Healing-the-Addiction-of-Excitement

Healing the Addiction of Excitement in Attachment Disorder

A need for stress and excitement is a key feature of growing up in a family where there was a lack of healthy emotional connection. Whether an alcoholic home, a disrupted family home, or good but busy/stressed parents, a lack of adequate emotional attunement results in an insecure attachment style and a predisposition to seek higher levels of excitement and stress in order to feel normal.  

Adequate emotional attunement does not require perfect parents, but good enough parenting that involves frequently connecting, relating, and helping a young child manage their many different emotional states (co-regulation) until they are able to on their own (autoregulation).  

Van der Kolk and Fisler wrote about childhood trauma and the loss of autoregulation in 1994. They described how the “loss of ability to regulate the intensity of feelings is the most far-reaching effect of early trauma and neglect.”

Gaze is actually “the most intense form of interpersonal communication and the most important visual stimulus for an infant is the mother’s emotionally expressive face.” Facial mirroring and the tempo of disengagement and reengagement make the earliest (and most important) emotional connections for the developing brain and nervous system in a regulated, healthy way.

Parents who find themselves with an insecure attachment style, trauma, and Attachment Disorder will have a very hard time managing this attunement, connection, and management of a child’s emotional states. If they are still stuck in their own disease pattern, the different emotional states will trigger their own internal emotional distress, and they will naturally turn to managing their own state rather than being able to manage their child’s emotions.  

The result of the brain and nervous system developing in this ambience of higher inner anxiety and emotional stress is because of a wiring in the brain circuitry and nervous system. This is used in the level of inner anxiety and stress, therefore, creating a constant need for excitement, stress, and adrenaline.  

One of the key features of an insecure attachment from childhood is a daily seeking of high adrenaline and dopamine-releasing activities. Terms like “addiction to excitement,” “adrenaline junkie,” and “adrenaline addict” are descriptions of personality types for a person who has an insecure attachment.  

An addiction to excitement is considered to be one of the range of behaviors that those with early attachment trauma use in order to help autoregulate. Bessel Van Der Kolk and Fisler (1994) also lists self-destructive behaviors, eating disorders, substance use, and aggression as attempts of self-regulation.

Secure attachments in early childhood cannot be valued enough! It truly sets the pattern for one’s behaviors, emotions, and physical health for life.

Those with secure attachments feel most alive and happy while having achieved stable and supportive relationships, a career, and by gaining financial security. Those with an insecure attachment and who have addiction to excitement find this boring and tend to sabotage their own stability and security in multiple areas of their lives.

They usually have a crisis occurring in some area of their life. Something in their life has to be always going wrong. For some, they feel compelled to spend money; some tend to budget in a way that creates anxiety for them. They begin to worry that they won’t be able to make ends meet for the future.

It can be difficult to be involved in a relationship with a person who has this kind of brain and nervous system wiring, because if nothing else is causing them stress in life, they will unconsciously create drama and stress in the relationship.

Individuals with an early attachment trauma sabotage the very stability and security they might have in a relationship that could heal them.  

By continually being in a rush, usually arriving late to everything, and always looking for the next move, school, or degree; they also sabotage the calm and serenity that could help heal them.

The same often goes for activities in general. In order to feel the same level of excitement as someone with a secure attachment, much higher levels of dopamine and adrenaline are required. The term “adrenaline junkie” is often used when individuals seek out extreme activities that can match the internal level of anxiety with which they are most comfortable.

Never Enough Excitement

There are many difficult things about having this kind of wiring in the brain chemistry and nervous system, but one of the more challenging things is that it is never enough. Whatever it maybe, something is always lacking, and in this case it’s adrenaline. Sometimes, anxiety is enough to satisfy the need for excitement, for a moment at least, but that never lasts for long.  

This can commonly occur in relationships where an addiction to excitement often looks like flirting, which can eventually lead to an obsession with that person. It usually begins with fantasizing about a person who is forbidden or seems to have potential for emotional intensity that results in long-term disaster. This creates the level of inner anxiety and excitement on which they find thrilling.    

What often happens when the fantasies are actually carried out is disappointment. When the individual with an addiction to excitement actually does what they believe is risky, exciting, and is something they have constantly been thinking about, they often experience an immediate emotional letdown. The experience itself doesn’t create the intensity of excitement that their fantasy had created or that they had anticipated.

Unable to see the pattern themselves, they quickly find someone or something else in their life that can give them that zing of excitement and that thrill of stress. The pattern that those who have an addiction to adrenaline usually looks similar to a person who frequently changes jobs, repeatedly moves, often changes partners, goes on periodic big trips, or splurges on large purchase, but no matter what it is exactly for that person, there is always something. They are never happy in one place (or relationship) for long.

Until they can gain awareness and choose a journey towards healing, they don’t see their pattern as emotional instability, nor do they recognize the destructive effects it has on others around them as they go on to their next excitement.

