What’s a Natural High?

Insight

Have you ever found yourself absolutely enthralled in an activity you enjoyed? Did you have a sensation of pleasure and happiness surrounding you, making you feel joy like you never had? This is one of the best feelings in the world, and is known as a natural high!

What's a Natural High?

A natural high is actually recognized by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the scientific community as a very real phenomenon! A natural high is an activity that has the ability to boost feel-good chemicals in your brain known as endorphins without the use of drugs. 

What are Endorphins?

Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that are released in order to help cope with pain and stress. Endorphins are released by the body in the brain, specifically in the areas of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. 

The name "endorphins" is actually a combination of the words "endogenous," meaning coming from the body, and "morphine," which is a strong opioid medication commonly used to treat pain. Hence, together they make the word meaning morphine from the body (literally).

Can You Naturally Get High?

The release of endorphins causes some very real physical sensations in the body similar to an artificial "high," which is similar to the effect of drugs and alcohol.

Natural effects of endorphins, also known as a "runner's high," include:

  • Euphoria
  • Feeling elated
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Intense pleasure
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Racing thoughts

Many people actually enjoy these effects, however fleeting they might be. For instance, scoring during a football game, landing the perfect golf shot, or finishing a race are all perfect natural high examples. 

Fortunately, these natural high symptoms do not come with the negative symptoms associated with artificial highs.

What are Artificial Highs?

Unfortunately, many people might not be willing or able to feel the effects of a natural high. Some people might actually have chronically lower levels of endorphins, leading to mental health conditions such as depression and physical conditions like fibromyalgia. These conditions can lead someone to self-medicate and try to obtain an "artificial high" by using drugs and alcohol.

Unlike a natural high, these artificial highs rely on outside sources and substances to achieve the same effect as a natural high. They also have a variety of negative consequences.

Negative Impact of Artificial Highs

Although these artificial highs give the same effects of natural highs, such as pleasure and euphoria, they are also coupled with negative side effects. Physical and mental health conditions can worsen after prolonged drug use, leading to issues such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of certain cancers
  • Liver disease
  • Decreased immune response
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Physical dependence to substances
  • Increased tolerance to drugs or alcohol

The continued use of drugs and alcohol or other substances can lead to addiction, which is incredibly difficult to recover from and considered a chronic condition. Overtime, the continued use of substances to create artificial highs negatively impacts the brain's chemistry.

For instance, in people with alcohol use disorder or those who abuse cocaine, the brain slowly begins to grow resistant to the effects of dopamine, another feel-good chemical in the brain. In time, this causes people to feel negative moods, increased displeasure without cocaine, and an overall inability to feel pleasure from regular everyday activities.

Forming a Natural High List

Fortunately, you can learn to develop ways to produce natural highs in order to help you get rid of pain and stress naturally. Natural highs can also boost your mood and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some of the best things you can do include:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Laugh a lot
  • Eat spicy food or food you enjoy
  • Find a hobby that makes you happy
  • Volunteer and help others
  • Write in your journal
  • Practice yoga and meditation

These are all excellent things you can add to your "natural high list" to help you improve your overall well-being. During recovery, they can also help you learn to feel pleasure without substances.

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