Drug Tolerance and Addiction

Drug Tolerance and Addiction

Addiction brings with it terminology that may be unfamiliar to some. Terms like physical dependence, addiction, and tolerance are often used to describe the same thing, but the definition of each is actually quite different.

Addiction: Addiction is most easily described as a compulsion to use a substance without medicinal benefit. Use of these substances is solely for pleasure, and without any defined role in the users well-being.

Physical Dependence: Physical dependence is a symptom of addiction that refers to the physiological adaptation brought on by continued substance use, and the effect that it has on your body. Physical dependence often leads people to continued use of substances to avoid sickness associated with discontinued use. This is a physical response brought on to the substance-induced altering of your body’s perception of its normal baseline.

Tolerance: Tolerance is a physiological state that refers to the decreased effectiveness of a substance due to continued use. Often, the user has to ingest higher amounts of the substance in order to achieve the same effect brought on by smaller amounts when they used less frequently.

Defining the terminology often leads to a greater understanding of just how each of these contributes to the overall addiction and can help us to better understand the point of this topic, which is the role of tolerance in addiction.

Dangers Associated With a Higher Drug or Alcohol Tolerance

When a substance user begins to use a particular substance, such as heroin, they often take relatively small amounts of the drug in comparison with what a more seasoned user would need. Many heroin users describe the first time using the drug as the best with each subsequent use showing a gradual incline in the drugs perceived effects. This leads to users switching deliver methods (from snorting to smoking, or smoking to shooting), or increasing the quantity of each dose in order to replicate the feeling they had on their first use.

This is how a high tolerance begins to make a dangerous drug even more dangerous.

Overdose-related fatalities are typically the result of an increased tolerance to a particular drug, and the user attempting increase pleasure brought on by using increasing amounts of the substance.


For example, habitual users of heroin that abstain from use for any prolonged period of time show an increased risk of overdose when resuming use. This form of overdose is directly tied to tolerance as the user attempts to resume using the amounts of heroin that he used previously, which could lead to overdose due to reduced opioid tolerance. A famous study published in 1996, titled “Heroin Overdose: Causes and Consequences” detailed these findings by studying prison inmates. When heroin users were released from prison, they found that 5-percent of them died shortly after their release (of heroin-related overdose), many of which died within the first 24 hours.

Additionally, many overdoses are brought on by the user combining substances in order to use a cocktail of drugs in order to replicate more pleasurable usage experiences they may have had when they started using. In 2003, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that an average of 2.7 different drugs were found in the toxicology reports in fatal overdose cases.

Tolerance is a problem in that it minimizes the “high” from a substance, while still delivering the same chemicals that put your body in duress from using. In addition to overdose, having a high tolerance to a particular substance also generally points to consistent and continued use. This alone could lead to numerous health or interpersonal problems.

The only way to reduce the tolerance to a baseline level is with continued abstinence from the substance.

How Can Prescott House Help?

Prescott House is a nationally recognized long-term rehabilitation and treatment center for men. Since 1988, we’ve made it our goal to empower men to overcome a wide array of addictions and co-occurring disorders that affect their daily lives. From addiction to mental health disorders, Prescott House has earned a reputation for success by embracing the principles of 12-step programs in order to better serve all men who walk through our doors.

Contact our Admissions Team Today
See how we can help you or your loved one continue their journey in recovery.

Zach Lindley—Admissions Team

866-425-4673 | Contact Us


Comments are closed