Those with insecure attachments feel that what they are doing is normal, while those who have secure attachments see this as crazy and complicated.  

Healing from an Addiction to Excitement

So, is healing from an addiction to excitement even possible? Yes! I have seen this healing occur in many people, both in children and adults. There is hope for healing!

If you can relate to these descriptions yourself or if your child can relate, remember that healing is possible, but doesn’t happen by chance! Healing requires learning, applying specific tools, and most importantly, persistence. This is a journey to help recover those who have trauma and Attachment Disorders; to help rewire their brain and nervous system into a healthy, stable, and secure person.  

Phases of Healing from an Addiction to Excitement

The process is similar to recovering from any other addiction. There are a lot of principles of drug addiction recovery that apply to healing from an adrenaline addiction.  

The three phases of recovery from an addiction to excitement are the following:

  1. Acute withdrawal period
  2. Stabilization
  3. Maintaining recovery and relapse prevention

Acute Withdrawal Period

In the period of acute withdrawals, the brain and body are withdrawing from years of dopamine and adrenaline that has developed a high tolerance. There will be significant mood changes and cravings, or strong urges to act out. Acting out refers to any high-risk behavior or any activity that will provide a large release of adrenaline and dopamine.

If you are enduring this phase painstakingly, note that the withdrawals are awful, but are short-lived. The usual period of time where it becomes most intense and feels the most unmanageable are between 2-7 days.

It’s extremely difficult to get through this period of withdrawals the first time by yourself. Your thinking will become so crazy and so intensely focused on the exciting things you would enjoy to do, but you can’t allow yourself to do those things. Therefore, it is often necessary to have someone you can call or meet with who will listen, encourage, and provide firm accountability.

Although it’s weird to think of going through withdrawals from an addiction to an emotional state or behavior, it’s important to remember that this withdrawal period is very intense and shouldn’t be underestimated! For this reason, it’s helpful to have someone who has already gone through this healing process before so that they can help prepare and walk you through it.

Stabilization

Stabilization is the period that follows the acute withdrawals; it takes constant awareness and effort so that you don’t fall back into the same pattern of behaviors and emotional reactions.  

During this phase, you are actively rewiring the brain and nervous system by forcing yourself or your child to do things differently than you’ve ever done before. It’s very uncomfortable and can bring up a lot of fear and panic.

Working through this and developing more awareness of your emotional states, triggers, and behaviors will get you to the next phase.

Maintaining Recovery (Relapse Prevention)

As time goes on, it gets easier and easier and just like a recovered alcohol or drug addict, most days you won’t even think about it, but if you do, it’s more like a memory you access rather than an uncontrollable craving.  

The brain and nervous system have rewired enough so that you’ll have a new default way of interacting with the world and others. Not to say that given enough stress one wouldn’t relapse into prior behavior patterns, but maintenance helps to prevent relapse.

Tools to Heal and Maintain Recovery

There are tools and activities that can help heal and maintain a recovery emotional state, as well as provide a happy way of life with stability and security.  

By providing yourself, or your child, with moderate amounts of dopamine and adrenaline will be the best way to encourage healing, as well as maintain an amount of aliveness without reinforcing destructive self-sabotaging behaviors.

First of all, you have to put a complete stop to all destructive and sabotaging behaviors. If you are working on yourself, you will do an honest and realistic assessment of yourself to identify the areas in which you act out for excitement. There may be a few behaviors that will come to your awareness later on, but all of the behaviors that you can identify need to stop immediately.

If you’re working with healing your child from Attachment Disorder, you need to immediately correct all unhealthy, addictive, and self-sabotaging behaviors. If your child is allowed to continue any of these harmful behaviors, the brain will never rewire, because every time your child engages in this addiction it will reinforce this default way of operating, and will unfortunately, build a higher tolerance for excitement and stress.

Only with immediate correction and prevention of these destructive and addictive behaviors can you start to train your brain and nervous system to function differently.  

When working with children in the beginning of their healing journey, Out-Crazy The Crazy is the best method to use. It’s a way of providing dopamine and adrenaline on your terms, in a healthy way rather than waiting for them to act out as their way to get their “fix.”

If you are working to heal yourself as an adult, identify activities that provide you adrenaline and dopamine, but don’t affect others and are not self-sabotaging. Here are examples of activities that will provide you adrenaline and dopamine in a healthy way:

Exercise: Intensity of the exercise is most important. Going to max output where you are breathing so hard you don’t think you can go on, and then doing 30 more seconds. This will give you the maximum output of dopamine and adrenaline. Likewise, a long duration of exercise will also give you these brain chemicals, as well as the “runner’s high,” which is a big release of dopamine and other opiates.

Activity: Do not sit for long periods of time, but do short segments of concentration followed by moving around. To get even more dopamine and focus better for the next short segment, listen to some music (loud music will give you adrenaline!), dance, or do physical activities like jumping jacks or push-ups.  

