Chronic drug use can lead to the buildup of what’s known as drug tolerance. This can occur in people who take prescribed medication, or those who misuse substances like heroin or alcohol.
A high drug or alcohol tolerance is common in those with a substance abuse problem, or a drug addiction, and can cause a person to take more of a drug over time.
Here you will find information on what drug and alcohol tolerance is, types of drug tolerance, and how to get help for drug or alcohol abuse.
Understanding Alcohol And Drug Tolerance
Drug tolerance can develop through the use of any drug that affects the body’s brain and nervous system. For instance, taking a prescribed medication for several weeks or months.
Drug tolerance occurs when the body becomes used to the presence of the drug in the body. It will adapt to the dose you’re taking, and stop working as well.
This will require that you take more of the drug—either at a higher dose, or more frequent doses—in order to feel the same strength of drug effects as before.
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Primary signs of a drug tolerance:
- it takes a higher dose to feel the same effects of a drug
- feeling less affected by a certain dose of a drug (or amount of alcohol) after taking it regularly for several weeks
How Do You Develop A Drug Tolerance?
Tolerance to drugs, including alcohol, can develop through a few different ways, and can be influenced by genetic, behavioral, and biological factors.
Tolerance can develop through:
Typically, it takes several weeks of regular, repeated drug use for a tolerance to build. Although, in some cases, tolerance can also develop very rapidly.
What Are The Different Types Of Drug Tolerance?
There are several different types of tolerance to drugs and alcohol. While each person’s tolerance is different, each type of tolerance can lead to drug abuse and addiction.
Read more about the different types of alcohol tolerance.
Pharmacokinetic (metabolic) tolerance refers to the metabolism mechanism for developing tolerance to a drug, including prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol.
Through this mechanism, a drug is broken down and eliminated from the body before it reaches its site of action—thereby limiting or reducing its effects.
An example of this is with alcohol, which can induce the activity of liver enzymes that affect your body’s metabolism of drugs.
Learn more about what metabolic tolerance is.
Functional tolerance, also known as pharmacodynamic resistance, refers to a change in the cellular response to a substance, as a result of repeated use.
Excessive and repeated drug use can desensitize the body to the drug, due to how it repeatedly binds to receptor sites in the body.
Learn more about what functional tolerance is.
Tachyphylaxis, also known as acute tolerance, is the rapid, short-term buildup of tolerance to a drug following drug use.
This rapid tolerance has been seen in some cases after taking a single dose of LSD, cocaine, and some antidepressant medications.
Behavioral tolerance is a context-specific form of tolerance, characterized by behavioral factors, or the environment in which a person uses drugs.
One example of behavioral tolerance is increased motor activity as a side effect of stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine (meth).
Another example, with alcohol, is the phenomenon of learning to “hold your drink better,” even when you are still drinking the same concentration of alcohol.
Cross tolerance refers to the development of tolerance to a class of drugs, and not just a single drug by itself.
For instance, a person may develop some level of tolerance to all opioid drugs (e.g. heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl) through chronic use of just one.
Tolerance And Substance Abuse
What’s important to know about drug tolerance is that it can develop in anyone, regardless of whether you are misusing a substance.
Tolerance can be a sign of substance abuse, but it can also develop by taking a medication, or over-the-counter medication, regularly as directed by a healthcare provider.
Types Of Drug Tolerance
Tolerance can develop through the chronic use of a wide variety of drugs, including prescription drugs, illicit drugs, some over-the-counter medications, and alcohol.
Here are the most common types of drug tolerance to be aware of:
Tolerance To Illicit Drugs
Chronic illicit drug use can lead to the buildup of drug tolerance, or drug resistance.
Typically, this takes weeks of frequent drug use, but in some cases, tolerance can also develop after a single dose or short-term drug use.
Types of illicit drug tolerance include:
- heroin tolerance
- methamphetamine tolerance
- cocaine tolerance
- marijuana tolerance
- MDMA tolerance
- ketamine tolerance
- LSD tolerance
- psilocybin tolerance
Tolerance To Opioid Drugs
Opioids are a class of natural, semi-synthetic, and man-made painkillers that a person can develop tolerance to over time, with repeated use.
Types of opioid drug tolerance include:
- oxycodone tolerance
- fentanyl tolerance
- hydrocodone tolerance
- tramadol tolerance
- morphine tolerance
- Suboxone tolerance
- methadone tolerance
Learn more about opioid tolerance.
Tolerance To Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are a class of sedatives that are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorder, and insomnia.
It is possible to become tolerant to the effects of benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” after several weeks of taking one or more benzodiazepines regularly.
