Enjoyable Activities vs. Risk Taking
So consider what happens when we remove a habitual alcohol use pattern; the alcohol use was providing us large spikes of artificial dopamine, and now we’re not getting that anymore. In fact, our brains aren’t even producing their baseline volume of dopamine either, so we’re in the negative. What do we do about that? We fill the gap with other artificial, high-volume dopamine surges.
And this is why you might find yourself taking bigger risks than you might have before alcohol became a part of your life. Wild, huh? The brain is a fascinating thing, and when we understand why we do what we do, we have more power to harness those motivations for good.
So when we work on tools like Behavioral Activation, where we’re trying to get ourselves back into the world, enjoying everyday things, we must also consider which activities are safe and healthy over the activities we may be drawn to out of a thrill-seeking drive. If we replace habitual alcohol use with high-risk sexual activity, other substances, self-harm, or other risky behaviors, we’re avoiding true healing and continuing to endanger our physical and emotional health.
If you’ve suddenly found yourself on the lineup for next weekend’s underground drag racing circuit, and have perhaps realized that you’ve begun dipping your toes into risk-taking behavior that is not in alignment with who you are or aspire to be, that’s okay. We can take steps backwards; we can cancel our race and sign up for a sound bath meditation event instead.
Today, brainstorm some activities you’d like to try out that give you excitement and a little thrill, while still providing safety for your physical and emotional health.
Chiara, G. (1997). Alcohol and Dopamine. Alcohol Health Res World. 21(2): 108–114.
Lejuez, C. (2016, April.) Risk-taking behavior and substance use. National Institutes of Health. https://obssr.od.nih.gov/risk-taking-behavior-and-substance-use/
Young, A. T., Green, C. A., & Estroff, S. E. (2008). New endeavors, risk taking, and personal growth in the recovery process: findings from the STARS study. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 59(12), 1430–1436.