The Effects Of Alcohol Tolerance

How Does Alcohol Tolerance Work?

Drinking alcohol is an activity that is participated in all over the world. In fact, alcohol is the most consumed beverage next to soda and plays a major role in many peoples’ lives. However, when someone drinks on a regular basis, tolerance to alcohol can be built, requiring the person to drink more to get the desired effect. This is known as alcohol tolerance and can lead to addiction.

What Is Alcohol Tolerance?

When someone regularly drinks alcohol, the body and brain can go through a series of changes that allow them to get used to alcohol is in the system.


Typically, a normal person can metabolize a standard alcoholic beverage in around an hour and a half. When someone drinks higher quantities of alcohol on a regular basis, the liver learns to metabolize alcohol quicker to keep up with the intake. This happens due to the liver creating more enzymes in order to break down the alcohol. And, because the liver can now metabolize alcohol faster, more alcohol is needed to reach the desired effect.


The brain also plays a part in how quickly the body can break down alcohol. When the brain is continuously exposed to alcohol, the neurotransmitters inside the brain can adapt to the alcohol. Each neurotransmitter is affected differently, but most are suppressed when alcohol is present in the brain. This in part is responsible for the lowered inhibitions and poor decision making that often come with intoxication.

A major neurotransmitter that is affected by regular alcohol intoxication is GABA. In a normal person, alcohol will impact GABA by causing lowered alertness and heightened sleepiness. However, in a person with regular exposure to alcohol, the GABA system will adapt and alcohol will no longer cause relaxation and sleepiness.

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Factors That Influence The Effects Of Tolerance To Alcohol

While the primary cause of alcohol tolerance is regular and excessive drinking, there are other factors that can contribute to an increased tolerance to alcohol.


Genetics and ethnicity can play a role in how well and how quickly the body metabolizes alcohol. For example, most Asians do not have ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase) which makes it very difficult and in some cases impossible to metabolize alcohol. As a result, many people of Asian descent can become intoxicated very quickly. Some people have an ethnic background that affects how quickly or slowly they metabolize alcohol.


Alcohol is broken down by the liver and stomach, so if these organs are not working properly or in healthy condition, how quickly alcohol is metabolized can be greatly affected. Additionally, as mentioned above, the enzyme ADH must be present and at a certain level for the body to be able to convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is later converted into carbon dioxide and water.

Without the enzyme ADH, the body has no defense against the toxic effects of alcohol that is not metabolized. When these enzymes are slower, tolerance and dependence can result. Those who have little or no ADH can quickly build up a tolerance to alcohol than those who have a normal supply of ADH.


Many studies have shown that women are more prone to becoming intoxicated must faster than men with a smaller amount of alcohol. This is typically due to the fact that women are often smaller than men and have more body fat. Additionally, women have less of the ADH enzyme than men. As a result, alcohol tends to remain in a female’s body longer than a male’s.

Body Composition

Individuals with higher body weight and muscle mass will require more alcohol to become intoxicated than those with lower body weight and more body fat. Potomania is another condition caused by low amount of sodium in the blood. This often occurs in heavy beer drinkers due to its high water, low sodium composition. If a person already has a low sodium diet they are at an increased risk of beer potomania.

Types Of Tolerance

Research has recently shown that while the body and brain are certainly involved with alcohol tolerance, so is the places and environments in which we drink. In fact, tolerance to both drugs and alcohol has been shown to significantly lower in new environments. This has led to the classification of the different types of tolerance that some people experience.

  • Environment-Induced Tolerance — If you frequent the same watering hole often, it’s possible to build a particularly strong tolerance to alcohol in this particular situation. However, if you were to switch up where you drank, chances are you may become drunk much easier.
  • Learned Tolerance — Some people rely on alcohol to feel a certain way. For example, some writers, such as Hemingway, believed that alcohol made/makes them more creative. This can result in dependence on alcohol to be productive and as a result an increased tolerance.
  • Acute Tolerance — Acute tolerance is when tolerance to alcohol is built up in one sitting.
    Environment-Independent Tolerance — People who are exposed to large amounts of alcohol can become alcohol tolerant later in life. For example, if a child grows up in an alcoholic home where the parent constantly drank in front of the child, the child is at risk of developing an alcohol tolerance in adulthood.

Reduce Drinking And Lowering Alcohol Tolerance

Just like with caffeine or nicotine, reducing your tolerance to alcohol means you need to reduce how much alcohol you consume. Giving up drinking for an extended period of time is one way to effectively lower your alcohol tolerance. Simply consuming less alcohol can also reduce your tolerance.

Get Treatment for Your Alcohol Tolerance

A high alcohol tolerance is a common sign to an alcohol addiction. Lowering the amount of alcohol is the best way to lower your alcohol tolerance, however, it is best to do so under medical supervision. There are dangerous, even deadly, alcohol withdrawal side effects that can occur if you don’t properly wean off your alcohol consumption. If you or someone you love struggles with a high alcohol tolerance can provide the right alcohol treatment and supervision they need.

Harm Reduction Network, Inc. - Tolerance

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol And Tolerance

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