Taking risks

Understand why you engage in risky behaviour and how to stay safe.


About taking risks

Risk taking is when we do things that might be harmful or dangerous, but at the same time are exciting and give us a "buzz". The key is to find the right balance.

If you are worried about your level of risk taking

  • Are the risks you take potentially dangerous, such as driving too fast or getting into fights with people?
  • Do you think you take more risks than other people?
  • Do you often look back on something you did and think you could have died or been seriously injured?
  • Do you often get into trouble for doing things without thinking it through?
  • Have you been injured or become sick because of your risky behaviour?
  • Do you take a lot of party drugs without worrying about what they are or where they came from?
  • Do you have unsafe sex or indulge in other risky sexual behaviours?

If so, you might want to do something about it. You don’t have to give up having fun, but it is important to keep safe. Risk taking is not necessarily wrong or bad for you, but if taken too far it can cause serious harm or even death.

Understand why you take risks

Some people are natural risk takers, while others take risks because they want to get approval or respect. We also know that some people develop risk taking behaviour as a way of coping with other problems – for example feeling down, worthless or angry. Some people start taking lots of risks after they have been through a highly stressful experience like a military deployment. They get so used to being "hyped up" – running on adrenalin – that life back home seems boring and pointless. In fact, excessive risk taking can sometimes be a feature of posttraumatic stress disorder.

What you can about it

How can you control your risk taking behaviour so that you get the benefits without the dangers?

Think about why you keep taking risks. Is it just because it’s fun? Or is it because you feel that life is worthless or that you would be better off dead? If so, you might find the depression information useful.

Do you take risks to block out painful memories? If so, check out PTSD information.

Is it because you are bored or lonely, with no enjoyment in your life? If so, think about how to get involved in more enjoyable activities. 

Take action: Find enjoyable activities to replace risky activities

Sometimes people take risks because they are bored or they have nothing else to do.

Having a list of activities you would like to do will help stop you from getting bored. Use the Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities tool to identify rewarding activities and plan how you will get started.

You can use this tool whenever you get stuck for ideas.

Do you have problems with drinking or drug use?

Recognise: Find out if your drinking is risky

If you are drinking too much, it could be putting your health and safety at risk.

Use the drink AUDIT tool and answer a series of questions about your recent drinking habits to find out if you are drinking at a risky level and the impact of your drinking on your health and behaviour.

You can also use the Track tool in the ON TRACK with The Right Mix app to keep a record of your drinking over time.

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.

If you don’t want to stop taking risks

Lots of sports – like sky diving, rock-climbing, or white water rafting – can provide the kind of adrenalin rush that risk taking provides. For some people, other risks like performing on stage in front of a crowd can be a huge buzz. If they are done with some thought, all of these activities can be safe as well as fun. Here are some simple rules:

  • Assess the risk – think before you act. Just stop for a minute and think through the possible risks and dangers. Ask yourself: Are the risks too great? Is it worth it? What can I do to reduce the risk and make it safer? For example, if I’m about to have sex with someone new, I’ll make sure we use a condom. If I want to take drugs, I’ll make sure I know exactly what I’m taking and ask someone to check up on me from time to time. If I’m planning a heavy session of drinking, I won’t drive afterwards.
  • Work out some ground rules for yourself and stick to them so you know before you get into a situation whether or not it is a reasonable risk. Your "rules" might be never to be a passenger in a car with a drunk driver….never to have unprotected sex….never start a dangerous activity without checking the equipment…..
  • Work out what’s important to you and judge the risks accordingly. If sport and other physical activities are important to you, don’t do things with a high risk of physical injury. If you value your relationship with a loved one, don’t do things that will damage it.
  • Find people whose judgement you trust, spend time with them, and use them as "sounding boards". If everyone else thinks something is too dangerous to do, it probably is.

Having fun is a vital part of life and sometimes taking risks keeps us feeling alive. But taking risks without first considering the danger involved or how you can keep yourself safe can be sign that something else is wrong. If so, it’s worth sorting out those other problems before you do yourself serious damage. And if you are going to keep taking risks, just make sure they are calculated risks that you have thought through.