Drug tolerance is a term that you may hear quite often if you are an addict. When drug and alcohol addiction is concerned, it’s something that you probably experience.
Forming a drug tolerance is something that goes along with addiction. Still, it’s a concept that many people find they don’t know much about.
What is the Drug Tolerance Definition?
A drug tolerance is defined as what happens when a person no longer responds to a drug the same way. In other words, a higher dosage of the drug must be taken to get the desired effects.
For many drugs, tolerance develops very quickly after regular use has begun. For others, it can take longer.
What does Having a Tolerance to Drugs Mean for You?
If you have formed a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, it means you may have an addiction.
There are other identifying factors in diagnosing an addiction, of course. However, increasing tolerance levels are among the most obvious.
This does not always mean that if you have an increase in tolerance levels that you’re an addict. Sometimes forming a tolerance is a precursor for addiction.
For many, once they form a tolerance, addiction isn’t too far away.
Why Do People Form a Tolerance to Drugs?
People generally form a tolerance to drugs because of the adaptive nature of the brain. An excellent example of this is seen in those who use opiates to get high.
Your body naturally makes opiates on its own called endorphins. When you’re taking prescription opiates, you’re giving your brain and body more than it needs. The body is always striving for consistency. To compensate, it produces less of its own endorphins. It also reduces its receptors for opiates.
For those with an opiate addiction, they frequently find they need to take more to feel the high.
Is Forming a Drug Tolerance Dangerous for You?
It is very dangerous to form a drug tolerance. This is because tolerance levels can change very quickly.
For instance, you may have an addiction to heroin, and you may know this because you’ve developed a tolerance. One day, you make the decision to stop using heroin altogether. You just stop cold turkey. You go through withdrawal, and three days later, you start using again.
If you use the same amount of heroin you previously used, you put yourself at risk of a heroin overdose.
Also, increasing tolerance levels put your health at risk as well. Taking larger amounts of any drug, including alcohol, can be detrimental to your health.
The Difference Between Drug Tolerance and Drug Resistance
Drug tolerance and drug resistance are two terms that are often confused for one another.
When you have a drug resistance, that’s different from a drug tolerance. Resistance refers to the reduction in effectiveness of a medication in curing a disease or condition. This is often experienced by those who are being treated for cancer.
It takes time for a drug resistance to evolve, as the body adapts to the presence of a drug.
In drug resistance, the drug no longer has much of an effect on the body at all. With drug tolerance, the effects are still there, but the high is diminished.
What Types of Drugs Lead to Increases in Tolerance Levels Over Time?
Any drug can lead to an increase in tolerance levels as time goes on. Some examples include:
- Oxycodone, Vicodin and other Opiates
- Crystal meth
How Long Does it Take to Form a Drug Tolerance?
There is no standard amount of time that it takes to form a drug tolerance. There are many factors that play a role in this, including:
- What type of drug is being used
- How long the drug has been used
- How often the person is using drugs
- Various genetic factors for addiction
- The individual’s personal history of addiction
For sporadic drug use, it can take a long time to develop a drug tolerance. Some people may never develop one. For frequent drug use, tolerance can develop in a matter of weeks, or even days.
The Different Types of Drug Tolerance
There are a few different types of drug tolerance. These include the following:
Opioid drugs lead to a pharmacodynamic drug tolerance in the brain. This occurs because of the way these drugs interact with nerve receptors.
This type of drug tolerance is the result of a particular drug’s consistent interaction with nerve receptors. The brain becomes used to the presence of the drug over time. This means that higher doses are needed to achieve the same effects.
Tachyphylaxis can take place very quickly after continued drug use. This type of drug tolerance can occur within hours.
When people use hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD, they will often develop tachyphylaxis. The next time they use, they need a higher dose to get the same results.
As the brain and body are repeatedly introduced to a specific drug, they adapt, metabolically. This means that the rate of metabolizing the drug increases over time.
In the case of metabolic tolerance, the brain is still profoundly affected. However, the body becomes used to it, and learns how to get rid of it quickly. This results in the drug having a diminished effect on the brain.
Do You Have a High Tolerance Because of Drug Dependence, or is it an Addiction?
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, an addiction is defined as:
“…a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. An addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
Someone who has a high tolerance level for certain drugs could be addicted. However, this isn’t always the case.
Tolerance can also be a side effect of drug dependence, which is different from addiction.
For someone who is dependent upon a drug, he or she lacks the destructive component of addiction. Even so, that does not mean an addiction isn’t something to be concerned about.
People who become dependent upon drugs or alcohol frequently develop addictions. Over time, their dependence becomes compulsive in nature. They start experiencing cravings, go through withdrawal symptoms, and feel they need the drug to get by.
Having a high tolerance to any type of drug can be dangerous. Even though the brain doesn’t respond to low doses of the drug, the other bodily organs may.
Someone with a high drug tolerance has a risk of developing:
- Sexual problems
- Bone loss
- Problems with vision
- A high blood pressure
- Mental health issues
- Extreme weight loss
Do You Have a Drug Tolerance? Find Out What You Can do to Get Addiction Help
It’s normal for people to think that addiction could never happen to them. They think of it as something that happens to others. Maybe you’ve gone through most of your adult life thinking the same thing.
If you have a drug tolerance, that means you have probably formed an addiction. Tolerance is one of the most obvious signs that an addiction is present. If this is the case, you need to know that there are ways for you to get help.
Drug rehab or alcohol rehab offers you hope for your recovery. Just because you have an addiction now, that doesn’t mean you have to remain in it. Some people discover that they have addictions and they begin to feel hopeless. So many others have gone before you, and they’ve successfully overcome their addictions. It’s entirely possible for you to do the same. You just need the right guidance.
Forming a drug tolerance is something that can sneak up on you. Before you know it, it takes more of your drug of choice for you to get the effects. You increase the drug not thinking much of it. Sadly, this is how so many addictions begin.
Just because you have an addiction, or you’ve formed a drug tolerance, it’s not too late. You can get help to recover from your addiction successfully.
Noticing your drug tolerance may have been the first warning sign of your addiction. Take action right away to recover.
MerckManuals.com. (2017). Tolerance and Resistance to Drugs. Retrieved from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/drugs/factors-affecting-response-to-drugs/tolerance-and-resistance-to-drugs
EN.Wikipedia.org. (25, June 2017). Drug resistance. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_resistance
ASAM.org. (19, April 2011). Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from: https://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction