“The most beautiful waves come from the biggest storms.” This is the message that Seawolves took away from “A Better High”, an event held by author, speaker and comedian, Matt Bellace. The presentation focused on the statistics of substance abuse and how students can achieve happiness naturally.
The Director of Student Involvement at SSU, Mo Phillips, introduced Bellace by saying, “It’s always such a pleasure to work with him and see his effect on students.” Seeing the way students reacted to him, it is no surprise that he has been invited back to SSU on multiple occasions.
Bellace has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and has studied at the National Institute of Mental Health as well as Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Although he is very educated on the subject, Bellace took a comedic and light-hearted approach to covering the harsh reality of substance abuse.
Bellace began with explaining the importance of a strong support system, saying, “As you receive more support, self harm and depressive symptoms decrease.” Charts and statistics accompanied his claims. One graph that stood out was the growing trend of emergency room visits for self harm in teenagers. Even with social media seemingly making the masses closer than ever, he added that people are becoming increasingly lonelier.
While having strong friendships is important, Bellace stated, “The number one predictor of adolescent behavior is the people they lean on.” Although you need people to help get through difficult times, choosing the right people is equally important.
Bellace continued with a topic that many college students are familiar with; the frequent use of alcohol and cannabis. Heavy alcohol use is often normalized in the college environment. During the presentation Bellace emphasized how, “Alcohol decreases anxiety short-term” and is detrimental to the brain. Anyone who has their first drink before twenty-one has an increased risk of alcohol dependency.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. Long-term heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in their size.” Bellace also added the statistic that, “40 uses of cannabis shrinks the prefrontal cortex.” He made no mistake about the detrimental effects that substances have on our brain long-term.
While substances are harmful, people’s desire to take drugs stems from the body’s “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine. Bellace ensured the audience in attendance that substances are not the only way to receive those feel-good chemicals to the brain without long-term damage. Activities such as being in nature, exercising, and ice baths are all things that improve mental health. Bellace noted that the lasting effects of exercise on the brain are much higher than any substance.
Finding your purpose, doing things you enjoy, and being around the people you love will fulfill you more than any substance could. All of these produce a better high, as Bellace coined it.
Students in attendance showed a lot of enthusiasm and participation in the event. Victoria Lambert, a fifth year Economic and Statistics major at SSU, explained, “The presentation was very fun and entertaining. I learned a lot of useful techniques to cope with stress.” Bellace’s comedic style showed students that he understood and was on their side.
For more of his insight and work, you can read his book, “A Better High”, as well as his most recent work, “Life is Disappointing.” For addiction resources and more on the topic, Bellace recommended searching naturalhigh.org.