Dopamine? I’ll have another glass of that please

Approx read: 2 mins

No doubt: the world has become a risky place. Travelling or working may eventually expose many of us to varying degrees of risk in pursuit of our personal or professional goals.

And while some of the motivations for travelling to dangerous environments can be quite transparent – financial reward, adventure, humanitarian goals or career objectives – there are also biological factors connected to the mystery and allure to risk.

Scientists have studied the neurological mechanisms of risk to identify and map the biological factors that push some of us further despite apparent or obvious risk. Research has focused on neurotransmitters that are the chemicals that control communication in the brain. These studies reveal that the dopamine neurotransmitter is now cited to be critical within the risk-taking formula as it not only assists in biomechanical processes linked to our dexterity and coordination but is a prime component in driving humans to process fear and anxiety. In short, dopamine is what pushes humans forward, no matter what the danger is. Its dopamine gives us that rush – that massive sense of satisfaction when we accomplish our goals: and the riskier the job or action, the larger the hit of dopamine.

So let’s not forget adrenaline in all of this. ‘Adrenaline rush’ and ‘adrenaline junkie’ are the more common adjectives used to describe that euphoric feeling connected to danger or those who seek it. However, adrenaline, both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, is our body’s mechanism to save us from danger, not propel us towards it.

Let’s break it all down.

If the brain recognises a threat, it triggers the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream which stimulates the heart, lungs, muscles, and other parts of the body that are needed to flee or fight in a life-threatening situation. That chemical release of adrenaline produces a sensation of excitement that continues after the threat has passed, until the adrenaline dissipates in the bloodstream.

So you see how dopamine is different? Dopamine put us in risky situations. Adrenaline is there to save us.

I’m reading a lot of information on conflict at the moment. There are a lot of dopamine-fuelled individuals who are prepared to face down bigotry and hatred in pursuit of promoting tolerance through travel; be it as a humanitarian, a reporter, or a communicator in new territories and write, photograph, record or blog it back to us here – safe at home

What we’re forgetting sometimes is that the most dangerous situation that we’ll ever find ourselves in is the one where we believe the world shares our own point of view. Personal viewpoints can be little more than dangerous luxuries – the real world experience shows us the damaging effects of limited human perspective

Let’s end this dopamine tour with the thoughts of the guy who was smarter than all of us. Albert E.

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Viva dopamine.


An avid international traveller, surfer lover of the oceans, writer and researcher.