Plan regular activities that will give you adrenaline and dopamine in ways that are not destructive. For example, going hang-gliding or sky-diving are now safe activities, but that will give you that excitement!  

Find little things throughout the day to give you a little excitement, but that do not negatively affect other people or sabotage your goals or serenity. Especially when you’re doing something for a long period of time, like driving, doing something exciting can take away your need to create the excitement by being irritable when you get to your destination, or driving unsafely because of the stress and excitement. Holding your breath for as long as you can, or turning on a song and singing to it at the top of your lungs sound like small and silly things, yet it’s these very small and silly activities that will give you moderate amounts of dopamine and adrenaline. It will also be enough to keep you happy and out of acting out in bigger ways.  

Goals with Time Limits: Set a specific goal in an area of your life and then intensely attack that goal. Immediately have a new goal so that you are always moving forward and never have a moment of “boredom” or feel stale in life. A sense of boredom is most often when relapse with an addiction to excitement most often occurs. Plan out in detail how to achieve your goal and keep it short-term and something big enough that it excites you.

Gabor Mate talks about his method of stopping his need for excitement because it had continued to result in him arriving late to work everyday. In his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he shares how he tackled that destructive behavior. He made a deal with his co-workers that if he were even one minute late, he would pay them a predetermined amount of money. This helped create enough excitement and motivation to make him change in that area!  

Attend 12-Step Meetings: 12 Step meetings especially Adult Children of Alcoholic or Other Dysfunctional Homes, or Al-Anon, are very helpful in all phases of healing from an addiction to excitement. Listening to other people share will give you more insight and tools into understanding more about your need for excitement and how others have recovered from similar addiction. It’s a safe place where you can share your crazy thinking and others will understand and relate. After all, you cannot share this stuff with everybody or risk the chance of making others think you really are crazy!!  

TyrosineTyrosine is a supplement that is a building block for dopamine in the brain. Taking Tyrosine to supplement the other activities and tools you use as you recover can be very helpful. It will not completely replace the urge for excitement and a dopamine rush, but it can help take the edge off.

It is safe to take any where from 500 mg – 3000 mg daily. It can be stimulating, therefore, it’s best not to take it after 3 pm. At the moment, I take 1000 mg when I first wake up. For best absorption, take it on an empty stomach with water. It would also be safe to take additional doses throughout morning and early afternoon up to 3000 mg for the whole day.

Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that boosts dopamine and adrenaline levels. Since you want to develop a new healthy tolerance level, make sure to set a healthy limit to the caffeine. Up to 2 cups of coffee or tea a day would be a healthy amount to consume.  

Caffeine can also be helpful in children, because it can actually calm their energy and help them focus when they have an overactive nervous system and continual need for stimulation and excitement. It’s worth a try to see how caffeine affects your child to see if it can help them.  Just make sure to keep the sugar and cream out, and just do caffeine. Mixing healthy protein and fat as in Bulletproof Coffee can be a be a healthy way to do coffee for your child.

GeneticsMethylation and pyroluria are genetic conditions that will affect one’s overall nervous system and the degree of anxiety that one feels. If you or your child have this condition, it will make it much harder to heal, though not impossible.  

Testing for methylation is a simple genetic test, though often blood or urine tests are helpful in the final diagnosis of what specific methylation disorder is present.  

Pyroluria is best tested through a urine study, though low blood levels of zinc and Vitamin B can also be an indication that pyroluria is present.

Communication in Relationships

The most important tool for maintaining recovery and preventing relapse is by getting really honest with yourself and others by communicating with them as things come up, rather than holding things secret to yourself.  

There is also nothing more stimulating of adrenaline than having to tell someone in the moment, “I actually just lied to you about ____, and I wanted to make it into something bigger and more exciting than it really is. The truth is ____.”

It’s this level of awareness and honesty as an ongoing basis that will keep you in an emotional state of connection with yourself and others.  

The Miracle of Healing

As you fully engage in life and are having true connections with others, the need for stress and excitement will fall away, and will feel fake and inauthentic the few times you slip up into old behaviors.   

This is the miracle of healing that has occurred in the lives of many. With intentional effort and learning of new tools and willingness to experience the pain of withdrawals and the discomfort of doing something different, this can be your story as well.  

What has been your experience with an addiction to excitement and adrenaline?  

Has this been your experience or someone you know?

I would love to hear your stories and thoughts,

 

Dr. Aimie  

 

References:

Mate, Gabor (2011).  In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction.  North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA; The Ergos Institute, Lyons, CO.  

 

Schore, A. Effects of a Secure Attachment Relationship on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health.  Infant Mental Health Journal, 2001. 22(1-2). 7-66.

 

Van der Kolk BA, Fisler RE. Childhood Abuse and Neglect and Loss of Self-Regulation.  Bull Menninger Clin. 1994 Spring; 58(2): 145-168.

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