In 2015, it was estimated that about 15.1 million adults in the U.S. had alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Within that year, only about 6.7 percent of these people received treatment.
Tolerance to alcohol can build quickly, putting people at risk for dependence and addiction. By knowing some of the background on alcohol tolerance, people can identify when it develops so that they know when to take a break.
Alcohol abuse is not uncommon. It can quickly lead to tolerance and cause serious health effects. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that the following criteria determine whether someone is abusing alcohol:
When someone is under the influence of alcohol, it can cause the following effects:
Tolerance to alcohol is something that people can develop over time or acutely, depending on the factors involved. Some research also suggests that genetics might play a role in someone developing a tolerance to alcohol, according to a study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior.
When it comes to alcohol, there is a tolerance referred to as functional tolerance. This is characterized by the brain adapting to make up for how alcohol disrupts the body. For example, someone consumes a lot of alcohol, but they do not appear to be intoxicated. This is what functional tolerance is. This type of tolerance essentially forces the person to keep increasing their alcohol intake if they want to experience the effects of intoxication.
There is also acute tolerance. This is a type of tolerance that develops during one drinking session. This type of tolerance is characterized by the person appearing intoxicated, but as they continue to drink, they seem to become less intoxicated. This happens because the body essentially gets used to the alcohol and adapts.
Both types of tolerance can be dangerous to the body because they can result in the person engaging in binge drinking. They essentially have to drink more in a session to feel the effects of alcohol. In the U.S., binge drinking is considered to be the most costly, deadly, and common pattern of excessive alcohol consumption, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Binge drinking can cause several adverse effects. These can include, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center:
Binge drinking is defined as a man having five drinks and a woman having four drinks within two hours, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The first major sign of an alcohol use disorder is developing a tolerance to alcohol. As someone continues to drink and increase their tolerance, they will have to drink more and more to become intoxicated. The more someone drinks, the higher their risk for addiction.
Once people notice that they have developed a tolerance for alcohol, it is time to consider cutting back on drinking. An increasing tolerance is a sign that a problem could be developing. If you can’t moderate your drinking, it could be a sign of a deeper problem.
Ready to get Help?
Talk to a treatment expert
If physical dependence on alcohol has formed, it can be dangerous to quit alcohol cold turkey. Stopping alcohol use suddenly can result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. People in this situation who are looking to find sobriety should look for a medical detox program to ensure their safety.
A detox program can help people to avoid delirium tremens (DTs), a severe type of alcohol withdrawal that can cause significant and sudden nervous system or mental changes. The symptoms can start anywhere from 48 hours to 10 days after someone has their last drink.
Delirium tremens has the potential to be fatal, and it may also cause seizures, according to MedlinePlus. Other possible symptoms include:
These symptoms can appear and worsen fast. It is imperative that someone is medically supervised during this process. Once someone completes alcohol detox, they should proceed to a treatment facility to focus on treating their addiction.
Any person who feels they need to drink more to experience effects should consider taking a break. If you have only been drinking on a short-term basis, it’s unlikely that physical dependence has formed, but consult with a physician before stopping alcohol consumption to confirm it is the safe thing to do.
Even if physical dependence has formed, not all people will experience delirium tremens as part of the alcohol withdrawal process. The other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that are not considered fatal may include the following, according to MedlinePlus:
When someone drinks heavily on a long-term basis, they are at risk of experiencing several health issues. Possible effects, according to Kathleen Davis, FNP, are:
Those who have chronic health issues related to drinking should stop drinking alcohol as soon as possible. Continuing to drink can worsen the issues and increase the risk of others. Again, medical help is needed to do this safely.
Alcohol poisoning or overdose can occur when someone drinks more alcohol than their body can process. This is a medical emergency. The following are possible symptoms of alcohol poisoning, according to the Mayo Clinic:
Alcohol addiction can have fatal consequences. People who have developed a tolerance to and dependence on this substance should seek treatment. Supervised detox and treatment are a safe choice for those who are addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
What is Alcohol Abuse? American Academy of Family Physicians. Retrieved January 2019 from https://familydoctor.org/condition/alcohol-abuse/
(October 1983) Initial Sensitivity and Acute Tolerance to Ethanol in the P and NP Lines of Rats. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6647503
Binge Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
Drinking Levels Defined. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. HelpGuide. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/alcoholism-and-alcohol-abuse.htm
Delirium Tremens. MedlinePlus. Retrieved January 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm
Ten Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking. Medical News Today. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297734.php
Alcohol Poisoning. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386