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Alcohol Tolerance vs. Alcohol Dependence and When It’s Time to Seek Help

alcohol tolerance vs dependenceDrinking alcohol is one of America’s favorite pastimes. You have probably heard someone bragging about being able to “drink other people under the table.” While some people use their tolerance of alcohol as a badge of honor, this phenomenon can lead to an array of physical and mental health concerns.

Another term you may have heard is alcohol dependency. Dependence refers to the point at which you become physically and/or psychologically reliant on a substance.

There are many terms that you may have heard used concerning heavy alcohol consumption. If you are not familiar with alcohol addiction and disordered drinking, you may not know how to distinguish between alcohol tolerance and alcohol dependence.

What is Alcohol Tolerance?

If you habitually drink alcohol, over time your body will begin to require larger amounts of the substance to feel an effect. This is referred to as tolerance. Just as you can become tolerant of a song you don’t like after hearing it over and over again, you can become tolerant of alcohol.[1]

While some people might view being able to consume larger amounts of alcohol as a “rite of passage” or a sign of adulthood, it is actually a sign of problem drinking. As your body becomes addicted to alcohol, it begins to metabolize it faster. This is why alcohol begins to have less of an effect as you drink routinely.

The risks of developing a tolerance to alcohol include:

  • Worsening of the symptoms of medical or mental health conditions
  • Drinking more alcohol can increase the negative side effects of the substance
  • Developing a dependency or addiction
  • Cross-tolerance or polysubstance abuse

What is Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol dependence occurs when you feel like you can not function properly without consuming the substance. It is important to note that dependence can refer to a physical or psychological need to consume alcohol.[2] Unfortunately, struggling with this condition can cause an array of negative effects on your life.

If you recreationally use alcohol and drink in social situations with your friends, your consumption of the substance is not problematic. However, once you begin to drink so often that you develop a tolerance, it is extremely easy to become dependent.

Common signs of alcohol dependency include:

  • Sticking to a few select types of alcoholic beverages
  • Purposefully avoiding events or social situations that do not include alcohol
  • Having a high tolerance for alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink
  • Drinking to avoid feeling the symptoms of withdrawal
  • Experiencing intense cravings for alcohol
  • Having a hard time abstaining from drinking
  • Beginning your day with a drink

What is the Difference Between Alcohol Tolerance and Dependence?

Alcohol Dependence Vs. Alcohol Tolerance
The difference between alcohol tolerance and alcohol dependence

Tolerance and dependence often come hand in hand, however, there is a key difference between the two medical conditions.

Alcohol tolerance refers to your body becoming used to the substance and requiring you to consume more to experience the desired effect. Alcohol dependence, however, refers to the psychological or physical symptoms you experience that makes you feel like you cannot function without it.

Oftentimes, if you develop a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, you will also become dependent on the substance. This can lead to an array of health concerns, including the development of alcohol use disorder.

How Do I Know if it’s Time to Get Help for Alcoholism?

If you think that you have become tolerant of or dependent on alcohol, you could also be suffering from alcoholism. Some of the main indicators for alcohol use disorder are the development of tolerance, physical dependency, and psychological dependency.

Alcohol addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that requires professional treatment. If you are worried that you might need help, being aware of the criteria for alcohol use disorder can help you make your decision.

According to the most updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the eleven symptoms of alcoholism include:[3]

  • Frequently drinking large amounts of alcohol for longer periods
  • Wanting to cut down or control your drinking but being unable to
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Experiencing intense cravings to drink
  • Facing problems at school, work, or home as a result of your alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink despite facing interpersonal relationship conflicts
  • Quitting previously enjoyed activities or hobbies to spend more time drinking
  • Getting into dangerous situations when you drink like driving or swimming under the influence
  • Continuing to drink despite increased mental or physical health problems
  • Becoming tolerant of alcohol and having to increase the amount you drink to experience the desired effect (tolerance)
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink as much as usual (dependence)

If you have two or three of the above-mentioned symptoms, you suffer from a mild alcohol use disorder (AUD). Four to five symptoms indicate that your AUD is moderate and six or more symptoms mean that you are suffering from a severe case of alcoholism.

Whether you suffer from a mild, moderate, or severe alcohol addiction, attending professional treatment is necessary.

Alcohol Rehab With Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment

Once you begin struggling with alcohol tolerance and alcohol dependence, your risk of developing a full-blown addiction increases immensely. Dealing with alcoholism is never easy, but attending a professional alcohol rehab provides you with the support and resources you need to recover.

When it comes to the alcohol rehab and recovery experience at Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment, we incorporate 12-step immersion, the careful development of a personalized treatment plan, and an effective combination of therapeutic and holistic treatment methodologies.

If you or your loved one is ready to begin his or her personal journey of long-term healing, reach out to Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment today for more information.



Ready to Make a Change?

We know that overcoming addiction is not easy and requires courage to ask for help. At Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment, our team of professionals has decades of combined experience in helping men, women, and families overcome substance abuse.

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