Substance Use

What You Need to Know About High Alcohol Tolerance and Alcohol Use Disorder

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High alcohol tolerance isn’t just about “holding your liquor.” It can be a subtle sign of a deeper issue. If you find yourself needing more drinks to achieve the same buzz, it might be time to evaluate your relationship with alcohol. While attending social events might lead to occasional increased consumption, consistent heavy drinking can pave the way to alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Elevated alcohol tolerance doesn’t directly equate to AUD, but it’s a potential red flag.

Concerned about your drinking habits? Dive deeper into understanding alcohol tolerance.

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The Definition of High Alcohol Tolerance

Having a high alcohol tolerance means you need to drink more than other people to feel the effects of alcohol. Alcohol tolerance can be complicated. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests there are several kinds of alcohol tolerance.

These include:

1. Metabolic Tolerance

Metabolic tolerance relates to a person’s metabolic rate and how quickly their body expels alcohol. Certain liver enzymes are activated after a heavy drinking session which increases the speed at which alcohol stays in the body and reduces the effects of intoxication.

2. Acute Tolerance

Acute tolerance is when a person feels the effects of alcohol after a small amount of alcohol consumption during a drinking session. However, the impairment felt will subside as the person continues to drink more in the same session. This can cause them to drink more to try and replicate the initial intoxicating effects.

3. Functional Tolerance

Functional tolerance relates to the brain’s ability to adapt to alcohol’s effects and is often seen in those who regularly partake in heavy drinking sessions. Someone with a functional tolerance may show limited signs of intoxication despite having high levels of alcohol in their blood. Functional dependence can indicate alcohol dependence.

You may have a high alcohol tolerance if you feel the need to drink a greater amount of alcohol than others to feel the effects. The CDC defines alcohol misuse as an average of more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women.

Alcohol misuse may lead to a range of health problems and problems in your everyday life.

Does High Tolerance Always Mean Alcohol Dependence?

Although having a high alcohol tolerance can be a sign of AUD or alcohol dependence, this isn’t always the case. Some people naturally have a higher tolerance; some social drinkers may not display signs of intoxication as visibly as others.

However, heavy drinking over time can increase your chances of developing alcohol dependence and an alcohol use disorder.

What Is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

An alcohol use disorder is an addiction relating to the compulsive and dependent need to drink and experience alcohol’s effects. Although anyone can develop the disorder, those with a family history of substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder (AUD) are at high risk.

An AUD can significantly affect life quality, leading to various behavioral health problems and long-term health conditions.

Getting treatment for an AUD as early as possible is essential to prevent future physical and mental health problems. Furthermore, entering treatment can give someone with an AUD a chance to rebuild the life they have lost to alcohol.

Treatment for alcohol addiction begins with detox. This is where the person abstains from alcohol consumption and allows their body to rid itself of all traces of alcohol. Following this, treatment programs will focus on the person’s behavioral health and target the psychological impact of alcohol addiction through behavioral therapies.

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder?

If you’re concerned about your own alcohol consumption or have concerns for a loved one, it’s a good idea to know the signs of alcohol use disorder.

Someone with an AUD may display the following signs:

  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, agitation, and anxiety when not drinking
  • Cravings for the effects of alcohol
  • Being unable to stop thinking about alcohol, spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from alcohol’s effects
  • Blackouts after heavy drinking sessions, being unable to remember what happened the night before
  • Difficulties in personal relationships, at school, or work
  • Drinking alcohol and performing dangerous activities, such as driving or operating machinery
  • Withdrawing socially unless alcohol is involved
  • No longer taking part in activities you once enjoyed
  • Developing a high alcohol tolerance and needing to drink more than you once did to feel alcohol’s effects

An AUD is a serious health condition requiring specialist treatment. Alcohol tolerance is a key indicator of alcohol addiction. If you relate to any of the signs above, you may require alcohol addiction treatment.

Tolerance Relates to Alcoholism, Alcohol Use Disorders, and Damaging Effects

The intricate relationship between alcohol and its effects on an individual’s well-being is a topic of significant concern, especially in American culture, where social drinking is prevalent. A standard drink occasionally enjoyed, might seem benign.

However, when alcohol intake exceeds the typical 1–2 drinks and becomes a regular pattern, it can lead to a concerning buildup of ethanol in one’s system. (1)

Ethanol, the primary component in alcoholic beverages, undergoes a metabolic process in our bodies. As it breaks down, it produces acetaldehyde, a compound that is then further processed by enzymes known as dehydrogenases.

This metabolic pathway ensures that alcohol is safely eliminated from our system. However, the system isn’t foolproof.

Binge drinking or consuming large amounts of alcohol in short durations can strain this metabolic process, leading to an accumulation of both ethanol and acetaldehyde.

The Dire Consequences on Liver Health from Continuous Alcohol Intake

The consequences of this buildup are manifold. Elevated BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels, a direct result of excessive alcohol consumption, can severely impair cognitive functions. This includes slowed reaction times and a noticeable reduction in inhibitions, making individuals more prone to risky behaviors.

The side effects don’t just stop at behavioral changes. (2)

Physiologically, consistently high BAC levels can lead to alcohol-induced complications, the most concerning of which is liver damage. The liver, responsible for processing and eliminating toxins, can become overwhelmed by the continuous intake of alcoholic beverages, leading to conditions like:

  • Fatty liver
  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis or liver disease

Get Help for High Alcohol Tolerance or Addiction Today

If you or someone you know is struggling with heavy drinking, Zinnia Health is here to help. We believe recovery is possible with the right support. We provide treatments to help with addiction, including detox and counseling.

At Zinnia Health, you’re not alone. Our team of experts is ready to help. Whether you’ve just started worrying about drinking or it’s been a concern for a while, reach out to us anytime. We offer support to anyone with an alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder and use a range of alcohol and substance abuse treatments.

Alcohol use disorder causes physical and behavioral health problems. If you are drinking alcohol frequently and find alcohol’s effects addictive, you may need to enter a treatment program. Recognizing alcohol use disorder is the first step. The next step is calling our alcohol abuse hotline at (855) 430-9439 to discuss our treatment options. Alternatively, you can send us a message.


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(855) 430-9439
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