Tag Archives: adrenaline

Q&A: Adrenaline

hello! so, i’ve been reading your posts for some time and i was wondering about how the adrenaline really works in a fight. i read an article saying that adrenaline, specially when “normal” people fight (not pro fighters), works like an advice to run for your life. not like something that inspires you to fight. but, i can’t confirm this information, because i can’t find another person talking about it. so, may u write something about how adrenaline works in real situations? thank u so much!


The short answer is that adrenaline is a hormone. When threatened, your adrenal gland secretes epinephrine (adrenaline.) Like most hormones, it affects a many organs uniquely.

I’m going to be a little reductive here, the major effect is that adrenaline increases the conversion of sugar into energy, and reduces the production of insulin, meaning you’ll keep that energy longer. It also increases your respiration rate, hyper-oxygenating your blood, and your heart rate, getting that hyper-oxygenated blood to your brain.

Adrenaline increases your pain tolerance significantly. Though, I’m not sure what the mode of action is for this effect. It also increases your apparent strength, though this is a little misleading. Humans are, in general, much stronger than most people realize. However, we moderate to prevent self-injury. Because adrenaline reduces pain, in combination with the other changes, this results in a significant strength increase. The reason you wouldn’t normally do this is that you’ll pull, wrench, and sprain muscles. This is still true during an adrenaline rush. You just don’t feel the pain, but it doesn’t make you more resistant to damage.

The entire result is vaguely analogous to, “overclocking,” your body. It will function more effectively for the duration, but the process is very stressful for your body overall. It’s a biological function that prioritizes immediate survival over general health.

After the immediate threat passes, the individual will be left with a lot of nervous energy from the rush. They’ll be jittery. This leads to a comment I’ve made before; I deeply dislike adrenaline rushes. It’s useful in the moment, but in my experience it always outlasts the provoking incident. Though, I’m fully aware my experiences are not universal. While it’s not going to be true for everyone, figure your adrenaline will crash roughly an hour after the initial rush. (The exception would be if you’re under constant stress. In those cases, the heightened adrenaline levels can persist for the duration.)

When your adrenaline crashes, you’re going to feel exhausted (and potentially nauseous.) This is the normal consequences of what you just put your body through. You will become aware of injuries you sustained during the rush, including some of the muscles you overtaxed.

If heightened adrenaline levels are maintained for long periods of time, this can have disastrous effects on the heart. You really cannot safely sustain the elevated heart rate, and eventually it will fail. Because adrenaline rushes are triggered by stress, they can be caused in situations where they’re neither useful nor helpful. This can include constant adrenaline production because of stress. PTSD is one situation where adrenaline rushes can be triggered by an inappropriate stimuli. This can pose a real health threat. This can kill you.

Adrenaline will not grant you insights into fighting. The fight or flight response is a biological response to danger. It’s important to understand, “fight or flight,” is a single response. It’s not like you have a, “fight,” response, and, a separate “flight,” response, it is a single biological response for either course of action.

Adrenaline is not “blind instinct.” While it will affect your brain, it’s not going to shut you down into a feral fugue. You’re still (theoretically), a rational, sapient being. Adrenaline doesn’t change that. You will be thinking faster, but not smarter, so if you’re prone to making dumb decisions you can now expedite that process.

In two words, “not fun.” Adrenaline is a useful survival tool. It can be the difference of living and dying, however, it is just a chemical your body keeps around in case things go horribly wrong.


Q&A: Shock

In film often when characters get stabbed/assaulted they can often continue to fight or don’t pass out immediately. How does adrenaline or shock factor into the physical reaction, especially when the character isn’t a cop or military and isn’t accustomed to being in these violent situations. How long would they be able to function before they crash? Is it possible to run away or even fight?

Taking these questions in reverse order: Yeah, kinda, sometimes, and it varies wildly, based on the injuries sustained. Also, it’s not the adrenaline crash that kills you.

Adrenaline rushes mean that you’re often unaware of injuries sustained in the moment. I’ve never been fully certain if adrenaline actually dulls the pain response, or if it simply causes your brain to ignore it. Either way, while you’re under an adrenaline rush you can suffer injuries and be unaware of them. It’s why you’ll sometimes see characters (and, for that matter, real people, with prior experience) checking themselves for injuries after combat (or any other traumatic event). It is entirely possible to be wounded and have no idea it’s happened until you’re trying to figure out where all that blood is coming from.

