We suspect that one of the most common addictive processes is also the most ignored. It is the addiction to excitement, to the neurochemistry associated with arousal.
Think about a time when you were suddenly terriﬁed, either purposely — as in a movie — or against your will. To your biochemistry, there is not much difference whether you were driving normally and someone pulled in front of you, or you were heading down the ﬁrst steep plunge of the rollercoaster. Your mind recognizes the danger, real or imagined, and begins the biochemical reactions necessary for ﬂight or ﬁght. The surge in epinephrine (adrenaline) increases your pulse, your blood pressure, and puts your body on alert, within fractions of a second. Meanwhile the norepinephrine (NE) almost instantly clears your mind of any sad feelings, other preoccupations, or drowsiness.
If you swerve and miss the other car, or stomp on the brakes in time, within a few minutes other neurotransmitters will restore the balance and you will be back almost to the place you were before the near miss. But suppose, consciously -or unconsciously, you liked the arousal state produced by all that excitement. You might ﬁnd yourself gradually developing a tendency to drive fast, paying less attention to your driving, and getting into a dangerous driving situation several times a week.
Some people do just that. They may joke about being accident-prone. Or they may choose exciting or dangerous sports and hobbies and play them obsessively. Just a few examples are football, hockey, rugby, boxing, skydiving, skindiving, caving, cave diving, whitewater rafting, car or airplane racing, rollercoaster riding, surfboarding, and paint pellet war.
These examples are probably similar to the biochemistry involved in compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, ﬁerce competition, and frequent rage. And excitement plays at least some part in sex, love, romance, drug use, abuse, incest, violence, power trips, anorexia, and arguments.
If you are doing any of these things often, your body will sense the chemical imbalances. If there is an excess of norepinephrine, your body can shift the balance in any of several ways. The result is a tolerance to the excitement, and everyday life will seem really boring. You will need more excitement to reach the same highs.
Eventually, you have to stop the exciting activity, and you begin to go through withdrawal — a sense of depression, boredom, and lack of purpose. So it’s off to get excited again, or try some cocaine, or maybe see a doctor about an antidepressant.
If you are in a recovery program and you recognize excitement as a secondary addiction for you, there is a good chance you can simply broaden your use of the Twelve Steps to include your addiction to excitement. If you think excitement is your primary addiction, it will be hard to ﬁnd a speciﬁc Twelve-Step program. You might even need to start one. See the Meetings module for some suggestions.
Updated 6 Sep 2015
Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson
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