In Search of the Ultimate High

by Dr. Carla Cornelius , Christian Examiner Contributor |

The world offers up an enticing smorgasbord of pastimes – all claiming to offer you an endorphin rush not to be missed. These thrill-seeking activities such as drug and alcohol use, casual sex, and escapism though non-stop entertainment, promise much but deliver little in terms of long-lasting satisfaction.

It seems our relentless search to be high is because we feel so consistently low. Look around you and you will see that joy is notably absent. It is ironic that America is ravaged by misery though widely recognised as a land of plenty. This fact alone lends resonance to Jesus' statement that, "...life is not measured by how much you own" (Luke 12:15, NLT).

Statistics show that, "Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year." These disorders range from general anxiety disorder, to panic disorder, social phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In this article, we will consider three types of highs in particular. They all carry health warnings, or risks to life, limb, and well-being.

Thrill-Seeking High

A 2018 study revealed that between 2011 and 2017, 259 people died in pursuit of extreme selfies. Two people forming a couple, aged 29 and 30 years old, respectively, recently fell to their deaths whilst taking a photo of themselves on a granite ledge with no railings in the Yosemite National Park in California. They flirted with death for the temporary adrenalin rush of taking an extraordinary selfie, but they will never live to see how many "likes" they would have gained on Instagram or other social media sites; nor will they be able to share with friends and family what it felt like to experience that moment before their tragic accident.

There is something about getting up high, scaling physical heights or defying gravity which induces a spike of endorphins, such as when riding on a Ferris wheel at a carnival, riding in a helicopter or experiencing the view from the Empire State building. These times signify rising above our mundane problems and the tedium of everyday life, and savoring the sublime – if only for a fleeting moment. But to what lengths are we willing to go to achieve this high, and is it all worth it?

Drug-Induced High

Drug-taking is a popular means of escape, and the stigma surrounding marijuana is being replaced by mainstream approval. For example, on October 17, 2018, cannabis use was legalised in Canada – second only to Uruguay in achieving this historic feat. But pro-marijuana advocates do not want to stop there, they desire a global trend in legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Apart from medical marijuana, is this drug as harmless as many claim it to be? According to research from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), "Teens who start smoking marijuana early and do so frequently risk lowering their IQ scores."

As well as the potential to lower IQ, marijuana use tends to lower motivation, breed addiction and its smoke contains many of the same irritants and toxins as tobacco smoke which increases the user's chances of developing chronic bronchitis, emphysema and cancer. Apart from deciding whether the money spent on buying marijuana is worth it, users will need to assess whether the high it yields from the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol or THC ingredient is worth the risk to their life and physical and mental health. Furthermore, marijuana is known to be a gateway drug, no doubt because over time it will deliver diminishing returns. This means that users will need stronger doses to get the same effect, and so many will move to stronger drugs.

Alcohol-Induced High

A recent report from the World Health Organisation reveals that one in 20 deaths worldwide are linked to alcohol. This number spans deaths resulting from road traffic accidents, digestive diseases and suicide. Research from the Washington School of Medicine confirms that daily consumption, even if it is light, increases your chances of premature death by 20%. Current health guidelines on safe levels of social drinking are now being revised. Scientists now hold to the view that whatever benefits are gained by light drinking, are outweighed by the risks.

A Supernatural High

This high cannot be granted by another human being, and there is no amount of money which can buy it. It won't cost you anything monetarily, yet it costs everything – a lifetime of trusting and following Jesus. This yields a guaranteed high from knowing that your sins are forgiven, you will spend eternity with God, and that God will be your faithful companion and provide for all your needs. Life will not always be a blissful road, but it is possible to experience a high that does not result in premature death, an impaired mind or physical disease. By choosing the path of life found in a relationship with Jesus Christ and by casting all your cares on his supernatural shoulders, "...then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand" (Philippians 4:7, NLT). This is the only high from which there are no withdrawal symptoms – because it lasts from now until eternity.

—Carla Cornelius, ph.D., gained her doctorate from Trinity School of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana. Her dissertation proposed a biblical model of counseling the suicidal based on the book of Ecclesiastes. Because the causes of suicide are multifactorial, she endeavors to bring a psycho-spiritual perspective to this complex and ever-pressing issue. She is the author of five books including "Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking," "Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains" and "No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide."