What Is Drug Tolerance?

Discover the meaning, causes, types, and effects of drug tolerance and where to find treatment in this informative article.

Table of Contents

What Is Drug Tolerance?

It’s critical to familiarize oneself with the definition of medication tolerance to begin developing an understanding of tolerance in drug addiction.
drug tolerance

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Drug Tolerance Meaning

Drug tolerance is a condition that results when the body becomes used to having a particular drug or medication in its system due to prolonged exposure and repeated use. This can happen when someone takes medication regularly, even as prescribed by their doctor, or when someone abuses drugs recreationally.

It is important to note that drug tolerance does not indicate an addiction. Nonetheless, while drug tolerance can be a problem for anyone who takes medications regularly or abuses drugs, it can be particularly dangerous for those with an addiction.

What Causes Drug Tolerance?

Drug tolerance psychology can be studied down to the molecular level in the human body. After repeated use of alcohol or drugs, a person’s molecular pathways change and create tolerance of drug.
High tolerance to medication can be caused by repeated exposures and a person’s individual characteristics, such as age, weight, gender, or pre-existing health conditions.

Low vs. High Tolerance

Depending on the duration of exposure and individual variables, medication tolerance can be acute, rapid, or chronic. Someone with a high drug tolerance requires more of a substance to feel the same effects, while someone with a low tolerance requires a small amount to feel the effects.

What Are the Types of Drug Tolerance?

When discussing tolerance of drugs, it can be classified as innate or acquired. People with innate medication tolerance are predisposed to be more or less sensitive to medicines due to their genetic makeup. Acquired tolerance to a drug develops after multiple exposures. The following sections will explore various types of drug tolerance.

Pharmacodynamic Resistance

This form of medication tolerance occurs when a person’s internal receptor system’s responses decrease over time.

Metabolic Tolerance

Depending on how a person’s body metabolizes the drug, they may experience a reduced or heightened effect and likelihood of tolerance to drugs.

Behavioral or Learned Tolerance

If a person learns to function in what people would consider a ‘normal’ way despite repeated exposures to a substance, they have developed a behavioral drug tolerance.

Conditioned Tolerance

Conditioned drug tolerance means that a person will display greater tolerance if situational cues that they associate with the drug are present.

Drug Tolerance Symptoms

The effects of drug tolerance can be severe and life-threatening. For instance, a person with opioid tolerance will require high doses of the drug to achieve the same pain relief or high over time. Larger doses can cause adverse health consequences.

Common Signs of Drug Tolerance

If a person is developing tolerance of drugs, they will need more of the substance to feel the same effects. For example, a person who has been drinking alcohol regularly over a period of time may report feeling less drunk, even though they consumed large quantities of alcohol. In contrast, someone receiving treatments for pain management may develop opiate tolerance and report less pain relief after a few months of taking the prescription opioid medication.

What Is the Difference Between Drug Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction?

When people talk about addiction, it is common to hear the terms drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Since each of these terms has its unique meaning, it’s critical to understand the difference.

Drug Tolerance: The body becomes used to the substance, requiring a higher dose to achieve the desired effects.

Dependence: The body becomes reliant on the substance to function properly and endures withdrawal symptoms when substance use stops.

Addiction: The body and mind experience an uncontrollable urge and inability to stop using the substance despite the harm and consequences it causes. 

Can Your Body Become Immune to Drugs?

When a person’s body becomes resistant to specific drugs and their effects, it can be labeled as becoming immune.

Effects of Drug Tolerance

Tolerance in drug addiction can have positive and negative effects. Keep reading to learn more about the different effects a person may experience stemming from tolerance of drugs.

Positive Effects of Drug Tolerance

Although it may come as a surprise to some, there are positive effects associated with tolerance of drugs. Drug tolerance has the potential to reduce medication side effects. Additionally, in some cases, if a person doesn’t feel the effects after using a substance, they may discontinue use. In fact, an analysis of multiple studies suggests that people stop using opioids due to increased tolerance, which causes the perception that the medication is ineffective.1

Negative Effects of Drug Tolerance

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a person with tolerance of drug may use more of the substance to achieve the desired effect, increasing the risk of overdose. In 2021, an estimated 100,306 deaths were caused by drug overdose.2
Furthermore, if an individual can’t feel the impact of a substance, they might move on to other drugs. Multiple studies indicate that 4% to 6% of those who misuse prescription opioids turn to heroin, and around 80% of individuals who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. Thus, there is an increased risk of moving on to stronger or more severe drugs.3

Can You Be Born With a High Tolerance to Drugs?

When babies are born, they can have a high drug tolerance if their mothers use drugs or alcohol during their pregnancy. For example, persistent exposure to a substance while in the womb can cause the fetus to develop a tolerance and even a dependency on that substance before being born, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Research suggests that seven of every one thousand babies born in a hospital were born with NAS.4
Babies can also become tolerant to medications administered during their initial hospital stay if they require intensive care or are prescribed certain medications like opioids following painful surgeries.

Passing Tolerance Down to Your Children

For some individuals, high or low tolerance is genetically present. If tolerance is present in a family’s genealogy, that trait can be passed down to children.

Breaking the Drug Tolerance Chain

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse and is pregnant or trying to conceive, it’s critical to seek professional help. Licensed substance use professionals and medical providers are trained to help pregnant, postpartum, and parenting women with medication and drug tolerance. Professional help is the most effective method to avoid passing tolerance down to children.

Treatment for Drug Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

Treatment for alcohol and drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction is an effective tool for healing a person’s mind, body, and soul. At Profound Treatment, our knowledgeable staff provides support and care to each individual as they navigate their path to recovery.

effects of drug tolerance

Drug Tolerance Treatment Programs

In addition to individualized treatment plans, Profound Treatment works diligently to provide highly personalized accommodations in a comfortable family environment.

Detoxification: Profound Treatment provides medical and sub-acute detox programs for individuals struggling with drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction. 

Residential Care: We offer various levels of care to meet each person’s clinical needs, including inpatient drug rehab, partial hospitalization programs, and intensive outpatient programs. 

Therapies: At Profound Treatment, we recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach is not effective or helpful for individuals struggling with substance use. Therefore, our licensed clinicians utilize various evidence-based therapies, including eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), while focusing on client-driven treatment goals. 

Contact Profound Treatment

For individuals interested in seeking help for substance use and mental health, such as addressing drug tolerance, participating in trauma-focused therapies, managing anxiety, or achieving sobriety, Profound Treatment is ready to help. Contact our welcoming team at Profound Treatment for more information about available programs and therapies.

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