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Updated on September 25, 2023
6 min read

What Should You Know About Having a High Alcohol Tolerance?

Kyra Willans
Dr P. E. Pancoast, MD
Written by 
6 Sources Cited
Kyra Willans
Written by 
6 Sources Cited

Having a high alcohol tolerance means that you need to know the risks of drinking heavily. In addition to potential health problems, it can lead to legal consequences or uncomfortable social situations. 

Anyone with a higher-than-normal tolerance for alcohol needs to understand how it affects them personally. You must also know your responsibilities when consuming any amount of alcohol. 

This blog post covers some key points about having a higher tolerance in terms of safety. It also discusses physical endurance and personal responsibility.

What Does it Mean When You Have a High “Tolerance” for Alcohol?

Alcohol tolerance refers to the amount of alcohol you can consume before feeling its effects. Someone with a high tolerance requires more alcohol to feel its impact or appear intoxicated.

As such, tolerance can encourage greater alcohol consumption. This contributes to alcohol dependence and can cause adverse health effects.

In contrast, a person with a low tolerance requires less. Signs of a high alcohol tolerance include:

  • Can drink large amounts of alcohol without looking drunk
  • Not experiencing alcohol's effects as quickly
  • Less likely to vomit, speak without slurring, and pass out after drinking
  • Can stand and walk better even while drunk

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Does Drinking More Alcohol Increase Your Tolerance?

Drinking more alcohol can lead to an elevated tolerance level. The human body possesses the ability to acclimatize to escalated alcohol consumption, thereby facilitating an expedited alcohol metabolism process.

This escalated rate of metabolism may cause those who partake in regular alcohol consumption to exhibit lesser signs of intoxication. This is particularly true when you compare them to those who consumed an equivalent amount within the same timeframe.

5 Types of Functional Alcohol Tolerance

Functional tolerance is a phenomenon where you display a reduced response to alcohol. This is regardless of the rate at which alcohol metabolizes.

This type of tolerance, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains, occurs when brain functions adapt to compensate for the effects of alcohol. The five types of functional alcohol tolerance include:

1. Environment-Dependent Tolerance

Environment-dependent tolerance is an accelerated tolerance to alcohol when you consistently drink in a familiar environment. It essentially means that you feel less intoxicated in a familiar space compared to a new one, even with greater cognizance of how much you're consuming.

This phenomenon accounts for why some drinkers can handle larger doses of alcohol and react more rapidly when frequenting the same environment. Environment-dependent tolerance offers insight into why some can handle boozier drinks in certain contexts but struggle to adjust and lower their intoxication levels during new occasions.

2. Environment-Independent Tolerance

Constant exposure to alcohol in several settings can lead to higher tolerance levels. This phenomenon is known as environment-independent tolerance.

This may be due to you getting accustomed to different cues that may trigger alcohol cravings. Alcohol consumption in other places and with different people can cause the reduction of your reaction and resistance to alcohol's effect.

As you drink in new environments, this audience-specific response elevates your metabolisms. This, in turn, doesn't provide the same calming effect compared to prior settings.

3. Metabolic Tolerance

Metabolic tolerance constitutes the body rapidly expelling alcohol from its systems. As such, it's common for those drinking heavily regularly to eliminate alcohol faster than someone who consumes only moderate amounts.

Chronic heavy drinkers can flush out alcohol two to four times quicker than people who don't consume vast quantities of alcohol regularly. Ultimately, this means that those with greater metabolic tolerance may need to consume double or even higher amounts of alcohol for their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to increase.

This is necessary to reach the desired effects. Metabolic tolerance can occur if you drink every night.

5. Acute Tolerance

Acute alcohol tolerance is a phenomenon that occurs after a single exposure to alcohol. It happens when you have a greater level of impairment at the start of a drinking session compared to the end, even if your BAC remains constant.

