Having a high alcohol tolerance does not necessarily lead to being an alcoholic, but it can be a sign of a potential substance use disorder (SUD).
Alcohol tolerance develops when a person gets used to the presence of alcohol in the body on a consistent basis.
This functional tolerance starts as the central nervous system (CNS) begins to suppress the effects of alcohol in the body in an attempt to organically prevent impairment.
The Link Between Alcohol Tolerance And Alcoholism
People in the midst of an alcohol addiction often have an extremely high tolerance due to their consistent levels of alcohol consumption.
While some people, especially men, have higher levels of the naturally occurring enzyme used to process alcohol, this is not necessarily a sign of an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
However, most people build up a tolerance due to their excessive levels of drinking, so it is difficult to downplay the connection between alcoholism and alcohol tolerance.
Alcohol Abuse Can Lead To High Tolerance
The more you drink, the more cravings you have to consume again, causing excessive drinking behaviors that lead to a high tolerance.
Once you begin to surpass the 0.05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in any given drinking session, the body begins to mitigate the influence of alcohol on the brain.
It does this by releasing fewer pleasure chemicals — namely dopamine and serotonin — that provide the warm, comfortable feeling associated with an alcoholic ‘buzz.’
Alcohol’s effects on the body, alongside repeated consumption, can facilitate a high tolerance to the substance, meaning the chances of developing an AUD increase.
Tolerance May Lead To Alcohol Dependence
The more acclimated the brain gets to the presence of alcohol, the level of alcohol needed to maintain a buzz or even to feel any pleasure substantially increases.
This can create an alcohol dependence, which can lead to binge drinking or other forms of alcohol substance abuse.
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Why Do Some People Have Such A High Alcohol Tolerance?
There are a few factors that can affect alcohol tolerance and potentially explain why some people have a naturally higher tolerance, including gender, genetics, body weight, and more.
The most obvious conclusion to draw begins with body weight. The less you weigh, the less alcohol is necessary to begin showing signs of intoxication.
This is because ethanol takes longer to enter the bloodstream in heavier-bodied people, resulting in the effects of alcohol being mitigated before alcohol can affect brain function.
Genetics And Family History
While it may appear that high tolerance can be caused by a genetic predisposition, tolerance as a whole is not something inherited from a parent, though alcoholism may be genetic in part.
However, clinical studies have shown that alcohol intolerance may be genetic.
This is most commonly seen in demographics from Asian countries, but the reason for this is yet unknown.
The differences in potential to handle alcohol and tolerance are greatly affected by the gender of any given individual.
Men have naturally higher levels of a particular liver enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, which is used to process alcohol and prevent ethanol from reaching the bloodstream.
Because of this, even taking into account differences in body weight, one drink for a woman is roughly equivalent to two drinks for a man.
Dangers Of Having A High Alcohol Tolerance
There are many physical and mental health risks associated with high tolerances caused by repeated heavy drinking.
Among these are increased risk for liver damage and organ damage, mental health disorders, and other chronic and potentially fatal health complications.
Additionally, it is important to note that having a higher tolerance does not affect how the body processes alcohol.
It can only metabolize so much during a single drinking session, which can lead to high toxicity levels and the potential for overdose.
Some of the dangers of having a high tolerance to alcohol include:
- increased heart rate and blood pressure, leading to cardiovascular problems
- developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
- experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- increased risk of accidents while inebriated due to the impairing effects of alcohol
- dangerous interactions with medications or other substances
Addiction Treatment Programs For Alcohol Abuse
Fortunately, there are a number of comprehensive addiction treatment programs that are specifically geared toward treating alcohol abuse.
Some of these alcohol addiction treatment methods and services include:
- inpatient and outpatient treatment programs
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- mental health services
- behavioral health treatment
- counseling and therapy
- residential treatment programs
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If you or a loved one is in search of treatment for an alcohol use disorder, call our helpline today to discuss finding a treatment program that is right for you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol’s Effects on Health
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol Facts and Statistics