From Thrill-Seeking to Havoc-Wreaking: Where’s Your Line?

Would your friends and family describe you as “daring” or “fearless?” Do loved ones worry that one day you’ll take it too far? Do you even sometimes wonder what possesses you to gravitate to certain risky behaviors that make others cringe?

We all have our preferred ways of connecting with that “lust for life.” Where many may equate this feeling with, say, reading a good book or traveling to an exotic place, others seek out a different level of stimulation altogether. Some occasionally put a little extra pressure on the gas pedal on a long stretch of highway, not because we’re “in a rush” but rather “for the rush.” Some enjoy “extreme” sports like hang-gliding or bungee-jumping for the same reason. There are others who take thrill-seeking much farther, deliberately toying with highly dangerous activities that carry the risk of serious bodily injury or worst, just to pursue that intense adrenaline rush of narrowly surviving the experience.

Could your “thrill-seeking” tendencies be heading towards a more “havoc-wreaking” lifestyle? If you find yourself having frequent speeding tickets, broken bones/injuries, strained relationships, even legal charges resulting from your risky behavior, for starters, it may be time to re-evaluate.

What might attract someone to potentially destructive behavior, anyway? The short answer is that both nature and nurture play contributing roles here. A person’s age, temperament, an attentional disorder (e.g., A.D.H.D.), a mood disorder, a genetic predisposition to addiction, or a history of head injury all influence one’s vulnerability to risk-taking behavior.

To get a bit more technical, consider the “pre-frontal cortex” of the human brain, which is responsible for many of the executive functions that control judgment, decision-making, and delaying gratification. Many of the vulnerability factors above have their roots in the pre-frontal cortex. To illustrate: until we’re in our early twenties, this part of our brain is not fully developed; teens and young adults are more prone to impulsivity, seeking immediate gratification, and having limited foresight. Someone with a history of head injury may find themselves acting more impulsively and recklessly than they had before their injury. Those who suffer from untreated ADHD are more likely to seek out shortcuts, make careless mistakes, and have more trouble controlling impulses. Someone with addictive tendencies may be constantly seeking the endorphin flood that comes with high-risk behavior (which, not coincidentally, mimics the “rush” of a mood-altering substance). If you or someone you know struggles with one or more of these vulnerabilities, you may have seen firsthand the aftermath of the reckless lifestyle, i.e., job-loss, financial crisis, strained or severed relationships, divorce, frequent bouts of remorse, depression or anxiety, to name a few.

Addressing the behavior head-on: 

  • If you are considering cutting back on potentially havoc-wreaking tendencies, a good first step is figuring out where the behavior may be originating. Start with a physical exam by your primary care physician in order to rule out any contributing medical concerns.
  • Next, you might want to arrange an evaluation with a qualified mental health professional. Remember that the licensed clinicians at E4 Health are happy to consult with you if you’re unsure where to begin.

Once you’ve determined some potential root causes, create a plan of action: 

  • So, if stimulation is what you seek, make a list of alternative inspiring activities which you can start to practice in place of the problematic ones. Join a gym, look up a community softball team, book club, gaming club, hiking or rock-climbing group, for instance. Surround yourself with others who enjoy these newfound activities and try to limit your time with those who may reinforce the risky behavior.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed as having an impulsivity problem, consider regularly seeing a counselor. The counselor may help you to develop coping strategies and ways to practice slowing down in order to disengage that potentially hazardous “impulse-action” hair trigger. Consider a medication consultation, as there are medications which are quite effective at addressing impulsivity and attentional challenges.
  • If you are struggling with an addiction, or what’s often referred to as an “addictive personality,” consider seeing a certified addictions counselor. As mentioned above, similar to substance abuse, someone who is genetically prone to addiction may find themselves gravitating to the “rush” even if it isn’t in the form of alcohol or drugs. The biological process of addiction in the brain is the same regardless of the “drug of choice,” so if you believe this might be vulnerability factor for you, talk to an expert.

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