Are You an Adrenalin Junkie?
by John Newport, Ph.D.
In Good Food for a Sober Life, Jack Mumey and Dr. Anne S. Hatcher discuss the tendency on the part of many recovering alcoholics and addicts to become "adrenalin junkies". As we all know from personal experience, the surge of adrenalin rushing through our system can produce a profound sense of well-being. When the adrenalin is coursing through our veins we tend to feel fully alive, efficient, sharp and alert - with all systems raring to go.
Many (if not most) people with addictive disorders crave excitement, and feel a need to live on the edge all the time - even after they have entered into recovery. In fact, many treatment professionals believe that learning to live without constantly kicking our adrenalin into overdrive can be as great a challenge for people in recovery as learning to live without alcohol or drugs. Manifestations of adrenalin addiction that I have personally witnessed include recovering alcoholics who have taken jobs as bartenders, or who literally become addicted to reckless driving at excessive speeds in rushing from point A to point B.
Unfortunately, we live in a highly competitive, pressure cooker society that places a premium on the hyper-aggressive behaviors that feed our adrenalin addiction. For example, if you live in Southern California it is virtually impossible to drive on the freeways without kicking your adrenal glands into full gear. Unless you are commuting to or from work during the rush hour, in which case you must assiduously practice the acceptance part of the Serenity Prayer as a sheer matter of survival.
Just as water seeks its own level, adrenalin junkies are attracted to high-pressure jobs and professions, and often seem to create an endless series of crises in their lives in order to avoid slowing down (and facing who they really are). They also experience great difficulty in setting appropriate boundaries between their work and family lives, to the dismay of their spouses and children. They tend to be attracted to risky behaviors of all sorts - compulsive gambling, sky-diving and hang gliding, and risky romantic liaisons - anything and everything to keep the adrenalin rushing through their systems! The diets of adrenalin junkies are typically abysmal, as they have a strong propensity for overdosing on caffeine and sugary snacks of all sorts and virtually inhale junk food. They also set themselves up for chronic sleep deprivation by constantly burning the candle at both ends. Being an adrenalin junkie is extremely disruptive to your serenity and hazardous to your long-term sobriety, in addition to posing serious risks to both your mental-emotional and physical well-being. To be honest, we are all adrenalin junkies at one level or another - it's really a matter of degree. The following tips are offered to help in breaking this cycle.
- Listen to your body - Tune into your bodily signals that indicate that stress is building up - and do something to break the cycle. Take several deep breaths, and if possible take a few moments to back off from a highly stressful situation to bring yourself back on center. Regular physical exercise is by far the best stress-buster available to most of us. Regular practice of meditation, yoga, tai-chi or reflective prayer can also help break the cycle of chronic adrenalin overdrive.
- Remember that balance is the key - Set reasonable limits on your work-related expectations and energy expenditure, and strive to balance your work with healthy doses of rest and recreation. As Rick Carlson says in his best-seller Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, we all need to remember that when we die, our in-box will still be full!
- Practice the Serenity Prayer, and constantly remind yourself that "life is not an emergency".
Finally, pay attention to working your program and practicing the slogans - especially "Easy does it" and "One day at a time". And keep it simple. For most of us, probably the most effective way to keep our adrenal glands from kicking into overdrive is to consciously give thanks for our many blessings on a daily basic, while constantly reminding ourselves to SLOW DOWN and smell the roses. Until next time - to your health!
Spread the word!
I encourage you to reproduce this article and share copies with your friends. Treatment centers and counseling professionals are encouraged to share copies with their clients. A fuller set of guidelines for integrating a wellness lifestyle into your recovery program is provided in The Wellness - Recovery Connection: Charting Your Pathway to Optimal Health While Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, by John Newport, Ph.D. (Health Communications, Inc., 2004).
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