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Is the Desire to Get High a Universal Drive?

    A recovering addict probably said it best, and I’m paraphrasing here: “We get high because it makes us feel better than when we are not.”  This is why many of us have succumbed at some time or another to the siren call for mood-boosting substances. My elixir-of-choice is wine, which I enjoy with dinner or with friends; others I know prefer pot to help them relax or flex their creative muscles; while some people pop an occasional anti-anxiety pill to take the edge off an uncomfortable situation—none of which necessarily makes us/them candidates for intervention.

    That said, there are healthier choices we can make to achieve the same results we’re usually seeking when we turn to drugs and alcohol to unwind, have fun, or relieve pain.  Yes, I drink wine, but I also practice yoga regularly, meditate (okay, not as often as I should, but I try); spin three days a week; take breaks from endless hours tapping away at this blasted computer to walk in the park or around my neighborhood; sing and dance with abandon with my teenage daughter to some ear-wormy pop music in the privacy of our living room; stay in touch with my family; make lunch dates with friends for some angst-relieving laughter and ranting; and volunteer to help my neighbors as the head of my tenants association.  All of the above fall into what I call the Six Pleasure Principles: Move, Restore, Connect, Create, Celebrate, and Give.

    Although my clubbing days are over—and yes, they were fun—I can honestly say that as a middle-aged mom, I am far healthier than I was when I was cigarette-smoking, bar-hopping youth. While my cares have increased exponentially throughout the years (financial concerns, failing health of friends and family members, worries about the safety, education, and well-being of my child), I’ve found better ways to cope with life’s inevitable pain and anxiety.

    It’s important to acknowledge, however, that our never-ending quest of pleasure and escape is an indelible part of our nature.  Given this, our walks on the wild side should not cause us shame or self-loathing, although addicts and those in recovery should do everything in their power to stay clean and sober. What I’ve learned through the research of my new book is that this natural craving to get high dates back millions of years, from prehistoric times when cave dwellers first discovered fermented beverages, to the meth labs and painkiller pill mills of today. Drugs and alcohol will always be a go-to option.

    And, by the way, this age-old desire to get high is something that we share with our fellow creatures, including cats (nipping), birds (intoxicating berries), horses (locoweed, a hallucinogen), and even dolphins (huffers of puffer fish). But what we also have in common with many in the animal world is the delight we get from food, family, companionship, and play. Elephants live in close-knit units and exhibit emotions like joy and compassion (they also feel grief). Anyone who has surfed the Internet will find evidence of animals dancing, yes, dancing, to music (look at this head-bopping, move-busting parrot named Snowball , or the interspecies bonding between Suryia the orangutan and Roscoe the dog.

    By understanding our biological, psychological, and historical desire to get high, we can hopefully acknowledge these urges—much like our drives for hunger and thirst—while pursuing other more healthful forms of recreation and better ways to relieve physical pain, depression, or hardship. To all of you who want more guilt-free pleasure in your lives (and who doesn’t?) try the following:  Make a list of your most memorable natural highs. They can be times when you felt elation, physical pleasure, spiritual transformation, or inner peace. Chances are they will fall into at least one of the six Pleasure Principles. Now go relive them, if possible. I asked myself the same question and came up with many wonderful experiences, all of which were far better than anything I ever felt when I was chemically high.

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