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  • Alcohol Tolerance: When Alcohol Consumes You, Sky’s The Limit

    Alcohol Tolerance

    Alcohol is the most commonly consumed beverage other than the carbonated soft drinks, in fact, in some countries, it is the number one drink. It is an intoxicating drink which produces effects from excitement to narcosis depending upon the amount consumed. Alcohols belong to an organic class of compounds, and the one used in drinks is a spirit called ethyl alcohol which is mixed in different fermented and distilled drinks in varying percentages.

    For example rum, whiskey and brandy contain almost 50% alcohol while wines have 10-15% alcohol and beers have still lesser percentage of 3-10. Alcohol is made from grapes or mixed with molasses and grains to produce different beverages.

    Monitoring of alcohol can be done by observation of the drunken person or by the use of tools like breathalyzers etc., Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is used to classify short-term signs and symptoms which appear after certain amounts have been ingested. Some levels are given below:

    • BAC level below 0.03 (30 mg%) can be asymptomatic
    • Between 0.03-0.1 BAC (30-100 mg%) effects can be observed while the person is attempting to perform complex functions. Driving is not allowed after 0.08 BAC
    • Above 0.1 and below 0.2 BAC a person develops symptoms of excitement, incoordination, and loss of restraint. Around 200 mg%, a person can be called drunk
    • Above 0.2 BAC incoordination becomes severe and around 0.35 BAC if drinking is not stopped a person can go into a coma or they can even die.

    Drinking Classification

    Alcohol consumption is classified in terms of standard drinks into moderate drinking and heavy drinking. One standard drink is defined as 14 ounces of beer, 1 shot of 80 proof booze or 4 oz of wines. 2 standard drinks for men and 1 standard drink for women is considered moderate alcohol intake while more than 4 standard drinks for men and 3 for women is termed as heavy drinking.

    Despite its known harmful effects, it’s mentally and socially destroying addiction potential and its ability to cloud judgment; it is being consumed by millions of people all around the world daily. A factor that is increasing consumption of alcohol greatly is a physiological phenomenon called alcohol tolerance. It simply means the ability of a body to tolerate such amounts of alcohol that would otherwise have dangerous inflictions on health.

    Alcohol Tolerance — Definition

    Alcohol tolerance refers to the capacity of the body to tolerate large amounts of alcohol. Due to chronic and excessive alcohol consumption by alcoholics, their bodies need more alcohol to produce the same effects that a new or non-frequent drinker would feel on taking standard units of alcohol beverages.

    Causes of Alcohol Tolerance

    The primary cause of alcohol tolerance is the excessive and frequent consumption of alcohol. Chronic alcoholism, body type, gender, ethnicity, and metabolism are also the factors that contribute to the development of alcohol tolerance.

    Mainly caused by excessive and frequent consumption, however, there are several other causes that can also play a role in alcohol tolerance.

    Chronic Alcoholism

    The most prevalent cause is the alcoholism which makes alcoholics tolerant to the effects of booze in reasonable amounts. In order to reach the levels of excitement and forgetfulness that they seek, they have to take larger than normal quantities as their bodies have adapted to the usual volumes that they put into them. Stimulation of receptors decreases, thus alcohol tolerance is developed.


    Like every other drug or compound, alcohol is metabolized by the liver and stomach, similarly like other compounds metabolism of ethanol in different individuals varies. Not everyone can digest and develop symptoms in the same amount of time. This is due to the levels of metabolic enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) in the body which converts it into acetaldehyde initially (which is a very toxic intermediate product) and later converts it into the water and carbon dioxide thus detoxifying it. This enzyme is our strong defense against the highly toxic effects that non-metabolized alcohol can produce on nervous and cardiac systems. Slower variants of these enzymes have been linked to alcohol tolerance and dependence. Usually, one standard drink is metabolized in one hour, but people who have no ADH have no simple way of metabolizing this compound thus they develop symptoms faster than normal.

    Body Types

    People who are muscular and have large bodies need more alcohol to get the same effects that an individual with average height and built would need. This is because alcohol gets distributed in the periphery where there are a lot of tissues, before going into the brain and producing the desired sensations.


