The causes of addictions are as widespread as the various types of addictions that are out there. One of the more interesting addictions that certain people fall prey to is adrenaline. Dr. Eric Scalise classifies adrenaline addiction under the category of “addictions that stimulate.” The other four categories of addictions are “addictions that tranquilize”, “addictions that serve a psychological need”, and “addictions that satisfy unique appetites.” Elite athletes would be an example of a common segment of the population that tend to struggle with this addiction, but not always. The elite athlete has driven his body to a point where a certain level of adrenaline flow needs to be maintained or else they feel like their body will breakdown. In many senses the bodies of some of these athletes would actually breakdown if they do not maintain a certain level of adrenaline.
Adrenaline addiction not only will take its toll on a person’s physiology and psychology, but on a person’s relationships as well. I know of a man who started out with good intentions when he entered a few triathlons. After some time though he became overly fascinated with them and began to increase his race load substantially throughout the year. He began to be away from his wife more and more until she had enough and they divorced. They had been married for over 20 years before he started taking up racing. I truly believe that he had no idea he was secretly addicted to the adrenaline required to run those races.
In order for any clinician, counselor, pastor, or friend be able to effectively help someone struggling with adrenaline addiction they must be able to accurately discover the etiology of the disease. There are at least twelve preliminary factors that one needs to investigate initially before prescribing an action plan to the person that wants to get better. Here is a listing of twelve factors that can predispose a person to any addiction:
1) dysfunctional family of origin, 2) genetic factors, 3) extreme peer pressure, 4) curiosity, 5) low self-esteem, 6) parental role models, 7) cultural influences, 8) strong aggressive behavior with deficient self-control and/or social skills, 9) low moral or spiritual standards, 10) low tolerance for frustration, 11) past abuse or trauma, 12) emotional disorders.
*[These twelve categories are outlined in Dr. Scalise’s lecture entitled “The Addictive Cycle” in the Addiction and Recovery Course put out by Light University, 2009].
In addition to the twelve factors that play a role in making one more susceptible to addictions in general, we must take a look at some of the common unmet needs that lead to self-medicating behaviors such as adrenaline addiction. These include: 1) a need to get rid of anxiety, 2) a need to reduce feelings of guilt, 3) a need for approval or acceptance, 4) a need to avoid pain, and 5) a need to avoid disorder or confusion.
I believe that many athletes in particular probably experience a struggle with #2 above, the need for approval or acceptance. On a personal level, as a former track athlete, I can personally testify that when you perform at a certain level and begin to experience a new found acceptance, attention, and accolades that you never had before it motivates you to want to maintain the edge on your competition even more, so that you can continue the flow of praise that comes your way. I would say that behind the adrenaline addiction is a “praising from people” addiction that is secretly fueling it. I most definitely feared performing badly in high school because I didn’t want to lose all the high praise that came after. Deep down inside though there was something hollow and shallow about this pursuit that ended up killing my passion for the sport of track and field and it ended up having me drop out near my junior year in college.
Adrenaline is a naturally secreted chemical by the adrenal glands that are located behind the kidneys. When it is secreted in greater levels it can provide a feeling of power and energy that one doesn’t normally feel in day to day functioning. When adrenaline is being mass produced within the body a person experiences an incredible feeling of euphoria, high, or ecstasy. Therefore, if a person discovers an activity that produces higher levels of adrenaline they may become addicted to that particular activity in order for the same pleasurable feelings to be generated.
Whatever the action plan devised to help the adrenaline addict it must include some level of what I call “truth replacement.” I believe that behind all addictions is a lie that we have been telling ourselves that states what we need and then allows our behavior to chase an illicit path to meet that need. The problem is that lies are not only destructive relationally as mentioned aforehand with the triathlete, but can be destructive physically and psychologically.
Here is an example of “truth replacement.” Let’s say that a person discovers that they try to perform at a certain level on the football field in order to satisfy an unhealthy need for the acceptance of others. At some point we must tell ourselves this truth–“I don’t need the acceptance of others to feel good about myself.” The feeling that we need the approval of others is a lie that we must identify. We need to start believing that pleasing other people is not going to guarantee happiness nor is it healthy to always live for the approval of other people. For one thing, people are fickle and unreliable. You could produce the same performance results in two different settings and get the same person to applaud you after one performance and not the other. We must come to the realization that self-satisfaction must override the desire to please others. A good truth to recite to ourselves is the following: “I did the best I could and even if I didn’t I am still valuable–in the eyes of God and myself.”
A person ultimately has to feel they “measure up” with someone. Good mental health requires that we build our foundation on a set of beliefs or values that are positive, certain, and reliable. I can think of nothing with a greater guarantee than a statement that says, “God loves you all the time no matter what.”
“Addiction & Recovery” (speaker Dr. Eric Scalise). The Addictive Cycle. Lesson 105. DVD. www.lightuniversity.com. 2009