Extreme sports addictions represent an interesting case because they involve activities such as skydiving, surfing, base jumping, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, and paintballing. These activities do not have negative effects on biological functioning. But on the other hand, extreme sports are inherently risky and do present a real threat to life and limb. In fact, most who are drawn to these activities admit that the risk of injury and death is a part of what makes extreme sports so stimulating.
When interviewed about their passion for risk-taking, what extreme sport practitioners mention again and again is the incredible adrenaline rush they feel when pursuing these dangerous activities, and they acknowledge that it is this high risk/high reward dichotomy that always brings them back for more.
This isn’t to say that all extreme sport practitioners disregard safety. For instance, paintballers will equip themselves with paintball markers, but also safety gear like masks. Nonetheless, the element of danger is an integral factor in its attraction.
Extreme Genetics and Brain Chemistry
Research seems to indicate that at least some compulsive risk takers do suffer from dopamine deficiencies, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience presented evidence in support of this theory. Researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City looked more closely at what was going on inside the brains of the sensation seekers participating in their study, and they discovered that people who love to take risks appear to be suffering from a deficiency of dopamine-inhibiting receptors in their brains.
It is speculated that people without the ability to regulate dopamine release properly may actually experience a more intense high while putting their life and health at risk, as their brains may become flooded with high concentrations of this pleasure-producing chemical. Even more so than alleviating possible dopamine shortages, it could be the exaggerated nature of this reaction that makes extreme sports so appealing to so many people.
When Extreme Fun Turns to Addiction
Whether or not the risk is really worth the reward is a question each extreme sports enthusiast must answer for him or herself. But when interest gradually transforms into obsession, to the point that family and work responsibilities are being neglected, and financial problems are being incurred because so much money is being spent in support of an extreme sport hobby, these are strong indicators that calculated thrill seeking has changed into addiction.
Wanting to do something and needing to do it are two different things entirely, and those who find themselves so consumed by a formerly pleasurable activity that it is adversely affecting other parts of their lives may need to seek professional help in order to get their behavior back under control. Addiction counselors or psychotherapists who specialize in obsessive-compulsive disorders will be able to help extreme sports addicts gain new insight into their personalities while showing them how to reorient their lives so that their hobbies are no longer the primary focus of their existence.
Like any other pleasurable pursuit, extreme sports can add spice and enjoyment to a person’s life. But if they become a source of obsession or addiction, they can also cause an enormous amount of physical and emotional damage and pain, for addicts and their loved ones alike. And if the extreme sports addict is driven to try more and more dangerous stunts in order to increase the intensity of the high, he or she may end up paying the ultimate price.