Tolerance to alcohol is a common topic. Many misconceptions about alcohol tolerance exist, hindering understanding of how alcohol tolerance works. Whether you consume alcohol regularly or have drinking sessions a few times per month, it is vital to understand how your body reacts to different amounts of alcohol. Without this information, you could put yourself at risk. This article will discuss everything you need to know about tolerance.
What Is Alcohol Tolerance?
Alcohol tolerance is the body’s ability to adjust to a certain alcohol level. This means that over time, your body will need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects. Your liver is responsible for breaking down the alcohol in your system, and as it becomes used to doing this regularly, it will take longer and longer for the liver to do its job.
This is why heavy drinkers often find themselves drinking more alcohol and more each day. Their bodies have become tolerant to the amount of alcohol they consume, and their liver breaks it down more slowly due to increased tolerance. This also means that a person who consumes just a few drinks might have a much higher blood alcohol concentration than someone without a high tolerance who has a few drinks.
What Causes Alcohol Tolerance?
There are several factors that can contribute to alcohol tolerance:
- Age—As you get older, your body becomes less efficient at metabolizing alcohol. This is because you lose muscle as you age, and muscles help break down alcohol in your liver, introducing a higher risk of complications.
- Frequency & Quantity—People who drink often and drink heavily will develop a higher tolerance to alcohol much more quickly than someone who only drinks occasionally. This causes heavy drinkers to consume significant amounts of alcohol, which can be incredibly dangerous for physical and mental health.
- Diet—Not eating before a few ounces of wine or while drinking another type of alcohol can affect how quickly your body metabolizes standard drinks, leading to an easy problem with alcohol if a high BAC level is reached in a short time. If there’s nothing in your body to help in the absorption of alcohol, it passes through more quickly than usual, which means that you will feel drunker much sooner.
- Gender: Studies have shown that women are generally more affected by smaller amounts of alcohol than men because their bodies tend to retain water better and contain less total muscle mass overall, especially if they’re on birth control. This means that alcohol stays in women’s bodies at higher concentrations for a longer period. It’s possible that the increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol could cause women to drink more to get those desired effects, and that could lead to increased tolerance. It’s also possible that men who need to drink more to feel the effects end up consuming significantly more alcohol, causing them to drink more often and in higher quantities, leading to increased tolerance.
There are several other ways that increased alcohol tolerance occurs:
Alcohol consumption disrupts a person’s behavior and body. Functional tolerance is how a person’s brain adapts to compensate for this disruption. If someone drinks large amounts of alcohol and can function ‘normally,’ it’s likely in part due to functional tolerance. Their brain has adapted, allowing them to function better and be less affected by alcohol. This leads to an increase in alcohol consumption, which in turn continues to increase a person’s tolerance. The different types of functional tolerance include the following:
Someone can develop the effects of alcohol tolerance in a single drinking session. This is referred to as acute tolerance. This causes the individual to consume more and more alcohol to try to reach their desired effects.
Alcohol tolerance can occur more rapidly if a person is always drinking in the same place or the same environment. This type of tolerance can even develop in social drinkers. It’s common amongst social drinkers because they’re often drinking in the same environment: a party or a bar. This leads to increased tolerance more quickly and is known as environment-dependent tolerance.
Individuals who complete tasks under the influence of alcohol often develop learned tolerance. For example, a person who drives home drunk often may develop a tolerance to the task of driving home under the influence and experience increased alcohol tolerance when in that situation. The increased tolerance is not transferred to new tasks, though. This is known as learned tolerance.
When increased tolerance develops independently of environmental cues, this is known as environment-independent tolerance. This usually occurs when a person drinks often and consumes significant quantities of alcohol. This is probably what most people think of when they hear about increased tolerance.
Why Is Increased Alcohol Tolerance a Problem?
Alcohol tolerance can be a problem for people who drink too much and want to cut back. Unfortunately, as we’ve established above, the body becomes used to drinking more and more alcohol over time. This is harmful to the liver and can ultimately lead to several other health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and even cancer.
Many people who have a high alcohol tolerance fall under the category of people with alcohol use disorders. If you or someone you know is drinking too much, it’s a good idea to get professional help. If you reduce your drinking on your own and you don’t do it safely, you run the risk of suffering profound consequences, such as seizures, confusion, hallucinations, and even coma. A medical professional can ensure that you quit safely and prescribe medication if necessary.
What Can You Do About Alcohol Tolerance?
When it comes down to it, there’s only one solution: stop consuming alcohol or significantly reduce your intake. No binge drinking and cold showers!
Alcohol use causes many side effects, including liver damage (which increases with every drink), cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, and stroke risk factors (alcohol causes blood vessels in the brain to swell, leading to a hemorrhagic stroke).
In addition, if you find that you need to drink more and more alcohol over time for you to feel the effects of alcohol, your body has most likely become tolerant. Remember, the only way to avoid these problems is by reducing how much you consume regularly. Stop drinking entirely or take at least a short break before going back again.
What Is the Correlation Between Alcohol Dependence and Tolerance?
Alcohol dependence and tolerance go hand in hand, but there is a difference between the two.
An alcoholic can develop an increased level of alcohol tolerance over time through regular drinking (and it’s why they often end up needing more alcohol to feel drunk). However, someone who has become dependent on alcohol does not necessarily have higher levels of tolerance. People who are dependent on alcohol often can’t enjoy doing anything without the presence of alcohol; they turn to alcohol as a way to deal with stressful times, they miss work or family functions due to their drinking, and their drinking is associated with other negative behaviors.
A person with increased tolerance may be putting themselves at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder, but the presence of a high tolerance alone doesn’t make someone an alcoholic.
What Are Some Treatment Options for Alcoholism?
There are many treatment options available for people suffering from alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
These include prescription medications, outpatient counseling sessions (which you attend regularly), and inpatient care at a facility that specializes in addiction recovery. The type of program is typically up to the individual but depends heavily on their specific needs. Some people might need inpatient treatment and might need a safe medical detox from alcohol, and others might be able to just cut back their drinking on their own without running into any problems. Always discuss this with a professional.
Should I See a Doctor?
There are many reasons you should see a doctor about your increased tolerance. Increased tolerance is often a sign of alcohol use disorder, and hopefully, your doctor can help find you the treatment you need. They can also help you determine if you need professional help to stop drinking or if you can safely do it on your own. This could mean quitting or using medication to stop drinking safely.
What Should I Do If I Think Someone Has High Alcohol Tolerance?
You should do whatever you feel necessary to support someone who may have a high tolerance but doesn’t want to acknowledge it themselves. They may need a friend to step in and tell them that they’re concerned about their drinking habits before it becomes too late.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t ignore the signs. If someone is showing symptoms of high alcohol tolerance or you suspect they are struggling with addiction but haven’t been diagnosed yet, encourage them to seek help from professionals.
Learn More About Alcohol Tolerance
As you can see, alcohol tolerance is a broad subject to tackle. If you or a loved one is suffering from increased tolerance to alcohol or any other alcohol-related issues, contact The Haven for help. We offer medical detoxification services and mental health care. We are here to answer any questions you have and get you on the path to treatment.