Addicted to Excitement

By: Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR

Let’s face it. Most of us are hooked on the pursuit of excitement! Music is getting louder, the beat stronger, and action sequences in movies more frequent and faster. Go to church and you will probably also be bombarded with more stimulating excitement than you’ve had all week!

Recently, I spoke at a pastor’s conference and sat with a couple of youth pastors from different churches. Their sole conversation was about how they had recently taken their youth groups to Magic Mountain where the hit is “Goliath,” the new death-defying roller coaster. I asked them why they thought their youth enjoyed the experience so much, and they replied, “It was the greatest ‘adrenaline rush’ their students had ever experienced!” I can believe them. When any experience fools your mind into believing that it is about to be destroyed, your adrenaline screams out at you – and gives you the greatest pleasure of your life. One pastor said that it made his contact lenses “pop out!”

What bothers me is that thrills like these are not confined to amusement parks. We seem to all be on some phenomenal roller coaster ride through life. We use excitement to give us pleasure. We have come to depend on the perpetual flow of adrenaline to make life interesting. When there is no excitement we feel down and bored.

The experience of pleasure is one of the fundamental gifts God has given us. It is so important that God created a pleasure center in the brain, called the locus acumbans. A lack of ability to experience pleasure is considered pathological – we call it “anhedonia” and see it, for example, in the depressive disorders. Ultimately, I believe, the brain’s pleasure center helps us to “enjoy” God. Today, however, we abuse this pleasure center by becoming too dependent on excitement to stimulate the pleasure center, and this inevitably leads us to become addicted to such pleasure. I call this “adrenaline addiction,” because I really am concerned that Christians can just as easily become addicted as anyone.

How far, then, should we go in our quest for excitement as the basis for pleasure? I think we have gone too far already. We are slowly losing our capacity to experience the pleasure of “little” things. We need “Goliaths” of all sorts to give us pleasure.

Too Much Excitement Has Its Price

Our brain’s pleasure center is becoming more and more “flooded.” This flooding raises the threshold of excitement that must be exceeded the next time we experience pleasure. So the more we ride our Goliaths, the greater must be the next thrill before we can find any pleasure. This is the phenomenon that underlies all addictions.

The most potent of the illegal addicting drugs (such as cocaine) operates on the same pleasure center as thrill seeking behavior. But drugs are not the only triggers of the pleasure center. Many hidden addictions do the same. The compulsive shopper, the engrossed scientist, the cliff climber, the long distance jogger, the sexual voyeur, and the power-wielding boss all have one thing in common: their quest for stimulating excitement can become forms of hidden addiction. Our marvelous brain is slowly being conditioned to only accept ever increasing levels of excitement – a classic addiction bind.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean there is no place for pleasure in our lives. Of course there is. But we were not designed for constant, exciting stimulation. Our pleasure center needs time to rest, otherwise the small things of life – watching a sunset, holding a baby, a walk in the countryside, or a moment of quiet meditation – can no longer provide satisfying pleasure.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Excitement

How can we avoid excitement’s pitfalls and break the addiction process that our search for stimulation maintains? Here are some suggestions.

Begin by reordering your spiritual values and beliefs about the root of pleasure. Proverbs 21:17 tells us that “he who loves pleasure will become poor.” Jesus also warned us that the “riches and pleasures” of this life are thorns that choke the Word (Luke 8:14). These are not idle warning. They come to us from the God who created us for his own pleasure and, therefore, knows us better than we will ever know ourselves. He is to be the greatest source of our pleasure, not activities, even if they are church based!

Accept that a “deficit in excitement” is necessary for healthy functioning. Believe it or not, boredom is actually good for us. It provides the time our mind and bodies need for rejuvenation. Work and play, excitement and relaxation, euphoria and tranquility – these are points and counterpoints of a healthy life. They are like valleys and hills – the one is necessary for the other to be seen.

Watch where you get your excitement. Don’t avoid pleasure. Pleasure and stimulation have their places. But beware persistent thrill seeking, sex, pornography, and other harmful sources of stimulation. We have to guard against our deeper needs – low self-esteem, a search for love or respect, or a need to be powerful – and prevent them from driving our quests for pleasure.

Come to appreciate “satisfaction” over “excitement.” Unlike excitement, there is no limit to the amount of satisfaction we can pursue. You can never become addicted to real peace! The pursuit of satisfaction can revolutionize your life. Excitement is a feeling of enjoyment, delight that comes from gratifying the senses. Satisfaction is more basic. It has a strong element of contentment. Paul tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). So choose it over discontentment. It will protect you from the pursuit of too much excitement…and a hidden addiction.

This article is produced by the American Association of Christian Counselors. For more information, write AACC, PO Box 739, Forest, Virginia 24551, or call 1.800.526.8673. The information contained in this article is provided to AACC members for information purposes only. AACC assumes no responsibility for how this information is used and in no way endorses the counseling services provided by the person or counseling centers that provide this information.

Photo by 2Photo Pots on Unsplash