Updated April 10, 2020
The term, “getting high,” usually dredges up the association of a drug-induced state of euphoric escape and pleasure. For many people, this experience is the addictive hook that keeps them coming back to drugs and alcohol—or, the gateway that leads them from less dangerous drugs like marijuana to scarier substances. (And, when as many as 43 percent of high school seniors report having used pot, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, it would seem that an alarmingly high number of young people are using drugs like pot in order to get high.)
But, does “getting high” have to entail an addictive and potentially dangerous substance, or are there more wholesome alternatives that don’t involve the same health dangers and overdose risks? As it turns out, the answer to that question is both “yes” and “no,” and it starts with understanding the difference between a substance-induced high vs. a natural one.
The good news for anyone looking for alternatives to getting high on drugs? That there are safer, healthier options out there for experiencing pleasure, and, that if you’ve been chasing a drug-induced high, you don’t have to anymore: You can learn how to get high naturally and kick the drugs once and for all.
What Is a High?
The term “high” refers to the intense euphoria that people experience when taking an addictive drug. They suddenly feel happy and relieved of all cares, anxieties, and stresses. Depending on the drug, in some cases they may have a highly pleasurable sensation of release and relaxation; in other cases, they may get revved up and feel totally charged, capable of anything, and motivated to conquer the world.
People who are high may become very free-spirited, engaging in reckless behavior. They may laugh a lot. Other people may experience a more subdued high. In this case, they feel numb and less capable of feeling a range of emotions, resulting in a sense of being relaxed and at ease even when situations around them are worrisome.
In most of these cases, the high is very intense but short-lived— the point being that it’s a completely artificial rush and impossible to sustain without returning over and over again to the addictive substance.
How Do Drugs Deliver a High Like This?
Drugs that deliver a euphoric-like high are able to do so because of how they interact with the brain. More specifically, and as the National Institute on Drug Abuse has put it, these drugs change the way that the brain’s neurons work, including how they send and receive information and process and exchange signals via neurotransmitters. Take marijuana, for example. Marijuana actually mimics the body’s natural neurotransmitters, with the result that abnormal messaging occurs.
In order to deliver their intense high, addictive drugs do more than change how neurons and neurotransmitters work, (although this change is a necessary precursor to the sequence that comes next). When an addictive drug interferes with the brain’s normal messaging signals, the basal ganglia (circuitry in the brain that regulates pleasure) does not receive the proper message signals and over-activates, creating an intense, highly addictive rush of pleasure. Over time, a person who keeps using the drug(s), will soon find it hard to feel pleasure from anything other than the drug(s) they’re taking.
Let’s not forget the final sequence of events in the brain: When the high fades. The intense dopamine surge that sent the basal ganglia into overcharge now must end. But its end sends the brain—and, in particular, a region of the brain known as the “amygdala,” which regulates emotions—into a more reactive state of stress, anxiety, and irritability. This sense of stress and discomfort only reinforces the desire to get high again, creating the perfect storm for addiction to take hold.
What Is a Natural High?
A natural high, on the other hand, is not artificial or drug-induced; nor should it pose the same dangers of overdose and other serious health risks. When you learn how to get high naturally, you may be able to achieve many of the same positive, happy feelings without the potential for addiction. Creating a sensation that is similar to being high without having to use drugs may sound unusual— but it’s not impossible.
The way to achieve a natural high is to do something that stimulates and increases the brain’s natural reserves of feel-good chemicals like dopamine. Dopamine, also known as the “pleasure neurotransmitter,” responds to a variety of feel-good experiences that don’t demand drugs or alcohol. What’s key is to find the experience(s) that give you a sense of pleasure.
Remember that drugs hijack the brain to change its function for a different goal. While that comes with negative consequences, other methods can change your brain for the better (and still be pleasurable).
How Do These Highs Compare?
Comparing a natural high to a drug high can be difficult. Many people chase the manufactured high of drugs when they could achieve a natural high safely and still feel the same sense of relief, happiness, and enjoyment. The best natural high is one you can control and remember.
A person who is high on a drug may have limited functions and may not remember what occurred around them. By comparison, those with a natural high are sure to remember what happened. The feelings of euphoria can range as widely with natural highs as they can with drug-induced highs.
Another issue with substance abuse created high is anhedonia. This symptom describes the inability to feel joy. When the brain has been short-circuited and fed an artificial high enough times, it can be difficult for the user to experience joy on their own. This symptom can fade but it creates an additional barrier to people seeking help.
For those in recovery from drug addiction, chasing natural highs can help minimize the temptation to use drugs. Studies reported in the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that certain natural highs can help stimulate the neurotransmitters that in turn create endorphins (positive, feel-good hormones) the body craves. The result: better outcomes for people in recovery.
5 Natural Highs — Try These Instead of Drugs and Alcohol
On that note, it’s never a bad idea to have a number of substance-free options for getting high when you’re trying to kick a drug or alcohol problem. Consider these ways to boost your long-term sobriety by increasing feel-good endorphins:
It may not seem like a fun activity to some people, but exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase feel-good hormones in the body. During rigorous exercise—specifically cardiovascular and aerobic workouts—the brain releases endorphins along with adrenaline.
Both hormones encourage the body to keep going and stimulate a sense of euphoria. If you don’t have a lot of experience with exercise, try starting gradually and build up from there, with one of these outlets, among others:
- Going for a run that doesn’t exhaust your body
- Brisk walking
2. Get Intimate
Being intimate with someone you care for can help create the same sense of high you may get from using drugs. A study from the University of Rhode Island found sex and sensual touching release endorphins in the brain.
Physical touch itself, as long as it is in a positive manner, can be a significant way to reduce stress overall. This can be more intense if a person combines those physical sensations with emotions of love and respect.
3. Take it Down With Meditation
Some people believe meditation works to slow the brain down, creating calm and reducing stress and anxiety. (Some drugs do this as well, as noted previously.)
Meditation in itself also releases endorphins. Those who meditate regularly often report a more lighthearted mood, a sense of greater control over their emotions, and greater resilience to stress.
4. Explore Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback is a relatively new method for stimulating a sense of wellbeing. Neurofeedback works to calm overactive brainwaves and triggers the release of endorphins. It often helps people manage their brainwaves in order to achieve greater calm, more focus, etc..
Doctors often recommend neurofeedback for those who have experienced trauma. It can also help to reduce anxiety and depression, two common reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol.
5. Enjoy a Hearty Laugh
Perhaps the easiest and most enjoyable way to reach a level of euphoria is to laugh. Whether from funny jokes in a movie to just remembering good times with friends, laughing triggers the brain’s “feel-good” hormones. Laughter helps people feel good nearly instantly, even faster than drugs and alcohol.
Help for Your Addiction to an Unnatural High
If you’re tired and frazzled from getting high on drugs—and you’ve tried unsuccessfully to embrace natural highs like those above—treatment can help you experience the joy of a life free of drugs. Contact FHE Health today at 1 (855) 644-6321. Our dedicated counselors are here to help in any way we can.