The Adrenaline Junkie

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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Narcissistic Supply is exciting. When it is available, the narcissist feels elated, omnipotent, omniscient, handsome, sexy, adventurous, invincible, and irresistible. When it is missing, the narcissist first enters a manic phase of trying to replenish his supply and, if he fails, the narcissist shrivels, withdraws and is reduced to a zombie-like state of numbness.

Some people – and all narcissists – are addicted to excitement, to the adrenaline rush, to the danger inevitably and invariably involved. They are the adrenaline junkies. All narcissists are adrenaline junkies – but not all adrenaline junkies are narcissists.

Narcissistic Supply is the narcissist's particular sort of thrill. Deficient Narcissistic Supply is tantamount to the absence of excitement and thrills in non-narcissistic adrenaline junkies.

Originally, in early childhood, Narcissistic Supply is meant to help the narcissist regulate his volatile sense of self-worth and self-esteem. But Narcissistic Supply, regardless of its psychodynamic functions, also simply feels good. The narcissist grows addicted to the gratifying effects of Narcissistic Supply. He reacts with anxiety when constant, reliable provision is absent or threatened.

Thus, Narcissistic Supply always comes with excitement, on the one hand and with anxiety on the other hand.

When unable to secure "normal" Narcissistic Supply – adulation, recognition, fame, celebrity, notoriety, infamy, affirmation, or mere attention – the narcissist resorts to "abnormal" Narcissistic Supply. He tries to obtain his drug – the thrills, the good feeling that comes with Narcissistic Supply – by behaving recklessly, by succumbing to substance abuse, or by living dangerously.

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Such narcissists – faced with a chronic state of deficient Narcissistic Supply – become criminals, or race drivers, or gamblers, or soldiers, or investigative journalists. They defy authority. They avoid safety, routine and boredom – no safe sex, no financial prudence, no stable marriage or career. They become peripatetic, change jobs, or lovers, or vocations, or avocations, or residences, or friendships often.

But sometimes even these extreme and demonstrative steps are not enough. When confronted with a boring, routine existence – with a chronic and permanent inability to secure Narcissistic Supply and excitement – these people compensate by inventing thrills where there are none.

They become paranoid, full of delusional persecutory notions and ideas of reference. Or they develop phobias – fear of flying, of heights, of enclosed or open spaces, of cats or spiders. Fear is a good substitute to the excitement they so crave and that eludes them.

Anxiety leads to the frenetic search for Narcissistic Supply. Obtaining the supply causes a general – albeit transient – sense of wellbeing, relief and release as the anxiety is alleviated. This cycle is addictive.

But what generates the anxiety in the first place? Are people born adrenaline junkies or do they become ones?

No one knows for sure. It may be genetically determined. We may discover one day that adrenaline junkies, conditioned by defective genes, develop special neural and biochemical paths, an unusual sensitivity to adrenaline. Or, it may indeed be the sad outcome of abuse and trauma during the formative years. The brain is plastic and easily influenced by recurrent bouts of capricious and malicious treatment.

The adrenaline junkie’s point of view is that the only real things in life are memories. When at 98, one is likely to be bed-bound, in a hospice, all one's friends long gone; one's "family" thrice removed and distant; and one's "accomplishments" and fights so derisive and meaningless in hindsight. What's left? That movie in the private screening room we call the brain: memories, fleeting images, sound bites - the shredded remains of one's existence.

(I wish to thank my wife and publisher, Lidija Rangelovska, for many of the ideas in this article.)


Also Read

The Delusional Way Out

Grandiosity and Intimacy - The Roots of Paranoia

Deficient Narcissistic Supply - FAQ #28

Narcissists - Stable or Unstable? - FAQ #32


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