What Happens During an Adrenaline Rush

What Happens During an Adrenaline Rush?

Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a stress hormone secreted from the adrenal glands on the kidneys. Epinephrine plays a major role in preparing the body for a fight-or-flight reaction in threatening environments. An adrenaline rush increases the secretion of adrenaline from the adrenal glands when the brain communicates during a possible fight-or-flight response. An adrenaline rush is not always based on a physical threat but may be imagined, brought on by strenuous exercise, heart failure, chronic stress or a disorder of the brain or adrenal glands. Learn more about an adrenaline rush and how the body responds to the flood of chemicals.

Adrenaline Rush

The hypothalamus in the brain signals to the adrenal glands it is time to produce adrenaline and other stress hormones. Adrenal glands produce adrenaline through transformation of the amino acid Tyrosine into dopamine. Adrenaline binds to receptors on the heart, arteries, pancreas, liver, muscles and fatty tissue. By binding to receptors on the heart and arteries, adrenaline increases heart rate and respiration. Production of insulin is also inhibited and stimulates the synthesis of sugar and fat, which the body can use as fuel in fight-or-flight situations.

Side Effects

An adrenaline rush can have detrimental effects on health. In individuals with heart disease, it may cause a weakening of the heart muscle, heart failure or a heart attack. It may also affect the brain in negative ways. Heightened levels of stress hormones can impact the body in the following ways:

  • Shrinkage of hippocampus
  • Shrink brain’s main memory center
  • Increased inflammation in the hippocampus

Beneficial Effects

Mildly increased levels of stress hormones can have positive, as well as negative, side effects. A protein produced in the body’s white fatty tissue and accelerates growth of cancer cells has been noted by scientists. Stress hormones may play a role in regulation of how much leptin the fatty cells produce. The less that is produced, the slower cancer cells are to grow.

Stress and Memory

Adrenal glands constitute a major site for adrenaline synthesis but adrenergic neurons in the brainstem also produce adrenaline. The neurons contain the enzyme PNMT, required for a gland or neuron to convert noradrenaline into adrenaline. Stressful situations accelerate activity of adrenergic and noradrenergic neurons. The negative effects on memory have been noted by scientists. When stress chemicals function as neurotransmitters, storage of memories through activation of the amygdala are common. Normally, people remember things better if replayed many times in the mind but a single emotionally significant event may generate long-lasting neural networks.


Intermittent adrenaline rushes occurring for natural reasons do not require treatment. If chronic stress, anxiety or panic disorder triggers an excessive secretion of adrenaline, some anti-anxiety medications can alleviate symptoms by blocking the trigger. Beta-blockers are commonly used to prevent excessive secretion of stress hormones.

Many people start using drugs or alcohol as a way to experience a feel-good rush. Over time this stresses the body and creates dependence and possibly addiction. If you or a loved one are unable to quit using drugs or alcohol, call the Villa for guidance on how to loosen the hold of addiction.