Understanding How Alcohol Tolerance Works

By James Madeiros


Most people consider being able to hold one’s liquor to be a valuable quality. It can save us from embarrassing lapses in judgment, and instill confidence in others that we are hearty, healthy and vivacious individuals – especially at parties.

But, that’s only half of it.

The path to acquiring a tolerance for alcohol is a slippery slope, to say the least. If you are developing a tolerance, that inevitably means you are consuming more and more alcohol. And, in the case of functional tolerance, it likely means it is occurring over a sustained period of time, because typically the liver will revert back to its “normal processing speed” once the bender is over.

In cases of metabolic tolerance, which occur in chronic drinkers, the ability to handle increased consumption is much more advanced. It essentially means that the metabolic pathways that are induced by alcohol in the liver are jammed open, allowing for quicker metabolism. In a “normal” drinker, these pathways are coaxed open only when alcohol is introduced, which by that time the person feels intoxicated and stops drinking.

Metabolic tolerance is a dangerous condition, because it only enables further destruction of the liver and other organs through increased alcohol consumption. This is exceptionally lethal for the individual who drinks to get drunk, because damage begins occurring well before the individual feels the need to stop.

So, keep this in mind the next time you rib someone for not being able to burn the midnight oil. It may just be that their bodies are sending the right messages, and they are listening, which is cool in its own way when you think about it.


Of course, I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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