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Is Skydiving Addictive?

Skydivers are often called adrenaline junkies for a reason.

four skydivers get ready for take off
The Skydive School | Is Skydiving Addictive?

When I ask skydivers if they think skydiving is addictive, the conversation often sways toward the definition of addiction and the association the word has to illicit drugs, which can result in a physical addiction.

The condition of being unable to stop using or doing something as a habit, especially something harmful.

Jumping from an airplane and speeding through the air until you open a parachute that you then have to expertly pilot to the ground produces a chemical reaction in your body and brain, and that chemical is what makes skydiving addictive. Or is it a fun distraction to the un-fun stuff in your life? Keep reading to find out more.

Four skydiver are happy after landing in field
The Skydive School | Is skydiving addictive?

Is Skydiving Addictive?

In a recent poll* on the Hillman Farm Skydiving Club's closed Facebook group, 64% of skydivers confessed to having "withdrawals" if there is an extended period between skydives. And 18% of poll participants said that if they are not skydiving, they are thinking about skydiving or watching skydiving on Youtube.

*50 skydivers took part in this private poll

It's a well-known fact that skydiving gives you a rush of adrenaline and a hit of dopamine, and that feeling of euphoria may lead to addiction.

What's the difference between adrenaline and dopamine?

Also known as epinephrine, adrenaline is a hormone produced in your adrenal glands during times of stress. It (along with norepinephrine) is responsible for the fight or flight (acute stress) response to a situation - a situation like jumping from a perfectly good airplane. Skydivers and other extreme sports participants are often called adrenaline junkies. The term "junkie" is associated with addiction.

Dopamine is a natural chemical that creates all the good feels in your brain. It's also associated with reward. It's no wonder dopamine is often referred to as the happy hormone.

Adrenaline and dopamine, along with norepinephrine, are part of a family of hormones called catecholamines. Stress, physical or emotional, produces adrenaline. That adrenaline is then turned into dopamine. That dopamine floods your brain and body with feelings of joy and euphoria.

Feeling good is addictive, which is why narcotics, Instagram, binge-watching, sugary foods...the list goes on, are highly additive - they produce instant hits of dopamine. But, what goes up, must come down. When the dopamine wears off, a crash or low feeling sets in. This is why dopamine has a pleasure and pain effect and why we want to repeat the pleasure-pain cycle over and over.

A fine line between pleasure and pain

In Dr Anna Lembke's book Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, she lists skydiving, BASE jumping and wingsuit flying amongst the extreme sports that "slam down hard and fast on the pain side of the pleasure-pain balance".

Lembke continues with something we already know: "intense pain and fear plus a shot of adrenaline creates a potent drug," she says.

She also discusses the fact that scientific studies show that stress can increase dopamine and be as addictive as cocaine.

"Just as we become tolerant to pleasure stimuli with repeated exposure, so to can we become tolerant to painful stimuli, resetting our brains to the side of pain. A study of skydivers compared to a control group of rowers, found that repeat skydivers were more likely to experience anhedonia, a lack of joy, in the rest of their lives," says Lembke.

Man under black, white and red parachute
The Skydive School | Hooked on Skydiving

How Darren got hooked on skydiving

Darren, a middle-aged Perth business owner, is one of Hillman Farm Skydiving Club's most dedicated and diligent members. And nobody is more surprised than Darren himself - he never thought he would become a skydiver.

“Skydiving was the furthest thing from my world. I was never going to skydive,” he recalls.

But when mates convinced him to do a tandem skydive, that one tandem jump turned into two, and those tandem skydives fuelled a personal challenge within himself to skydive solo – just once. Then, that one solo skydive turned into completing his AFF Learn to Skydive course, then his b-rels. At the time of publication, Darren has 270 solo skydives logged.

“I was shit-scared. I'd say to myself 'just do this one [jump] then go home'. Once I got down, I'd say, 'okay, just do one more'. And I was that pumped [after each jump] that I would want to do it again and again,” remembers Darren.

Recently, Darren came down with the flu, which prevented him from going to the dropzone. Darren admits to feelings of FOMO – this was the only skydiving weekend he'd missed since learning to skydive in September 2022. He may have missed weekend jumping but he refused to miss out. As soon as he felt well enough, he booked a session at iFly Perth to feed his skydiving addiction.

“I've had addictions in my life but this is not like that,” he says. But then, Darren proceeds to tell of the times (yes, plural) when the weather was unsuitable for skydiving at Hillman Farm and he drove 420km north to finer weather just so he could get a jump in.

"Now, I'm hearing me own stories...," Darren laughs, and wonders if skydiving is an addiction after all.

Skydiving dependency vs life distraction?

Is skydiving really an addiction or is it just a great distraction to the reality of daily life? Let's face it, life can get dull, hectic, or down-right nasty at times and skydiving sure does pull you into the present moment. But when skydiving, or anything else for that matter, pulls you so strongly towards it that other areas of your life are affected, maybe it's time to reflect.

“Skydiving has been a bit of a distraction to my work and I've decided that I need to get re-focussed on work again," says Darren.

Skydiver flips the bird to camera
The Skydive School | Addicted to Altitude and Attitude

When a mate suggested that Darren visit the dropzone every second weekend instead of every weekend, he said that wasn't necessary. “Nah, I can still go every weekend but maybe I'll just pick one day instead going Saturday and Sunday."

In this clip, Lembke, although referring to medication, says that addiction involves complex behaviour most commonly associated with "out-of-control use, compulsion and continued use despite the consequences".

"You can be dependant without being addicted and addicted without being dependant, " says Lembke.

So, is skydiving addictive or not?

“If skydiving is an addiction, it's not a bad one,” says Darren. We've got to agree with you, Darren. See you at the DZ!

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts and feelings about skydiving, dopamine, and the connection between pleasure and pain in the comments.

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