Tolerance and dependence

How does addiction develop? Over time, your brain and body develop a tolerance for alcohol.  Tolerance means that you will actually need more alcohol over time to feel the desired effect: One beer may have made Frank tipsy when he first started drinking, but now that he drinks frequently, he will need 3 beers to feel that same effect. Frank has developed a tolerance.

Tolerance happens because the body (because it wants to survive) figures out a way to manage the alcohol, which is why the effects of alcohol become less over time as the body learns how to manage it (a bit). For example, the liver enzymes that break down the alcohol become more active—causing a strain on the body to get rid of the alcohol. All that straining, does damage over time. People feel the “damage” as tolerance. But at the end of the day, it’s our brain and body working overtime to lessen the damage caused by the alcohol. 

(Source: Interview with George F. Koob, Ph.D., the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, found at:

A close cousin to tolerance is dependence. Dependence is when your body and mind actually begin to crave a substance and can not function normally without it.

Dependence:  -noun

1. the state of being psychologically or physiologically dependent on a drug after a prolonged (extended) period of use.


If you are dependent on alcohol and you stop drinking, you will then experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, the shakes, sweating, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms of withdrawal can range from mild to sever depending on how dependent your body is. A hangover is actually a mild form of withdrawal.

When your body is dependent on alcohol to function properly and when you crave alcohol despite the negative affects it has in your life, you are addicted. Unfortunately, many people will deny that they have a problem and continue to drink, causing harm to themselves and to loved ones. 

DID YOU KNOW? Alcohol is dehydrating. Drinking water after consuming alcohol is important to restore the balance of water in the body.

If your life is affected by someone who is an alcoholic, seek help from one of the sources in the Bonus YSS post or from a trusted adult.

Post Question:

Do you know someone who is dependent on alcohol? What is that person like?

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