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Alcohol Dependence and Drug Addiction -Tolerance

Tolerance, as it relates to alcohol dependence and drug addiction, is often misunderstood by many in the general public.  In the manner that drug and alcohol tolerance functions, it can be a safety mechanism to the body and, at the same time, deadly.  This makes awareness of the subject critical for anyone who engages in alcohol abuse or drug abuse, as well as those in recovery.

It can easily be assumed that tolerance means that an individual can drink more alcohol without getting drunk, or handle drug use in a seemingly controlled manner.  With this assumption comes the belief that these “abilities” are an example of the natural differences that exist from one individual to another.  While this is partially true, the nature of alcohol and drug tolerance is much more complicated.

Alcohol tolerance is the example with which most people can relate.  Consider the amount of alcohol you need to drink before you feel the effects, or “buzzed”.  Let’s say this is 2 beers.  If you drink 2 beers every day, over time you will feel less of an effect.  If you want to feel the same effect, you must drink more alcohol.  The amount of alcohol needed for the same feeling will continue to increase as you add more alcohol.  

The same concept works with drugs.  Alcohol abuse or drug abuse can result from tolerance since individuals will chase that feeling by drinking or using more on each occasion.  If the cycle continues with regular daily alcohol or drug intake, the body can become physically dependent and alcoholism or drug addiction is the result.  

On this road to addiction that we just followed, the brain has protected the body from overdose, with tolerance, by adjusting to the higher levels of substance use.  This benefit of drug tolerance can become a dangerous consequence, though, for recovering individuals who relapse.  The addicted brain still needs a large amount of drugs for an effect, but the body returns to a lower tolerance of what is essentially a poison.

At the time of first use on a relapse, the brain will dictate the most recent amount of drugs used to get a desired effect.  If the formerly recovering addict is not careful, this amount can easily cause a drug overdose or even be fatal.  Many drug addicts are not aware of this fact, and will even ignore warnings from fellow drug users because they don’t realize the consequences they face.

While alcoholics are less likely to overdose on alcohol during first use on a relapse, they may experience what is known as a lack of tolerance.  At this point, a drunken feeling may result from only 1 drink.  Lack of tolerance can actually occur with anyone who drinks alcohol, but it is typically coupled with alcohol dependence.  Of course, that 1 drink will still not be enough to satisfy alcoholics and they can become a danger to themselves through inebriation and alcohol’s effect on the body.

This information is good to share with teens, friends in recovery, or anyone you may know who engages in alcohol abuse or drug abuse.  Too many see tolerance as a benefit both early in substance use and in addiction.  Tolerance is explained in effective alcohol and drug treatment as part of addiction education groups to prevent accidental overdoses among those who may relapse.  Bringing this awareness to the general public may save even more lives.

Tarzana Treatment Centers in Los Angeles provides youth alcohol and drug treatment and addiction education.  We specialize in treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, and have two primary medical care clinics in the San Fernando Valley and Antelope Valley.  If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol dependence, drug addiction, or co-occurring mental health disorders, please call us now at 888-777-8565 or contact us here.

Southern California Locations for Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Tarzana Treatment Centers has locations all over Southern California in Los Angeles County. Other than our central location in Tarzana, we have facilities in Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, Long Beach, and in Northridge and Reseda in the San Fernando Valley.

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