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Tolerance and Substance Use Disorder

Tolerance is a topic that comes up a lot when people talk about addiction. After all, it’s one of the many clues that something is wrong. However, tolerance can happen in non-addicted people. It’s the body’s natural response to having a foreign substance introduced regularly.

What is Tolerance?

Tolerance is a physical reaction to getting a substance regularly. The body compensates for the addition of the substance by working a little harder to maintain what it considers normal.

The first time a person uses their drug of choice is unique. The high is usually very strong. It is generally perceived as such a pleasant or euphoric experience that many people “chase” that feeling throughout their addiction. Eventually, a person with a substance use disorder will discover that it takes more of the same drug to get the same effect. Many people in recovery will say they never could recapture that first time they got high. Yet addiction keeps people chasing it.

What Role Does Tolerance Play in Addiction?

People with a substance use disorder will have a tolerance to the drug. People who take regular medications, even those who are not addicted, will have tolerance as well. Tolerance alone does not mean a person has an addiction. You can have a tolerance to a psychiatric drug or non-opioid pain medication and have to have your prescription titrated up.

Tolerance alone usually doesn’t mean you’re addicted. But if the drug you’re using is illegal, like heroin or cocaine, you are probably on that path. Opioids are also drugs you can quickly develop a tolerance and addiction to. This is especially true if you are using them incorrectly and outside of doctor’s orders. This is why we use the term “substance use disorder.”

Withdrawal Effects and Addiction

When a person has a tolerance for an addictive drug, like heroin, crystal meth, or cocaine, it’s because they are using the drug regularly. As they use more of the drug, they will also begin to suffer side effects, also known as withdrawal effects, when they don’t have enough of the drug in their system. Most people find the discomfort of withdrawal effects too difficult to cut down on their drug use or cease using it. It’s hard to stop using drugs or alcohol on your own when it makes you physically ill every time you try.

Withdrawal effects for drugs and alcohol can range from headaches and sweating to bone pain or nausea. Some medicines even can cause fevers, hallucinations, or seizures when a person quits them cold turkey. A detox program can help you by making your as comfortable as possible during your detox and monitoring your symptoms.

Maintaining Recovery is Maintaining Long-Term Health

Tolerance is more than simply taking more of a drug. When a person becomes addicted to a drug, it changes how the brain thinks, and the body behaves. This is why it is essential to realize that addiction, and substance use disorder, are both chronic brain diseases that must be managed in both the short and long term.

Science now knows so much about how a person’s body becomes addicted. But there is no cure for the “thinking” part of addiction. Addiction changes the way a person thinks and reacts to life. Therapy, peer support groups like AA, and other support structures can help a person stay sober in the long term. Thinking of addiction as a chronic, long-term disease encourages people to maintain their health by playing an active part in their recovery.

Addiction is when you cannot control your substance use, despite negative consequences. You may have overdosed, gotten a DUI, or had relationships suffer. The good news is that if you need help getting clean and sober, there is plenty of help available.

Getting Sober, Getting Help

If you or somebody you love has a substance use disorder, we can help! Our ‘home away from home’ is a welcome refuge for people who are ready to get sober and reclaim their lives. We offer a therapeutic, safe, and peaceful environment to help you get started on your recovery journey. Please give us a call to learn more about our programs at US (949) 279-1376 • MX (612) 153-5726.



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Hi! I’m Melissa Stailey, a freelance writer that loves to cook. I live and work in Washington, DC.