- Article SummaryPrint
- Alcohol Tolerance
- Alcohol Dependence
- Drug Tolerance
- Drug Dependence
- The Dangers of Alcohol and Drug Tolerance
- The Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Dependence
- Addressing Drug and Alcohol Tolerance
- Treating Drug and Alcohol Dependence
Drug and alcohol dependence are related to drug and alcohol tolerance, but there are a few differences between the two. When someone is diagnosed with drug or alcohol dependence or addiction, he or she is also likely to have tolerance to the substance in question.
However, someone who develops tolerance is not necessarily dependent on the substance. Tolerance is merely one possible symptom of addiction. Being able to tell the difference between tolerance and dependence is one clue of many that can help you determine whether someone has a problem with drugs or alcohol.
If you do notice signs of drug or alcohol dependence in yourself or someone you care about, give us a call at 1-800-928-9139 to learn more about treatment options.
When someone develops a tolerance to alcohol, this means that hase or she begins to require more alcohol than was previously necessary to achieve the same effect. Alcohol tolerance is the result of the changes in biology that develop when someone uses alcohol for a long period of time on a regular basis. The brain and body adapt to this high availability of alcohol in two different ways. The first is metabolic tolerance. In metabolic tolerance, the liver starts to produce more alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol so that it can leave the body. This increase in alcohol dehydrogenase means that alcohol is processed more quickly, so the person must drink more alcohol to maintain a state of intoxication. With metabolic tolerance, the production of alcohol dehydrogenase can get so high that the person's peak level of blood alcohol concentration becomes lower and he or she is unable to raise it above that level without taking in extremely large amounts of alcohol. This need for more frequent and higher doses can lead to alcohol dependence over time.
Another form of alcohol tolerance develops when the brain adapts to regular doses of alcohol. This form, called functional tolerance, is the result of the brain slowing its response to alcohol so that the person does not experience the same effect unless the dose is increased. Because this form of tolerance occurs in the brain, the blood alcohol content will continue to rise even though the person is not reacting to those high levels of alcohol in the blood.
A heavy drinker who stops consuming alcohol may develop a lowered alcohol tolerance as the body readapts to not having alcohol in the system.
Alcohol dependence, which is also known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, can develop when someone who uses alcohol frequently becomes addicted to having alcohol in the system. It is a chronic lifelong condition that can only be diagnosed if a specific set of symptoms is present. The characteristics that someone with alcohol dependence exhibits include:
- A strong compulsion to drink
- A loss of control over drinking
- An increased tolerance to alcohol
- The continued use of alcohol despite incurring significant physical, mental, or emotional harm due to the alcohol use
- Withdrawal symptoms when deprived of alcohol
Therefore, as this list of diagnostic criteria shows, someone with increased alcohol tolerance is not necessarily alcohol dependent. However, as alcohol tolerance increases, alcohol dependence becomes more likely.
In addition to an increase in alcohol tolerance, other factors can contribute to the development of alcohol dependency. There is a genetic component to alcoholism, so some individuals are more prone to becoming addicted than others. People with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, ADHD, and bipolar disorder, are more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol. Social and psychological factors also play a role in alcohol dependence.
Tolerance can develop to certain drugs as well as to alcohol. Like alcohol tolerance, drug tolerance develops over time as the person's body gets used to the drug. Not all drugs have this effect, however. Of the commonly used illicit drugs, the ones that users are most likely to become tolerant to are cocaine, heroin, opium, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, methylphenidate, and amphetamines. Physical tolerance can also develop to narcotic pain relievers, such as oxycodone, codeine, hydromorphone, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and meperidine. Other drugs, such as LSD and marijuana, do not cause tolerance because their methods of action do not cause the body to adapt to their presence.
"If the drug is a prescription drug, tolerance can be a major problem because it can cause the drug to stop working."
If the drug is a prescription drug, tolerance can be a major problem because it can cause the drug to stop working. Another potential problem with prescription drug tolerance is that the patient may start to require dangerously large doses to control the condition. This is a common problem with narcotic pain relievers. Often, someone who develops tolerance to this type of drug attempts to increase his or her dose to control the pain and soon develops an addiction. If you or someone you know has developed tolerance to drugs or alcohol and is showing signs of drug or alcohol dependence, contact us at 1-800-928-9139 for a free referral to a treatment center that can help.
The presence of food in the stomach can delay the effects of alcohol or drug consumption, mimicking a higher tolerance for a brief period of time.
Like alcohol dependence, drug dependence can develop as a result of increased tolerance. The symptoms of drug dependence are similar to the symptoms of alcohol dependence. In addition to the diagnostic criteria, both drug and alcohol addicts often display actions that may indicate a need for treatment. These signs can include:
- Episodes of violence
- Denial that there is a drug or alcohol problem when confronted
- Making excuses to take drugs or alcohol
- Secretive behavior
- Neglecting to eat or take care of himself or herself
- Missing work, school, or family events
In some cases, psychological dependence can develop even without an increased tolerance to a drug. When this occurs, the person begins to feel a desire or need for the drug even though he or she is perfectly able to function without it. Psychological addiction can be just as debilitating as an actual physical dependence, though. Treatment for drug or alcohol dependence can help someone who is psychologically addicted as well as helping individuals with a physical drug or alcohol addiction. If you need more information about treatment for psychological addiction, call 1-800-928-9139 any time, night or day.
