Drug Tolerance
a woman learns the difference between drug tolerance and dependence and realizes she has a problem
By BrightView
Published: February 6, 2023
Updated: February 24, 2023

Neither drug tolerance nor dependence should be taken lightly, as both could potentially lead to a substance use disorder that requires professional treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder or has become dependent on a drug, BrightView can help you get your life back on track. Please reach out to us today at 888.501.9865 to learn about the drug addiction treatment options we offer, as well as the differences between tolerance vs. dependence and how to spot them.

Drug Tolerance vs. Dependence

Substance tolerance and dependence are not the same. Tolerance occurs when your body adjusts to a substance, causing you to need larger or more frequent doses of the substance to achieve the same effects. It is a natural biological process that can occur with any type of drug, legal or illicit. Substance dependence occurs when your body needs the drug to function normally, and withdrawal symptoms occur after the drug is no longer used. It is a physical and psychological condition that usually develops over time with repeated use of a particular drug.

The development of tolerance and dependence can occur at different rates. Some drugs tend to cause tolerance and/or dependence more quickly than others. Alcohol, for example, has a relatively rapid onset of both tolerance and dependence, while opioids generally take longer to develop both tolerance and dependence. It is important to note that not everyone who uses a drug will become tolerant or dependent on it. It depends on various factors, such as the type of drug used, the amount and frequency of use, individual biological differences, and the person’s environment.

The effects of tolerance and dependence can be dangerous. Developing a tolerance to certain substances can lead to an increase in their harmful side effects. People who develop a dependence on drugs may find it difficult to stop using them and can experience painful or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they try. It is, therefore, important to understand the differences between substance tolerance and dependence and know how to recognize the signs of both in order to seek help if needed.

What Is Drug Tolerance?

Tolerance can be seen in someone who is actively addicted to a substance, whether it be heroin, tobacco, alcohol, or another illicit substance.  Tolerance can also be seen in people who are taking medication as prescribed and appropriately. Sometimes, tolerance can develop quickly.  Since there are genetic and behavioral elements involved, even the first few times you take an illicit drug, drink alcohol, or take prescribed medications, you can develop tolerance.

It is important to know that tolerance is not the same as dependence. Tolerance tells your body that when a drug is continuously present that it should stop responding to that amount of drug in the body, therefore requiring the person to use or take more of that drug to feel the same euphoric effects. Dependency comes in two forms – physical and psychological.

Understanding Drug Dependence

To have a physical dependence on drugs or alcohol means the body has developed a physiological reliance on a drug because it has caused changes in its natural state of being.  The physical dependence on a drug or alcohol can stem from many things, including:

  • