Get High on Life!

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It was 9 PM and Sameer was starting to have dinner. Wanting to watch something on his laptop while eating, he decided to watch just one episode of Game of Thrones.  Before he knew it, it was 7 AM and he had watched an entire season. Sounds familiar? We have all done this thing called binge-watching at least once in our lives. Is it fun? Sure. Is it healthy?..ummm..not really, right? I mean, you lose out on sleep, forget to do your homework/office work, use up all your internet data in one night, feel sleepy the next morning and underperform at school or office. This example is of course about binge watching a show. But you’ll find similar stories of people using alcohol and drugs. Binge watching usually ends with the show’s last season. However, alcohol and drugs are not only far more difficult habits to get rid of, but have way more harmful effects than binge-watching a show. 

The world today is far more complex that what it was two or three decades ago. Our lifestyles have changed drastically in all matters-from the kind of food we eat to the modes of communication available at our disposal. Advances in technology have been a game changer and have impacted life in every possible sphere.  And at the centre of all this change are our youth. Young people today are smarter than ever before in the history of mankind. They are highly intelligent, resourceful, aware individuals and have information at their fingertips. But a more complex life also has its pressures. Adolescents and young adults today are under tremendous pressure to succeed at everything. This makes them vulnerable to faulty methods of coping such as the use of alcohol and drugs. 

According to research, tobacco and alcohol are the most commonly used substances in India and a majority of users start using these as adolescents and young adults. It has also been found that other substances such as opioids, cannabis, cough syrups etc are more in use among younger people. It is already well known that using substances can cause not just physical, but also mental health problems and worsen existing health issues. In spite of knowing this, why do young people use substances? Some reasons are similar to why Sameer binge watched  an entire season of GoT despite knowing that it is not the right thing to do. It was easily accessible (internet data is inexpensive), it was fun and pleasurable, it made him forget about the work deadlines he had to meet this week, thereby relieving him of that stress for the time being. Of course, all the stress he had avoided for now would come back later to make him worried, but for now, it was fun, right? The reasons of addiction are somewhat similar, but more layered and complex. 

The use of alcohol and other substances usually starts out as youngsters having fun together.
  1. Genetic predisposition: As is the case with most health problems, substance abuse also may be genetically inherited. This DOES NOT mean that anyone with a parent or a sibling who abuses substances will definitely turn into a user himself/herself. It only means that the probability of them using or becoming dependent on substances is slightly higher than those whose parents or siblings do not use substances.
  2. Easy accessibility: This is quite obvious. Anyone with easy availability of alcohol or drugs in his/her environment is likely to abuse it
  3. Experimentation: Adolescence is an age in which high value is placed on experimenting with almost everything. There is curiosity regarding a particular substance and the urge to know what it feels like to use it. Many adolescents start using substances in order to experiment thinking they can quit any time, but later get hooked to them.
  4. Peer pressure: Many a time, young people feel the need to “fit in” with a group. They are made fun of if they refuse to indulge in drugs or alcohol and in order to prove a point to friends, they start using substances without realizing that this can cause problems later on. This is peer pressure. 
  5. Stress/depression/anxiety: Young people who suffer from depression or anxiety or those who are highly stressed, look at substances as stress relievers or as a coping mechanism. Alcohol, drugs and other substances give only temporary relief from stress while creating much bigger physical and mental health problems.
  6. Neurobiology: A pertinent question is, how do substances work? Substances are essentially chemicals. When consumed, they affect one’s body and brain in certain ways. In what way they affect the brain depends upon the amount of substance taken. A certain quantity makes one feel high, while a higher quantity acts as a sedative. Either way, these artificial chemicals mess with one’s brain and the high is only temporary. Once this high wears off, the person wants more of the substance to experience the high again. 
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Most people are aware of the fact that abusing drugs, alcohol or tobacco has rather serious health implications and yet for a lot of people this high is so important that they sacrifice their health in order to achieve it. Substance abuse robs from you not just your physical and mental health, but also your loved ones, money and a potentially beautiful life for just a temporary high. So, are there ways to achieve happiness and get high other than using substances? Definitely.  There have been studies that suggest that activities such as meditation, learning an art form, physical exercise, playing a sport, volunteering for a social cause etc. don’t just give people happiness, but also provide an outlet for their emotions. Performing any of these activities makes one mentally and physically healthy. Why get high on drugs when you can get high on life?! 

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