Depending on what you’ve just been through, coming down off an adrenaline rush can be deeply unpleasant. Your brain is sure something’s fucked up, but it can’t pin down exactly what or where, so it’s going to take that out on you, and everything aches. Adrenaline crashes won’t kill you. (There may be some weird outliers here for people with heart conditions, but, in general.) A crash may make you wish you were dead, or make you want to throw up on people, but it’s not lethal.

In the moment an adrenaline means that you can suffer (fairly severe) injuries and keep on fighting. If the injury doesn’t outright disable a limb, you can keep using it, even if that’s a very bad idea. Getting stabbed or shot is no guarantee that someone will sit down and peacefully bleed to death. Actually, shooting someone is a pretty good way to ensure they won’t sit down and bleed to death without protest.

When you’re trying to figure out how long it will take someone to die, you’re actually asking about how fast someone bleeds out. This relates directly to the injuries sustained. Someone who’s had a knife driven into their neck isn’t going to keep fighting. Someone who had it run through their bicep or buried in their shoulder blade, probably can.

We’ve covered blood loss before (and I strongly recommend you take a look at that tag, if you haven’t), but that’s the real factor here that controls if someone can fight. If they still have enough blood in their body to function. Lose too much, your ability to fight is impaired, and you’ll eventually fall unconscious and die.

Blood loss is why concepts like, “first blood,” are important in duels. Once that happens, the clock is ticking for that character; the longer the fight goes, the more their ability will decay, and unless they find a way to turn it around, they will die. (Even if they manage to prevail, they may still die without medical attention.)

Fighting through a stab wound is a fantastically bad idea. Engaging in any physically strenuous activity that raises your heart rate, (for example: fighting someone, or running away), will speed up blood loss, meaning impairment kicks in sooner. Still, the point of adrenaline is to keep you functional after sustaining an injury, so that you can survive.

If someone suffers an injury which disables them in some way, such as breaking an arm, there’s no powering through that. Adrenaline won’t let you override shattered bones. The biomechanical pulley system of muscles and tendons simply doesn’t work with broken bones.

So, the short answer is, “yeah, kinda.” You can keep fighting after being attacked. So far as it goes, there’s plenty of cases where someone took a stray bullet and kept on fighting, only to bleed to death later.


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When you are running away from someone / something, and you finally feel safe and the adrenaline starts to leave you, would it be realistic to pass out? From all the panic and other emotions you kept repressed so you could escape?

No. Flushing adrenaline can make you shaky, but it won’t cause you to simply keel over without warning unless there’s something seriously, medically, wrong.

Also, adrenaline doesn’t suppress panic. Keeping a clear goal in mind, and working towards that can, but adrenaline does nothing for panic. Also, panic can’t make you pass out. Except in rare cases where it could cause a heart attack, stroke, or similar “f— this I’m out” for the victim’s body.

Now, adrenaline can reduce or delay your pain response. That is to say, you can be seriously injured and not know it because of the adrenaline rush. Which could result in someone passing out after the adrenaline rush. But, that would be because they are bleeding to death, and not because they panicked or because the adrenaline did it to them.


What are some of the physical responses to a sudden combat situation? For example, muscle tightening, heart rate, that kind of thing.

An increase to heart rate is usually a sign of adrenaline, along with a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, and in most people, some fine muscle tremors. I think we’ve talked about that before.

As with a lot of things, how someone handles an immediate combat threat is going to be very specific to that individual. A lot of people freeze up, and some can switch over smoothly and rapidly. Specialized training can help with this. But, it’s important to understand; this isn’t covered in most martial arts classes.

Usually training comes in two parts: First is an awareness of dangerous situations, so the combatant will be harder to take by surprise. The second part is rote responses to specific threats. This can vary pretty massively depending on who the person being trained is. It can include drawing a weapon, getting to cover, tensing muscles (which you mentioned), or going into a stance. It won’t always be completely appropriate, but it doesn’t really need to be, either. The entire point is just to get the combatant ready to fight faster. It’s worth pointing out, with military drills; those rote responses can include lethal takedowns.

How well someone handles an adrenaline rush is another matter. As far as I know, this is something that people either learn to deal with through experience or conditioning, rather than traditional training. The more adrenaline rushes someone’s experienced, the less they’ll be impaired by it, relatively speaking. In general, adrenaline rushes work towards your advantage in hand to hand or melee, but work against you when operating firearms.