Getting High: Sex, Drugs and Cuddly Times with Loved Ones

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We’ve all been raised with warnings about the dangers of drugs. If you believe what your parents and teachers tell you, taking them ruins your physical and mental health, drains you financially, and possibly gets you in trouble with the law. There’s no way to manage them or use them responsibly. People say that if you smoke pot once, you are sure to end up with a full-blown heroin addiction! While some people do develop serious drug addictions requiring treatment, many more people consume illegal drugs and socially-sanctioned substances like alcohol and prescription medicines in small quantities throughout their lives, without any negative consequences. Even those who steer clear entirely of what we would generally consider “drugs” can get high on sugar, caffeine, and spicy foods.

Let’s talk about what happens in our bodies when we get high. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a drug is “any chemical agent that affects the function of living things.” As human beings, we can consume substances that give us energy and cause us to feel exhilarated, happy, and safe—but our bodies also naturally produce chemicals that achieve the same feelings: hormones. These hormones act on the same brain receptors as the chemicals in the food and drugs we consume. Have you heard of endorphins? The word means “morphine from within.” Endorphins are the chemicals our body produces during strenuous exercise, when we work out, when we orgasm, and when we laugh. They are also often released in response to stress and pain. After the pain goes away, the endorphins continue to be released, causing that “high” feeling. This explains the buzz you get after eating really spicy food and the allure of S&M sex!

How about dopamine? This hormone, which is released when we consume cocaine, alcohol, or nicotine, is also released when we feel “in love.” That warm and gooey feeling you get when looking at your love interest’s picture is your dopamine talking. Finally, there’s oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” which is produced when you’re making out, having sex, and bonding (platonically or otherwise) with another person. It’s the hormone that lets you trust someone else and gives you that feeling of being connected and understood. Oxytocin also plays a huge role in labor, breast-feeding, and bonding with babies. “I can be having the worst day,” says MS, “and forget all about it when I see a baby. All my stress and anxiety washes away, and I’m totally in the moment of looking at that cute face and making faces.”

While men also produce oxytocin, women have more of it. So it plays a bigger role in the way we deal with anxiety and stress. Perhaps you learned in school about the “fight or flight” reflex. This term is based on studies of how men respond to stress. Women, in large part because of their higher level of oxytocin production, have a different stress reaction, what researchers call “tend and befriend.” Liza says that when she is feeling upset, she talks to someone trusted to feel better. “I don’t like to feel sad,” she says, “but what’s happened to me in life has made me that way.” Although she sometimes drinks, it’s spending time with people she loves that really picks her up. Marian reports that she feels the same. “What makes me feel the most high is hanging out with friends and feeling happy and loved,” she says. “You might think that I’m on drugs from the way I’m behaving, but I’m not—I’m just really excited. When I’m feeling this way, I don’t care about anything else, and my worries disappear.”

While we all can appreciate the euphoria of being with good friends, for some there is even greater excitement in taking risks outside of that circle of security. Moonlit Starlit, a recent arrival to Lebanon who has previously lived in West Africa, South America, and the United States, writes: “Travel has given the most consistent and sustaining high that I’ve found. There’s something thrilling about pushing your horizons (literally) as far as you can and then pushing them a little bit more. I think that part of the high is the unpredictability of it: if you’re traveling right, you let the people and places that you encounter along the way guide you and shape you. That feeling of not knowing—especially in light of our day-to-day lives and careers, where we’re supposed to feel certain about the path that we’re on—gives the high.” Starlit’s love of unpredictability may explain why people love gambling and skydiving. Liza loves driving fast, and she also sometimes cuts herself in search of a way to escape negative feelings. All of these activities make us more aware of our mortality, bringing us to a place where we are totally absorbed in the present moment. Isn’t that what being high is all about?

It might seem strange to talk about religion and drugs in the same article, but when talking to Daro, I began to wonder if practicing religion could be considered a natural way of getting high. When Daro is feeling her worst, she focuses on the future. “I know that every problem has a solution,” she says. “So I try to focus on the fact that the problem in front of me must have a solution as well.” Praying, meditation, and believing in a better future all provide a sense of perspective and peace. The Buddhist quest for Nirvana, the Christian belief in Heaven, Muslim Paradise—all are places with no suffering. If feeling high means letting go of your anxiety and fear while holding on to your good feelings, then the promise of all of these places could be seen as a permanent high. Contrary to Marx, I don’t believe that religion (when truly practiced) is an opiate. However we find it, we should celebrate that feeling of being a part of something bigger than ourselves and the thrill of imagining a better world—and use that inspiration to guide the way we live our lives.

Dancing, running, music, travel, sex, nature, chocolate, puppies—what are your highs? Why do you get high? If you’re seeking out a high in an attempt to escape from bad feelings, to gain a feeling of perspective, to get control, or to lose control, then congratulations, you’re just like everyone else on the planet! Just be careful that your high of choice doesn’t become an addiction. We can become addicted to sex, exercise, sugar—even chile peppers!—just as we can to alcohol, cigarettes, or cocaine. If you spend an increasing amount of time thinking about getting high, and getting your highs is interfering with important life activities like school or work, you may want to talk to a counselor. The experience of being high is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to express parts of your personality that are otherwise hidden. As long as you’re getting high in moderation and not hurting yourself or others, go on and get intoxicated by life!

Contributed by Lily

Guest Contributor

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