Alcohol Tolerance refers to the body’s response to prolonged exposure to liquor; its ability to both metabolize liquor, as well as its ability to rebound from its effects. Tolerance as a physical phenomenon increases incrementally as consumption of liquor continues over a period of years. What emerges along with the increasing Tolerance is the phenomenon of Dependence, whereby the body simultaneously requires larger and larger quantities of liquor to achieve the desired effect. Typically, Tolerance leads to Dependence, and the two traits manifest in such a way that it is futile to address one without addressing the other. Dependence generally requires medically managed detox to alleviate initial withdrawal symptoms.
Physiologically, as a result of chronic drinking, the body endures damage to a large number of organs and organ systems, first amongst them being damage to the liver. Ironically, there is a ceiling effect with regards to Tolerance, which means that after a long enough duration of abuse, the body’s ability to metabolize the liquor (specifically, the liver), diminishes to the point where a phenomenon known as Reverse Tolerance take shape. Reverse Tolerance occurs when the liver’s ability to process the liquor has become so impaired that small amounts lead to major toxicity and soaring Blood Alcohol Concentration (also referred to as BAC).
How Alcohol Tolerance Effects The Liver
Typically, the average temperate drinker can metabolize approximately 6oz of liquor in an hour. However, with people who chronically abuse alcohol, the liver (at least initially), learns to metabolize larger amounts more efficiently. The liver handles this load by producing excessive enzymes which allow it to absorb the alcohol in such concentration. It is this process whereby the liver develops the Tolerance, which is the fingerprint of any Addictive condition.
Effects on the Brain and Central Nervous System
In addition to the liver, the brain also plays a part in the emergence of Tolerance. This occurs because the brain works to suppress the production of specific neurotransmitters known as GABA receptors, which are responsible for generating Sedation and sleep. Most Sedatives, including Benzodiazepines, work on these specific transmitters. In the wake of repeated dosing, a tranquilizing, sedating effect sets in, which expresses itself as the reduction of alertness and anxiety. Like liquor, Sedatives such as Valium and Xanax has very similar effects on the body with regards to withdrawal and inebriation.
Alcohol, as such, is a Central Nervous System Depressant, which is why its first effects are the alleviation of stress. As the person drinking continues to consume liquor either continuously or in larger and larger amounts, key signs emerge that Dependence and Tolerance are manifesting themselves. Most acute symptoms fade relatively quickly. However, the more subtle symptoms such as restlessness and insomnia may persist throughout many stages of residential treatment and aftercare long after abstaining from alcohol. Some of the features of dependence include:
- Impaired memory, confusion, reduction in attention span.
- Impaired motor functioning, and coordination, slurred speech.
- Euphoria or a sense of well-being.
- Being overly talkative or overly animated.
How Tolerance Can Vary
Tolerance also depends on the physical size of the person drinking. Large individuals who weigh more are able to metabolize larger quantities of liquor than small individuals who weigh less. How this manifests is larger people naturally enjoy a higher Tolerance for liquor than smaller people, while demonstrating less obvious signs of intoxication. The enzyme responsible for breaking down Liquor is alcohol dehydrogenases, which is a chemical that resides in the liver. The equation for exposing the presence of Alcoholism breaks down quite eloquently: Generally, the extent to which this particular enzyme is present is proportional to the liver’s toxicity.
Types of Alcohol Tolerance
To date, there exist several different types of Tolerance, and it is worth taking a moment to establish what they are and how they differ from one another. The types of Tolerance are:
Acute Alcohol Tolerance
Typically Tolerance sets in over a period of time and over more than one drinking session; which essentially means that alcohol inebriation is actually greater when quantified earlier than later in one’s drinking session. As for the drinker, this usually means they will end up consuming larger amounts than they would need to consume otherwise.
Environment-Dependent Alcohol Tolerance
This refers to a geographical habituation, where being in the presence of familiar people in familiar locations actually helps to increase one’s Tolerance. Although this phenomenon is not entirely understood, it nonetheless manifests in heavy drinkers and Alcoholics and can even be observed in social drinkers.
Learned Alcohol Tolerance
Tolerance can also develop in tandem with a specific set of rituals or task-oriented activities. Experts refer to this phenomenon as Behaviorally Augmented Tolerance. One of the ways this manifests is with, say, a musician, who learned and mastered their instrument while either drinking or being under the influence of some drug or medication. It is not unusual for people in this predicament to undergo a period of literally re-learning their trade, craft, or art, in the absence of their desired medication.
There has also been observed with this process a reward-pattern at work, where there exists, along with the liquor consumption, the expectation that a powerful state of emotional reward will emerge in drinking’s wake. Ironically, this variation of Tolerance does not spill over into activities where motor functioning is critical, which is why it is never safe for a person to drive while under the influence, despite their Tolerance to consume large quantities of alcohol (or any other substance).
Environment-Independent Alcohol Tolerance
There are recorded instances where functional Tolerance emerges, even after consumption of large quantities of liquor, which exist independent of environmental influences.
Metabolic Alcohol Tolerance
This particular expression of Tolerance brings us full-circle because it refers to a manifestation of Tolerance that was touched upon at the beginning of this article. When the body is able to eliminate alcohol from its system in an expedited fashion, one has achieved what is known as Metabolic Tolerance; whereby consistent, prolonged exposure to liquor initially enables the person to drink considerably more liquor than their weight, size, and mass would otherwise allow.
Alcoholism Treatment at ARC
The Authentic Recovery Center provides comprehensive treatment for alcoholism. If you or a loved one struggles with a drinking problem, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Give us a call at 866-256-0051 today.