This can lead other drinkers to consume more alcohol, mistakenly believing they're less intoxicated than they actually are. As a result, any kind of judgment related to drinking becomes clouded. Drinkers also overestimate how much alcohol their body is capable of tolerating.

Is a High Tolerance for Alcohol Genetic?

Genetic factors play a significant role in determining alcohol tolerance. For some people, a natural deficiency of the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase results in low tolerance levels.

When you consume alcohol, an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (LDH) metabolizes it primarily in the liver. This enzyme breaks down ethanol into acetaldehyde, which can potentially harm cells.

The Role of ALDH2 in Alcohol Metabolism

To neutralize acetaldehyde, another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) helps convert it into acetic acid. This substance is nontoxic.

However, people with alcohol intolerance have a genetic mutation that makes ALDH2 less active or inactive altogether. Consequently, the body becomes incapable of converting acetaldehyde into acetic acid.

As a result, acetaldehyde accumulates in the blood and tissues, leading to various symptoms. People of Asian and Native American descent are more susceptible to this deficiency in the ALDH2 enzyme.


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Is a High Alcohol Tolerance a Sign of Addiction?

Functional tolerance can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). Because the drinker doesn't experience significant impairment due to drinking, functional tolerance may facilitate increasing amounts of alcohol.

Thus, it results in dependence and alcohol-related organ damage. This can make heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder more likely and have various long-term health consequences.

Health Risks and Consequences of High Alcohol Tolerance

The effects of high alcohol tolerance on your body include:

Those with high tolerances for alcohol are also more at risk for binge drinking and overdoses.


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What are the Consequences of Having a High Tolerance to Alcohol?

Having a high tolerance to alcohol can have several consequences. Firstly, those with a higher alcohol tolerance may underestimate their level of intoxication. They may mistakenly believe they're less impaired if they aren't stumbling or slurring their words.

However, it's important to note that those with a higher tolerance can still be impaired. Moreover, tasks requiring concentration can be just as difficult for them as for people with a lower tolerance.

Remember that the amount of alcohol people with a high tolerance consume still affects them. This is true even if the signs may not be readily apparent.

Is it Possible to Lower your Alcohol Tolerance?

Most people can decrease their alcohol tolerance through abstinence. But if your tolerance rises, you should temporarily stop drinking to give your body a break.

Once you’ve lowered your tolerance, you won’t need as much alcohol to feel the effects. This makes it far easier to drink sensibly. And if you’ve fallen into a heavier drinking pattern, having a break also allows you to build new, more positive drinking patterns.

Seek immediate treatment if you’re having difficulty controlling your drinking. Professionals can provide support and guidance to help stop alcohol misuse. They can also suggest medications that may assist in managing cravings or withdrawal symptoms.


A few factors, including genetic makeup and chronic drinking, determine alcohol tolerance. High alcohol tolerance can lead to excessive drinking, increasing the risk of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and other health issues.

People with higher tolerances may overestimate their level of intoxication and could be impaired. Moreover, lowering your tolerance with abstinence is possible and can help set positive drinking patterns.

If you think your alcohol tolerance is increasing or need help cutting back on drinking, consider reaching out for professional addiction treatment. You can recover from AUD and live a healthier life.

Updated on September 25, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on September 25, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Birch, J. "So THAT'S Why Alcohol Affects People Differently." 2020.

  2. How to Take a Break and Reset Your Tolerance.” Drinkaware, 2021.

  3. U.S. National Institutes of Health. “Mechanisms of Alcohol Tolerance (R21/R33 Clinical Trial Not Allowed).Department of Health and Human Services, 2021.

  4. Salahi, L. “7 Reasons You're Drunker Than Your Friends.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 2011.

  5. Ursell, A. “We Reveal Why Some Women Have No Alcohol Tolerance and Give Tips on How to Stay in Control.” The Sun, 2017.

  6. Foltin, R. “Behavioral Tolerance.” Springer Link, 2014.

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