Ever ask yourself why a person would jump off a cliff, sky dive, or even attempt a space dive like Felix Baumgartner did this past Sunday? For the rush, of course!
Some people just don’t get this. If you ask anybody, I bet one thing that’s on their top 10 list of things they are most scared of is the fear of heights, technically called acrophobia. However, there are people out there who are addicted to these types of intense fear-induced situations that would normally scare the (excuse my language) crap out of someone (me, included).
But for these “adrenaline junkies” the act of conquering this fear creates a natural high that causes these thrill seekers to go after death-defying activities or dangerous extreme sports. This natural high is the result of a rush of adrenaline and endorphins released in their bodies.
Adrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter that increases heart rate, contracts blood vessels, and dilates air passages creating the “fight or flight” response in the nervous system. Endorphins mimic what opiates do, creating an absence of the sense of pain therefore functioning as “natural pain killers”.
Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Davis, who specializes in fear, explains the psyche of the adrenaline junky stating, “Fear is an incredibly strong emotion. If something scares us, the body immediately releases endorphins, dopamine and norepinephrine. Endorphins mitigate pain, dopamine and norepinephrine are performance enhancers…the general scientific thinking is that the more fearful a certain sport makes you, the greater the release of these chemicals. The greater the release of these chemicals, the greater the addiction-like symptoms.”
To give you an idea of how powerful these chemicals are take a look at two of the most addictive and habit-forming drugs in existence: cocaine and speed. Cocaine floods the brain with dopamine. Speed creates the feeling norepinephrine causes (i.e., “runner’s high”). And try wrapping your head around this piece of information… the most common endorphin the body can produce when it is successful at beating these fears is 100 times more potent and addictive than morphine!!!
So are these adrenaline junkies really nuts or insane?
Perhaps a handful is… but essentially NO! It’s craving for this natural rush caused by the release of these chemicals that is so powerfully addicting! Dopamine makes people want to do things, producing a need for the thrill seeker to do the ‘crazy’ things he/she does. Also, the addictive power of some of these chemicals make the adrenaline junky take more and more risks, upping the ante each time, so to speak, to achieve a more intense high.
Now you might be asking yourself, “Ok, but why do some people seek out dangerous life-threatening things to do and some of us don’t?”
New research has uncovered some additional insight to this. The amount of these brain chemicals released is different in each person, which gives an explanation to why some of us play it safer than others.
But imagine how unexciting and monotonous the world would be without these guys (or girls)! What everyone can take from all of this is that thrill seeking and the inherent drive of the adrenaline junkie lead to investigating and discovering new things. “Fearless Felix” Baumgartner pushed technical limits and his own personal limits on October 14th jumping from an altitude of 128,000 feet and reaching 833.9 mph (Mach 1.24) during free-fall — faster than the speed of sound!
Bottom line is Baumgartner and all the other adrenaline junkies in this world enjoy doing what naturally excites them. Those of us who don’t have that urge to go out on that extreme limb are happy to keep both of our feet (and butts) safely on the ground with eyes transfixed (or maybe even closed or covered by our hands), biting our nails in nervous anticipation as we watch what they do on the TV or computer screen!