What Determines Alcohol Tolerance?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 2, 2022

Alcohol tolerance can be determined by a number of factors, including how much you drink, how often you consume alcohol, and certain ethnicity-related or genetic reasons.

What Determines Alcohol Tolerance?

Alcohol tolerance is largely determined by the level of alcohol consumption of any given person. The more you drink, the more you build up a resistance to the effects of alcohol.

This is because the brain gets used to alcohol’s effects and begins to mitigate the release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in the body.

Gender also plays a role in the development of natural alcohol tolerance, as men and women have varying levels of the enzyme necessary to process ethanol in the liver.

Is Tolerance To Alcohol Genetic?

Clinical studies have shown a causal relationship between parents with pre-existing alcohol addictions and the facilitation of a higher-than-average tolerance in their children.

These recent studies have found the prevalence of a strain of DNA, called the CYP2E1 gene.

This gene is posited to give a 10 to 20% increase in alcohol tolerance and can be passed down via the genetic line.


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Reasons Some People Have A Higher Alcohol Tolerance Than Others

There are many reasons a person may have a high alcohol tolerance, including gender, race, and the amount of alcohol consumed, as well as the frequency of drinking. It is also believed that eye color can influence alcohol tolerance.

Drinking Behavior

First and foremost is drinking behavior—the more you drink, the more cravings you feel, and the more you want to drink—thus perpetuating the cycle.

Building up a tolerance to drinking alcohol is somewhat nuanced in the way it comes about.

For instance, a person drinking a single drink three days a week will not have built up the same metabolic tolerance as a person drinking three drinks only once per week.

This is because any amount of alcohol that causes the person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to exceed 0.05% results in building alcohol tolerance.

Drinking behavior that causes the person to exceed the 0.05% BAC threshold can increase the chances of binge drinking and developing alcohol dependence.


Ethnicity affects alcohol tolerance as well.

Currently, the only ethnicity found to have higher rates of acute tolerance, alcohol insensitivity, and general intolerance are demographics that come from East Asia.

This is because a certain DNA sequence exists in Asians that changes how the liver processes alcohol, resulting in a below-average type of tolerance.


Men and women have different levels of the enzyme, called alcohol dehydrogenase, which is necessary to process alcohol.

This enzyme converts ethanol before it can reach the bloodstream, preventing impairment from the depressive effects of alcohol on the brain.

However, men have a substantially higher level of this chemical — alongside aldehyde dehydrogenase, another enzyme — which helps them to process alcohol faster.

This means that, even with the same level of alcohol consumed during any drinking session, the BAC of a woman will be higher than that of a man.

Body Weight

The more you weigh, the more time your liver has to process the alcohol before it enters the bloodstream.

For instance, the same number of alcoholic beverages will influence a 150-pound person far greater than a 250-pound person, with the person who weighs less experiencing intoxicating effects at a faster rate.

Can You Reverse Alcohol Tolerance?

Yes, alcohol tolerance can be reversed — primarily by ceasing to drink, or lessening the frequency that heavy drinking occurs.

However, the amount of alcohol consumed during drinking sessions greatly plays a part in the reversal of alcohol tolerance.

Remember, it is less about how often you drink, and more about how much you drink during those occasions.

Is It Dangerous To Attempt Alcohol Tolerance Reversal At Home?

It can be dangerous to attempt tolerance reversal or alcohol detox at home if you have a pre-existing alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder.

This can cause painful or unpleasant side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and potentially chronic or fatal damage depending on the severity of alcohol dependence.

However, if you are looking simply to reduce intake and do not suspect you have an AUD, it is safe to reduce alcohol tolerance by cutting back intake in measured steps.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Use Disorder

Fortunately, there are a number of treatment programs, methods, and services available today to treat alcohol use disorders (AUD).

Some of these programs include inpatient rehab programs, educational and vocational services, telehealth meetings, and group counseling sessions amongst many others.

Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment Today

Are you ready to enter recovery by seeking alcohol addiction treatment? Give our free helpline a call today to discuss enrollment at a rehab center near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 2, 2022


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