In general, the more and more frequently you drink, the greater your alcohol tolerance, but there are other factors at work. Alcohol tolerance can progress to alcohol dependency, and people who struggle with their drinking should seek alcohol abuse therapy since alcohol's long-term effects can be severe.
Your body gets used to the effects of alcohol by forming "tolerance" cells in your brain and organs. As these cells start to die, it becomes harder for your body to handle the same amount of alcohol over a longer period of time. But there are other factors involved as well. The more often you drink, the more your body will learn to adapt to the effects of alcohol, which is why some people can drink heavily every day for years without any apparent problems while others will experience effects such as feeling sick or drunk after three or four drinks.
Studies show that people who drink regularly experience changes in their brains that may make it easier for them to function while under the influence of alcohol. For example, researchers have found that adults who drink regularly have less activity in parts of the brain associated with memory and judgment than those who do not drink at all or very rarely.
It is also known that people who drink regularly require lower doses of alcohol to feel its effects. This may be because they develop a tolerance to some of its effects (such as feeling sleepy) but not to others (such as hearing noises when drinking in quiet places).
However, following prolonged alcohol usage, the drinker frequently develops a tolerance to at least some of the effects of the alcohol. Tolerance occurs when, following repeated drinking, a fixed amount of alcohol provides a reduced effect, or when greater amounts of alcohol are required to generate the same effect (1). The development of tolerance to the harmful effects of alcohol is one reason that individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse tend to continue with their behavior.
When discussing the relationship between alcoholism and tolerance, it is important to understand that both behaviors can be adaptive in different situations. For example, a person who uses alcohol as a self-medication to reduce pain may find that his or her tolerance has grown because now even small amounts of alcohol provide relief. On the other hand, if this same individual becomes tolerant to the alcohol's initial calming effect, he or she will require more and more alcohol to feel its soothing effects until finally he or she is back where he or she started with respect to drinking too much.
The fact that tolerance can occur to either the beneficial or detrimental effects of alcohol makes it difficult for those who suffer from alcohol addiction to stop themselves from using the substance.
Although tolerance is not known to play a role in alcohol's initial calming effect, some researchers believe that it may help explain why some people develop a dependence on alcohol while others do not. It is thought that those who do become dependent have developed tolerance to the drug's negative effects over time.
Tolerance is a defining characteristic of addiction. However, it can also occur in social drinkers who use alcohol on a regular and ongoing basis. Alcohol tolerance can return to pre-regular usage levels after a period of reduced alcohol use or abstinence. Resumption of drinking after an abstinence period usually results in increased physical and mental symptoms that cause more anxiety than before you stopped drinking. These symptoms are often referred to as "withdrawal symptoms."
It is possible for someone's alcohol tolerance to go up as well as down. This occurs when someone starts off with high tolerance to alcohol - that is, they need less of it per unit of body weight to feel its effects - and then changes to having lower tolerance over time. Because of the way most people experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking altogether, this change happens because people become sicker over time. As their bodies get used to not being exposed to alcohol anymore, they start to suffer from various problems as part of their recovery process.
People who are extremely sensitive to alcohol may experience increased tolerance to it with continued use. This is rarely a problem for adults who consume no more than two drinks a day, but it can be for heavy drinkers who need much larger amounts of alcohol to feel its effect. Heavy drinkers who increase their intake of alcohol without changing their dosage are at risk of developing complications associated with excessive drinking such as alcoholic liver disease or brain damage.