By now we’ll all have heard of someone who’s addicted to adrenaline. People who practice adventure sports or expose themselves to high-risk situations in order to feel the energy shot of the adrenaline that generates danger.

Skydiving, bungee jumping, hang-gliding, climbing… Most people who practice it are looking for intense experiences, but they are aware of the risks and take precautions so that the risk is controlled.

However, there is a condition in which the perception of hazard is non-existent and exposure to the hazard is no longer on the limits of the controllable. This is Pontius syndrome, which we will discuss throughout this article.

What is Pontius syndrome?

It is called Pontius syndrome, a rare and unusual disorder consisting of the loss of perception of danger and fear , which appears to be linked to an overproduction of adrenaline. This syndrome also implies a certain dependence on adrenaline as well as the acquisition of tolerance to it, which tends to involve habitual exposure to dangerous situations and the need to actively seek them out.

In this syndrome there is a lack of control over behavior as well as a compulsive need to resort to high-risk activities. The person seeks out risky activities, which may jeopardize survival, simply because of a feeling of adrenaline. There is a lack of awareness of danger and the activities are carried out without the subject becoming emotionally disturbed, producing no well-being either, but there tends to be a certain level of constant frustration, anger or discomfort that is relieved by exposure to the risk.

Unlike people who like adrenaline and this type of activity, who despite doing this type of activity know the danger they are in, in the case of Pontius syndrome this factor does not exist: the subject will consider the risk situation to be safe and that there is no danger, having lost the feeling of danger.

What are the causes of this affectation?

Pontius syndrome is not recognized at the moment by the medical or psychiatric community and knowledge about it is rather limited. However, neurological abnormalities have been observed that seem to be at the base of the disorder,

The main problem presented by people with Pontius syndrome is the presence of very high levels of adrenaline due to the altered development of the cranial nerves 5.2 and 6 (trigeminal and abducens), which are overdeveloped. Their hyperfunctioning and their link with other cerebral nuclei affects the production of adrenaline, increasing with respect to their normotypical values and causing, with time, addiction, tolerance and the need for strong experiences to feel good. and emotional reactions, such as fear.

While this is not a cause per se, Pontius syndrome may be related to the presence of high levels of the personality trait called Openness to Experience or Sensation Seeking. It’s not that anyone with high levels of this trait has Pontius syndrome, but it is much more likely that someone with the syndrome will have high scores. Someone with high sensation seeking is more likely to display similar behaviors if they become addicted to adrenaline.

Day-to-day effects

Pontius syndrome can have an impact on different areas. At the work level the tendency to search for risks can lead to accidents, difficulties in coping with tasks that may involve unnecessary or excessive risks and even conflicts and fights with colleagues and superiors. It may also involve legal problems, such as petty crime (e.g. being arrested for climbing a building without ropes) or fines. Difficulties may also exist at the social and family level depending on the levels of risk assumed by the subject.

Beyond that, it should also be taken into account that the continued presence of high levels of adrenaline has in itself an impact on the body. Particularly noteworthy is the risk of heart problems if it is maintained for a long time, as well as hypertension and hyperglycemia. In addition to this it can generate restlessness, stress and anxiety in the long term, as well as sleep problems, blurred vision, irritability and nervousness .


Possible treatment

Pontius syndrome has received very little attention and there are no specific treatments for it, although it is possible to use different types of treatment to try to reduce the symptoms.

On the psychological level, it is possible to first analyze thought patterns, beliefs and emotions and then to employ different procedures. On the one hand, it is possible to attempt cognitive restructuring to modify beliefs, cognitive biases and maladaptive behaviour patterns.

This can help the subject establish cognitive control over their behavior. In turn, procedures similar to those used in the treatment of substance addiction can be applied. It can also be worked from exposure with prevention of response to situations that would normally elicit risk behavior.

On a medical or pharmacological level it is possible to work to either reduce adrenaline levels or to surgically treat the alteration present in the above-mentioned cranial nerves.

Bibliographic references:

  • Netter, F.H. (1999). Nervous System: Anatomy and Physiology. Madrid: Masson.
  • Shulman, Robert G. (2013). “Neuroscience: A Multidisciplinary, Multilevel Field.” Brain Imaging: What it Can (and Cannot) Tell Us About Consciousness. Oxford University Press.
  • Zull, J. (2002). The art of changing the brain: Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC.