It’s been almost one week without surf now, and I am starting to go a little crazy. Does that happen to you? Sometimes beer helps, but only a little. People ask me “are you addicted to surfing?” I sure I am, but why? I wanted to dig a little deeper into the physicality of surfing addiction.
Psychology today talks about something called dopamine, which I am sure you have heard of. Philip Newton, a Neuroscience Lecturer at Swansea University Medical School in the United Kingdom, describes it as “a neurotransmitter, one of those chemicals that is responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain.”
You know that feeling you get when you take a big drop? That’s dopamine, bro. According to a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacologyy, just the taste of an alcoholic drink can trigger dopamine–which explains why I like beer so much.
All joking aside, it’s not the alcohol or the surfing that is getting your neurotransmitters to get all funky and feel-good inside. The brain has this bank of memories that associate one thing with another, and when that memory bank is triggered by something that gives us pleasure over and over again, that experience association triggers the release of dopamine.
Ben Levin, a clinical psychologist, compared surfing to crack. Although I have never consumed that drug, I think he is right on target when he wrote, “a narcotic high is eerily similar to a good wave–intense, incredibly pleasurable, and far too brief. And, no matter how good the high, the fiend quickly forgets and pursues another fix.”
According to Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when a brain becomes addicted to a drug, it has a lot to do with how that drug increases your dopamine levels. Dopamine, as far as science can tell, basically is what makes sure we do the things we need to do to survive–the brain releases higher amounts dopamine during things like eating and sex, for example. Drugs flood the brain with extra dopamine, making the user associate the drug with a gigantic chemical reward. After a while, our brains begin to think that extra amount of dopamine is normal… but the only thing that can get there is more drugs.
So if you’ve been asked if you’re addicted to surfing, and you’ve wanted to say yes but didn’t want to sound like a junkie, rest assured… you probably are.