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Tip 23:          Tolerance

My father is an alcoholic.  My mother always tells me to be careful if I drink.  The thing is, I can out drink all my friends.  They get drunk real quick but I can just keep going.  Does my high tolerance have anything to do with my father’s alcoholism?

Mike N.,  Salem State College, Senior

My roommate jokes that he has been in training for the college drinking team since he was 12.  He says he drank his way through high school.  He says he can drink anyone under the table even all the huge guys on the football team.  I have seen him drink and it’s true.  He can down a case of beer in an evening and not even appear drunk.  He’s not a big guy so how does he do it?

Shane D.,  Texas Tech,  Frosh

Mike, it is more than likely your father’s alcoholism is a significant factor in your ability to “out drink” your friends.  Children of alcoholics tend to be born with high tolerance to alcohol as a result of their parent’s addiction.  On the other hand Shane, if your friend doesn’t have a family history of alcoholism, he has probably developed his high tolerance due to his ongoing drinking through his high school years.  


High tolerance to alcohol is either inherited or acquired as a result of drinking to impairment.  Each time we get impaired (buzzed, high, drunk, etc.), our body adapts to the presence of the alcohol.  If we continue to drink to impairment once, twice, three times a week or more, our body adapts to the presence of the alcohol.  Therefore, over time, our body then needs just a little more alcohol to reach the same level of impairment or buzz.  If we cut back on our drinking the tolerance goes back down as long as we have not already become addicted to alcohol.


Often young adults are unaware of the dynamics of alcohol consumption and mistakenly view high tolerance to alcohol as a sign of strength. But Mike, don’t make the same mistake I did by thinking that my high tolerance was protective – that being able to “handle booze” would somehow make me immune to alcohol problems.  Actually, the exact opposite is true.  Someone with high tolerance to alcohol is actually at greater risk for addiction to alcohol.  So, next time you hear someone bragging about how much alcohol they can handle or how he or she can out drink anyone, you may want to take that person aside and mention what I have just told you – increased tolerance is a sign of increased risk for addiction.


Mike, next time your mother mentions her concern for you and the impact your father’s alcoholism could have on you, be sure to say, “Thanks for your concern Mom.”  (Throw in an extra hug too!)


High tolerance to alcohol is a sign of increased risk for addiction to alcohol.

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