Common benzodiazepines from which you can develop a tolerance:
- Xanax tolerance
- Klonopin tolerance
- Ativan tolerance
- Valium tolerance
Benzodiazepine tolerance can develop through prescribed use or by misusing a benzodiazepine.
For instance, taking higher doses, using alternative methods of administration (such as snorting), or taking them without a prescription.
Learn more about benzodiazepine tolerance.
Tolerance To Amphetamines
Amphetamines are a class of stimulant drugs that are commonly prescribed for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
It is possible to build a tolerance to amphetamines through chronic use of a prescription amphetamine, or through amphetamine abuse.
Common amphetamines from which you can build tolerance:
- Adderall tolerance
- Vyvanse tolerance
- Ritalin tolerance
Learn more about amphetamine tolerance.
Antidepressant Drug Tolerance
Antidepressant medications, like other drugs, can lead to drug tolerance if you take an antidepressant as prescribed by a doctor for several weeks or longer.
Tachyphylaxis, or rapid tolerance, can also develop through the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) like Nardil.
Learn more about antidepressant tolerance.
Understanding Alcohol Tolerance
Alcohol is one of the most commonly used and abused drugs in the United States. Drinking alcohol very regularly can lead to tolerance with time.
Learn more about alcohol tolerance and what it is.
Alcoholism And High Tolerance
You can become tolerant to the effects of alcohol through frequent drinking. But if you have a very high tolerance for alcohol, this could also be a sign of alcoholism.
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a serious condition characterized by physical dependence, and sometimes a psychological addiction to alcohol as well.
Learn whether high alcohol tolerance can lead to alcoholism.
Understanding Low Alcohol Tolerance
People who do not tolerate the effects of alcohol very well, or find themselves affected very easily by alcohol, may have a low alcohol tolerance.
Learn about what it means to have a low tolerance for alcohol.
Factors That Affect Your Alcohol Tolerance
Multiple factors can affect how you build a tolerance to alcohol, how rapidly it occurs, and how it affects you and your drinking habits.
Alcohol tolerance may be affected by factors such as:
- eye color
- biological factors
- social factors
- other health conditions
Learn about factors that affect alcohol tolerance.
Sudden Changes In Alcohol Tolerance
Changes in alcohol and drug tolerance tend to occur over the course of weeks or months. But in some cases, changes in alcohol tolerance can also occur very suddenly.
Learn about what can cause sudden changes in alcohol tolerance.
Sobriety And Alcohol Tolerance
One major factor that can affect alcohol tolerance is whether you drink, how often, and in what quantity.
Choosing not to drink, going through detox, or entering sobriety in recovery from alcohol addiction, can affect your body’s tolerance for alcohol.
Learn about how fast you can lose alcohol tolerance when you stop drinking.
Drug And Alcohol Tolerance FAQs
Find answers to frequently asked questions about alcohol tolerance and drug tolerance.
❓ What Are The Three Types Of Tolerance To A Drug?
✔️ Drug and alcohol tolerance is divided into three classes by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): rapid, acute, and chronic tolerance.
Each class differs based on the onset of tolerance to the time after exposure to the drug. Tolerance can also be classified as molecular, cellular, or behavioral in nature.
❓ What Is The Difference Between Drug Tolerance And Drug Dependence?
✔️ Drug tolerance occurs when your body becomes accustomed to a certain dosage, or amount, of a drug. When this occurs, it will take a higher dose of the drug to feel the desired effect(s).
Drug dependence, on the other hand, is an adaptive state that can cause withdrawal symptoms with sudden reduced or stopped use of a drug.
❓ What Does A High Tolerance To A Drug Mean?
✔️ Having a high drug tolerance means that your body will require a high dose of a drug, or a heavy amount of alcohol, to feel the effects of the drug.
Getting Help For A Drug Or Alcohol Problem
Having a high drug or alcohol tolerance can be a sign of a substance use disorder. If you or a loved one is feeling a loss of control over their substance use, it may be time to seek help.
Call our helpline today to learn more about drug tolerance and to find drug treatment options at an addiction treatment center near you.
Published on April 18, 2022
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- Harvard Medical School — People who exercise more also tend to drink more (alcohol)
- Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment — The relationship of addiction, tolerance, and dependence to alcohol and drugs: a neurochemical approach
- U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) — The Molecular Basis of Tolerance
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction:What’s The Difference?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Ethnic Differences in Levels of Response to Alcohol Between Chinese Americans and Korean Americans
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI — Identification and Treatment of Antidepressant Tachyphylaxis
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed — Tachyphylaxis in major depressive disorder: A review of the current state of research