    According to studies, it has been found that women get drunk faster and feel strong alcoholic effects than men. This is because they have smaller bodies and more fat than men, so their bodies need a little alcohol to induce insobriety. They also have lower levels of enzyme thus the alcohol remains in their bodies longer.


    In many ethnicities, genetic differences have caused a difference of alcohol tolerance levels. The majority of the Asians doesn’t have ADH and thus cannot metabolize alcohol present in their bodies. Some enzymes which can metabolize alcohol but at a very slow rate and cannot metabolize acetaldehyde at all, are present, but they cannot compensate for the ADH deficiency. Thus they get drunk a lot faster than Americans or European people. The difference is so dramatic that if any Asian person with enzyme deficiency consumes the normal amount that is normally taken by people in West, they might develop alcohol flush reaction. This response causes red blotches to appear on the skin or face and back but sometimes the whole body, and this is due to the accumulation of acetaldehyde which cannot be metabolized in ADH deficiency. Almost 36% of Asians show this reaction.

    Types of Tolerance

    Alcohol works by suppressing neurotransmitter system, in long term receptors adapt themselves and stop responding to alcohol and the effects such as sleepiness, relaxation cannot felt thus compelling the person to use higher amounts. This results in further inclination towards alcoholism.

    Other than the above-described tolerances i.e. functional tolerance due to adoption of brain to alcohol intake and metabolic tolerance when ADH is present in great amounts and metabolizes alcohol faster, some other types are mentioned below:

    • Learned Tolerance- Some writers, poets, artists or people having other talents need booze to bring them into the mood of getting inspired, this result in chronic alcohol use.
    • Acute Tolerance- This develops suddenly after just one shot of any alcoholic beverage
    • Environment-Induced Tolerance- People who go to clubs or pubs regularly becomes so used to the environment that they develop alcohol tolerance while they are in the same surrounding.
    • Tolerance Due To Past Exposure- Children of people who are alcoholics have a high risk of developing tolerance because of exposure to alcohol since a very young age.

    Is a high tolerance for alcohol genetic?

    Genetic differences do account for some differences in alcohol tolerance, which in some cases fall along ethnic lines. Many Asians don’t have the alcohol metabolic enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which means they tend to get drunk faster than Americans or European people.

    Why Is Tolerance Dangerous

    Alcohol abuse, when combined with tolerance, doesn’t result in anything positive. Due to tolerance people tend to take in more alcohol and sometimes the amounts reach a level which is fatal. The risk of alcohol dependence is increased, and medications are taken to treat alcoholism become ineffective. Tolerance also causes damage to the heart, brain, and liver and impairs cognitive functions if the brain (understanding, performing tasks).

    How to Lower Alcohol Tolerance

    To bring your tolerance level down, you need to reset your alcohol tolerance to a level at which you were in your early days of drinking.

    Refraining from drinking will lower the body’s alcohol tolerance level. As a result of lowering their tolerance, the person will feel the effect of alcohol after consuming smaller quantities than before. This method is used to prevent the development of alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse habits.

    This process is simple to understand but hard to follow, yet works miracles in lowering the tolerance level of the body. You simply have to refrain from alcohol for a few days, and then your body will automatically lower the level at which alcohol produces its effects. After this time people who couldn’t previously get drunk after 5-6 drinks, get alcoholic effects after one drink only. This is done to avoid alcohol dependence and alcohol abusing habits in people.

    • Awareness regarding the dangerous levels and effects of alcohol should be given to everyone found taking more than 2 drinks per day. Wise drinking habits should be developed.
    • Alcohol withdrawal therapies should be started to induce side effects which will make alcohol intake difficult for the user. Psychotherapy should also be started, and the person should be guided by the best health plan for them.
    • Medical conditions arising due to chronic alcohol use should be treated, and the person should be monitored for relapses. In this way, we can ensure that someone we love isn’t destroying themselves with alcohol.

    How Long Does It Take to Lower Alcohol Tolerance?

    Well, it depends as the time required to change tolerance level varies from person to person, however, decreasing the number of drinks per week works for everyone. For most people, a month of alcohol withdrawal is the normal time limit. Also, the first month is the hardest, but gradually decreasing the number of drinks per week can help you bring your level down, without you having to suffer serious withdrawal.