They would consider the experience impure and half executed if it came with a safety net.
  • Abnormal. Another attraction to thrill seeking is that its something that other people do not tend to do. Thrill seekers want to see the world from a different perspective and they are drawn to the roads that are less traveled. If there is a safe hiking path available, they want to take the riskier one. If there are rapids to raft, they want to try the rougher ones.

Is Thrill Seeking Ethical?

addictive thrill seekingThrill seeking is a behavior we observe in a great many people. Most of us know someone who gets their jollies from cliff jumping, sky diving, mountain climbing or some other high adrenaline activity. Most people cannot understand it, but these activities are highly enjoyable to them. The question of ethics often arises in these situations because commonly, a thrill seeker will be married or have children. People naturally wonder how they are all right with jeopardizing their safety for fun when they have dependents or loved ones. There is no clear answer to this controversy.

On one hand, every person is free to spend their time how they see fit. Thrill seeking involves taking calculated risks, often times to experience things that will broaden perspective and allow a person to practice a skill. Firemen and policemen also take calculated risks going into their line of work, so why would thrill seeking be called unethical?

On the other hand, thrill seeking can be considered addictive and worthy of rehabilitation. After all, the thrilling activities that adrenaline junkies perform give them a rush of dopamine, the same brain chemical that is responsible for all troubling addictive behavior, including the kind that involve substance abuse. Can it then be deduced that thrill seeking behavior is a sign of maladaptive tendencies and require therapy and treatment?

The reason this is controversial is because thrill-seeking has observable therapeutic benefits to thrill seekers, not just detriments. When we examine an addiction like substance abuse, we can be certain that the addiction will have harmful effects on the addict. But in the case of thrill seeking, it is entirely possible that the thrill seeker will never experience harm for as long as they engage in the activity of thrill seeking. The bottom line is that anything can be addictive. Some addictions put a person in immediate danger and some do not. But any addiction throws a person’s life out of balance and makes them lose perspective, so any addiction should be brought under control.

Common Thrill Seeking Outlets

scuba diverThere are many ways a thrill seeker can get their adrenaline fix. The only real commonality between all of them is that they are all physical activities. Apart from that trait, thrill seekers like to push they boundaries of their courage in anyway their imaginations can invent. However, there are some that are more common than others, which include:

  • Bungee jumping. This classic thrill seeking method is a favorite among adrenaline junkies. Falling from a bridge or a crane that soars up to incredible heights with only a thick elastic to preserve your mortality is the right kind of dangerous for thrill seekers the world over. Where most of us would be terrified, thrill seekers are blissful.
  • Mountain climbing. Another common thrill seeking venture for people who like more of a technical challenge is mountain climbing. These intense vertical ascents up cliff faces and boulders have particular appeal to people who did a lot of climbing as kids. Those who enjoy the thrill but still value safety will latch their climbing ropes onto a system of hooks in the rock face as they ascend. Those who’s enjoyment comes from working without a safety net will skip the ropes all together.
  • Sky diving. This daring activity is very similar to bungee jumping. There is something about free falling that attracts thrill seekers from every walk of life. For some, the bungee cord is far too short and only a jump out of an airplane with a parachute will satisfy their adrenaline cravings.
  • Cliff jumping. Some people have to work up the nerve to jump off the high diving board at the public pool. Adrenaline junkies prefer to jump off of 100-foot ridges into deep, natural pools of water. The thought ties some people’s stomachs in knots, but to a thrill seeker, there is no greater joy.
  • Scuba diving. When scuba diving involves deep water dives, cave dives or shipwreck dives, it attracts thrill seekers for the adventure aspect.
  • Swimming with sharks. The last thing on many people’s wish list, swimming with sharks is another favorite of thrill seekers.

Thrill Seekers

junkie for adrenalineThere are some people who are born to gravitate toward caution and a steady pace. And then there are those who are born to seek thrills. Thrill seekers are a very unique type of person. They are the kind who take on hobbies and personal interests that the rest of us struggle to comprehend, such as sky diving, tight rope walking and mountain face climbing. This type of person feels most alive when they are pushing the boundaries of their bravery and safety. They like to live on the edge and challenge themselves to stare their mortality in the face.

Thrill seekers are also known as adrenaline junkies. The activities they engage in range in difficulty and safety, but they are always high adrenaline. To most people, these activities would be stressful and overstimulating, but to thrill seekers, they are their life blood. This behavior begins for them when they are just children. As they begin to experiment with daredevil acts and earn gasps and praise from their peers, daring acts become rewarding to them and begin to factor into their sense of identity. As they age, their hunger for adrenaline ages as well and grows stronger. They desire to continuously out-do themselves and exceed their last thrill seeking act. Age, injury and close calls with death can deter thrill seekers over time, but some persist even through these circumstances.

If you have a thrill seeker in your life who you are struggling to understand, know that you are not alone. It is a way of life that can seem highly questionable to people who cannot relate to it, especially if the person is responsible for loved ones. However, be careful not to judge too harshly. The individual’s brain is wired to feel completed by thrill seeking. It should also be considered that there is a high percentage of thrill seekers who go through life uninjured who remain strong, healthy and active into their late lives.

What Prompts Thrill-Seeking?

thrill seeking promptWe have all heard of adrenaline junkies: the people who base jump, fly in wing suits, cliff jump, climb without ropes, deep sea dive, bungee jump and sky dive routinely. Most of us cannot understand why these people do what they do, but we cannot help but be fascinated by the way they live. We struggle to put ourselves in their shoes. No matter how hard we try, we cannot relate to the choices they make.

Most people do not realize that the same brain chemical they get from doing exciting, pleasurable things such as eating chocolate cake, going on a shopping spree or having sex is the same brain chemical that adrenaline junkies are getting by taking extreme risks. Neurologists have found that this pleasurable chemical, called dopamine, is not distributed equally among us. While most of our brains release an adequate amount of dopamine by engaging in simple pleasures, others do not generate dopamine as easily and go looking for extreme ways of achieving it.

This neurological find is being used to explain many brain types that demand extremism in order to feel happy, alive and exhilarated. It is also concluding that the quest for dopamine connects many different kinds of people, including high-functioning individuals, addicts and thrill seekers. At first glance, these personality types may not seem to bare a resemblance, but in actuality, they can be so similar that they can all be embodied in the same person.

High-functioning individuals, addicts and thrill seekers are all being motivated by the same hunger for dopamine; they are just going about achieving it in different ways. One might say the high-functioning individual is seeking dopamine in the most sustainable way: their need for risk and thrill is satisfied by meeting life challenges head on and achieving their goals. An addict is satisfying their dopamine craving through an unsustainable method: by overusing a pleasurable substance or activity to the point that it has negative effects on their life and health. And lastly, the sustainability of thrill seeking is arguable and indefinite. Some may view it as an unconscious way of bringing one’s self closer to death, while others may argue that it is a deliberate way of feeling more alive.

All we can know for sure is that everyone’s individual brain chemistry is unique, and we are most whole when we acknowledge and adhere to the natural patterns of our brains. Thrill seeking can be abused, just like anything else. It can be used as a crutch, a means of escaping reality or it can serve as a thrill-seeking addiction itself. An adrenaline junkie may even choose to receive counseling for an adrenaline addiction. But for those who are whole in what they are and moderate themselves, thrill-seeking can be a healthy means of expression.