Why Tolerance is Important to Understand
In many situations, it can be difficult to spot when someone is on the path to forming a substance use disorder. Every class of drug has different effects, and even within each class there are variations between drugs. Fortunately, there is one sign that can help identify that a person is progressing toward an addiction regardless of the type of drug that they are taking. This is when a person begins to develop what is called a tolerance, and it can happen even if a person is taking a prescription medication as instructed by their doctor.
Recognizing if someone is developing a tolerance is challenged from the outside, particularly if an individual is using illegal drugs and trying to hide them. Knowing about tolerance can help an unaware individual or an individual in denial realize that their drug use is progressing to a dangerous level and may soon lead to an addiction.
What is Tolerance?
A tolerance develops when a person has been regularly taking a drug and their body begins to adapt itself to the presence of the chemicals in the drug. It is a gradual process but using larger quantities of a substance can drastically decrease the amount of time it takes to begin. Once a person develops a tolerance to a drug, it will require them to continually take more of that substance to experience the same effects they had grown used to.
The most common instance where a tolerance forms is when a drug is being abused for recreational use. This is because in those situations, the individual is frequently taking large enough amounts of the drug to experience a euphoric high. The high is caused by the drug overwhelming the body’s system, and in response to it happening repeatedly, the body adapts quicker to form a tolerance. Of course, a tolerance can also develop under normal prescription use, especially if a patient is taking an especially potent drug type like an opioid. A person in this situation may never feel a euphoric high from their drug use, but if they are on the medication for a long time, a tolerance will still occur if they are not careful.
Once a tolerance has taken hold, a person is likely to begin taking more of their chosen drug, in turn causing the tolerance to grow. This begins a cycle of increasing use that eventually reaches a point where the individual’s body has changed so much it learns to rely on the presence of the drug to function normally. Without it, the body will rebound, suffering the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous effects of withdrawal. When this stage has been reached, the tolerance has progressed into a dependence and the person will be left addicted.
Types of Tolerance
Most of the time when the word tolerance is used in a medical context, it is referring to a specific type of tolerance known as chronic tolerance. This is the most recognizable and impactful variant, but it is not the only one.
There are actually three primary types of tolerance, which include:
- Chronic tolerance
- Acute tolerance
- Learned tolerance
Acute tolerance is also known as short-term tolerance, and it is mainly used in reference to euphoria-causing drugs like cocaine. Here, once a person has experienced the euphoric high, there will be a period of time where increased amounts of the drug will not amplify its effects. The amount of time this tolerance will last varies, with testing showing that for most people it will take at least 40 minutes to pass.
Learned tolerance is when a person has carried out a task enough times while under the influence, that they can still perform the task with similar effectiveness to when they are sober. It is most commonly observed in alcoholics and gives the impression that they are not drunk when in reality they are. This tolerance only applies to the practiced tasks and if the alcoholic attempts a different task or an altered variation of the ones they know, their intoxication will be apparent.
Warning Signs of Tolerance Behavior
The person in the best position to recognize when a tolerance is beginning to form is none other than the individual using the drug. Even if they are not familiar with the terminology or what addiction looks like, they will be certain to notice that their drug of choice is not as effective as it used to be. Of course, while they recognize it, many people choose to continuing using rather than seeking help from a professional. Any time someone has begun to take more of a drug than they intended to, they are abusing the drug.
When this happens, it falls to outsiders to hopefully recognize the tolerance so they can find help for the individual as soon as possible. While an outsider cannot feel the drug and know how it is working within someone else’s body, there are several warning signs they can watch for to recognize if a loved one has begun abusing their medication or an illegal substance.
If an individual knows what drug their loved one is taking, they can familiarize themselves with the potential side effects that appear when it is being abused. While these symptoms may be difficult to spot in the beginning, they become more severe and pronounced as abuse continues, and their presence is a clear sign that the loved one needs outside help before an addiction can develop.
With increased drug use also comes a notable shift in a person’s behavior, which can serve as another valuable tell for spotting substance abuse and the tolerance that forms alongside it. Some of the most common behavioral changes to watch out for include:
Increased drug use
Frequently refilling prescriptions
Hiding pills (frequently in mint tins or candy containers)
Excessive worry and anxiety
Regularly talking about the chosen drug (obsession)
Complaining about a drug being less effective than it previous was
Get Help Before It’s Too Late
It is important to remember that having a tolerance does not mean that a person is addicted to a drug. These are two different stages, and when a tolerance is present there is still time to prevent it from progressing into addiction.
If you have recognized any of the points we have discussed today, in yourself or a loved one, it is important to seek help. While you may not have yet entered the stage of addiction, it is surely inevitable if you continue down this path. At Brookdale Premier Addiction Recovery, we can provide you with the necessary tools and resources to break free from your substance abuse and find a life…recovered.
Please call us today at 855-575-1292 to see how we can help.