By Rosa Cesareo
Free falling from thousands of feet above the earth, wind whipping past as adrenaline courses through every vein of the body, the rush of this natural chemical alters the human mind and body alike.
High stress or dangerous situations trigger the body to prepare itself for “flight” or “fight” by causing the release of a powerful substance known as adrenaline. This chemical is responsible for the tense, alert state people find themselves in before any fraught activity, from sports games and thrill rides to performances and classroom presentations.
“I love roller coasters because the feeling when your stomach drops and everything slows down is so cool. The effects of adrenaline stay with me even after the ride,” Sonia Gorski, sophomore, said.
As information from sensory glands reaches the hypothalamus in the brain, adrenal glands are triggered to release epinephrine which accelerates heart rate, dilates pupils, and increases blood flow to muscles. Epinephrine is also prescribed as a drug to treat severe asthma attacks and allergic reactions in emergency situations. When used as a medication, it opens airways to improve breathing difficulties and tightens blood vessels to reduce swelling and increase blood pressure.
With higher glucose levels in the blood, muscles are able to use more energy; this blitz of glucose increases strength and performance, lasting up to an hour. Sensations of pain are temporarily dulled, sometimes resulting in “superhuman” actions. For instance, in 2006, when Tom Boyle, Jr. witnessed 18-year-old Kyle Holtrust get pinned by a car, a rush of adrenaline enabled him to hoist the 3,000 pound Camaro off the cyclist’s leg.
“I’ve heard stories where people affected by adrenaline do something heroic,” Ethan Remine, junior, said. “I think it’s more of a miracle though, beyond human strength.”
Vladimir Zatsiorsky, professor of kinesiology at Penn State University, explains that ordinary people only use 65% of their maximum strength while training. Despite the surge of power during an adrenaline rush, there is a limit to its potential. Experienced weightlifters are more likely to perform incredible feats of strength compared to ordinary people driven by pure epinephrine. Adrenaline’s effects are often noticed, for example, before a sports game as the players’ vision sharpens, breathing intensifies, and time appears to slow down. This chemical is responsible for enhanced performance during stressful moments.
“I usually get an adrenaline rush before football games,” Ethan Morganti, sophomore, said. “My heart beats really fast and my mind focuses.”
The sensation delivered by epinephrine may become addictive for people known as “adrenaline junkies.” By definition, they compulsively crave excitement and adventure. Common activities such as skydiving, bungee jumping, diving, roller coasters, racing, and ziplining trigger adrenaline rushes. When the desire for adrenaline motivates individuals to behave recklessly, endangering themselves and those around them, their addiction takes an unhealthy turn; their bodies begin to crave the sensation just like with any other drug.
“I wouldn’t ever skydive,” Morganti said. “I don’t crave adrenaline that much.”
Helping the human body prepare for and respond to stressful situations, adrenaline stimulates the alertness that may determine a life-threatening moment. Various levels of adrenaline rushes are often experienced in daily life as people deal with stressors. Its effects occur instantly, heightening the body’s senses to reach their greatest potential.