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Risk taking

Sometimes in life it’s necessary to take risks and often this can create excitement. However, some risks are just too dangerous for your own safety or those around you. It might be driving too fast, taking drugs, drinking heavily or having unprotected sex with someone you have just met.
This section deals with the complex issue of risk taking, when it is OK and when to recognise when your risk taking has become a problem.

Risk taking

Why do I take risks?

Taking calculated risks is something that is at the core of military organisations. In a combat situation, risks need to be taken to achieve an objective or tactical outcome.

Of particular relevance to people in the military is the reaction to a highly stressful situation like a military deployment. Life at home can seem boring in comparison, so a way of filling that need for an adrenalin rush is to introduce risky behaviours. It can even be a sign of post traumatic stress disorder.

Other reasons are the need to be seen as cool or staunch, or it may be a mask for other issues like being angry or feeling worthless. Or it’s just that you are naturally inclined to taking risks.

Think about why you are taking risks? Is it just for fun or is it because you have an underlying problem? There are lots of resources available to you if you need help finding out the reasons.

Do you take risks because you feel that life is worthless or that you would be better off dead? (If so, you might find the material on depression useful). Maybe, it’s to block out painful memories? (If so, check out troubled by memories).

Is it because you are bored or lonely, with no enjoyment in your life? (If so, think about how to increase enjoyable activities, located on the Resilience toolkit [PDF, 764 KB].  Do you have problems with drinking or using drugs

Do you take risks when you feel angry?  Are there times when you don’t care if you get hurt or even deliberately self-harm?

All of these are common in people who take excessive risks. Dealing with these underlying problems will reduce the need for you to take lots of risks.

The secret is to find the balance between a risk worth taking and one that just shouldn’t be considered.

Do I have a problem with risk taking?

Taking risks does not necessarily mean you have a problem, but If your answer to any of these following questions is yes, you might want to do something about it. You don’t have to eliminate risk taking but you will need to moderate it:

  • Do you take more risks than other people?
  • Do you reflect on your actions and think that you or someone else could have died or been seriously injured?
  • Do your risky behaviours result in trouble?
  • Have you been injured or become ill as a result of your risky behaviour?
  • Do you take a lot of party pills/drugs?
  • Do you have lots of unprotected sex?
  • Do you think back on something you have done and think, “Well that was pretty stupid”?

What can I do about it?

It’s not about eliminating risk completely, if taking risks is important to you then consider the types of risks you are prepared to take.

Lots of sports - like rock climbing and skydiving - provide the adrenalin rush you are looking for. But remember, the idea of these activities is to manage the risk to a level that insures the least chance of something going wrong.  

Assess the risk of any risky behaviour and consider moderating it. If you’re about to have sex with someone new, wear a condom or insist they do. If you are going to take drugs ensure you know what they are and get someone to check in on you from time to time. Always think ahead if you’re going to be drinking, then make a plan for getting home that does not involve you driving.

Set some ground rules, e.g. I won’t get into a car if the driver has been drinking, I will always carry condoms, always check equipment before undertaking a dangerous activity.

Find a sounding board, someone you trust. If they think something is too dangerous, it probably is. At the very least, it will make you stop and think.