We 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.