"Denial" used to be considered a definitive sign of drug or alcohol dependence, but modern research has found that some people do not experience denial during addiction and others exhibit less denial when approached with concern instead of accusations or demands.
The Dangers of Alcohol and Drug Tolerance
"Alcohol and other depressants can cause slowed respiration, which can lead to coma or death."
While drug and alcohol tolerance are not specific sole indicators of drug or alcohol dependence, they can be dangerous in their own way. Someone who has developed tolerance to a given substance is more likely to overdose on that substance. Depending on the drug, an overdose can be deadly. Alcohol and other depressants can cause slowed respiration, which can lead to coma or death. Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, can cause a heart attack or stroke when too much is taken.
Another danger of increased tolerance is the possibility that the user may not recognize when he or she is impaired from the drug. If the user feels fine, he or she may engage in risky activities, such as driving a car while under the influence. Even though the user does not feel high or intoxicated, he or she may still have slowed reflexes or mental processes that make driving or other complex activities dangerous.
Someone who has a high tolerance and is also displaying signs of drug or alcohol dependence may be even more likely to participate in risky behavior because he or she not only feels unaffected by the substance but is also willing to take risks to get more drugs or alcohol.
The Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Dependence
Substance Abuse Treatment
Admitting that there is a problem, however, is the first and most important step in seeking substance abuse treatment. With the right support, treatment and tools, you can overcome an addiction to drugs and alcohol, achieve sobriety, and reclaim your life.Read More
Someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol may put himself or herself into dangerous situations in order to get more of the addictive substance. Long-term use of drugs and alcohol can also take a toll on the user's health. Health effects from extended drug and alcohol use can include neurological damage, heart problems, liver damage, and gastrointestinal difficulties. In some cases, the effects may be irreversible. However, once an addict gets treatment for drug or alcohol dependence, the damage is halted and any health conditions that have risen as a result of the substance abuse can be treated.
Drug and alcohol dependence can also take a toll on the family and society. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol find it harder to maintain family relationships and may have trouble keeping a job. They may encounter financial problems as a result of their constant efforts to acquire more drugs or alcohol. This can lead to criminal or legal troubles for some drug or alcohol users. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are also at higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases and domestic violence. When faced with the consequences of drug and alcohol dependence, some addicts become depressed or suicidal.
Addressing Drug and Alcohol Tolerance
Treatment is not generally required for drug or alcohol tolerance if there is no concurrent addiction. Tolerance will typically resolve itself after you stop taking the substance. Some people with increased tolerance can suddenly stop using drugs or alcohol with no ill effects. In cases of tolerance to prescription medication, your doctor may need to alter your dose or switch you onto a different medication for a while to reduce your tolerance to the original drug. In the case of alcohol tolerance, noticing that you need higher doses to get the same effect can be a sign that you should slow down your alcohol use.
Heavy drinking, including drinking more than one or two drinks every day or drinking more than four or five drinks in a single setting, can be a sign of alcohol abuse. If you do notice signs of drug or alcohol dependence or abuse, treatment may be warranted. If you are unsure whether or not you need to seek treatment, call 1-800-928-9139 to talk to a trained treatment advisor about your drug or alcohol use.
Treating Drug and Alcohol Dependence
People who become dependent on drugs or alcohol may need to participate in a formal treatment plan to successfully recover from addiction. Total abstinence from drugs or alcohol is necessary for recovery to be complete. Individuals who receive treatment for drug or alcohol dependence may develop a lower tolerance to drugs or alcohol over time as the body adapts to functioning without these substances.
An effective treatment plan for drug or alcohol dependence involves both physical and psychological treatment methods. Treatment typically begins with detoxification. During detoxification, individuals with a true dependency will go through withdrawal. Withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, or even painful, but it is a necessary step to break the addiction and start the process of recovery.
After detoxification, the recovering drug or alcohol user must undergo intensive therapy for a long period of time to reduce the symptoms of psychological drug or alcohol dependence. This therapy often takes the form of individual counseling sessions with a therapist trained in drug or alcohol addiction. During these sessions, the recovering drug addict or alcoholic talks about the emotional and mental factors that led up to the addiction and learns to recognize specific cues that cause him or her to use drugs. Another form of counseling involves behavioral training that teaches the recovering user how to respond when faced with the temptation to use drugs or alcohol.
Treatment for some forms of drug or alcohol dependence can involve the use of medication that reduces withdrawal symptoms or reduces the likelihood of a relapse. Not all substances can be treated with medication. Medications exist to treat alcohol and opiate addiction, and medications for treating marijuana and cocaine addiction are currently in development.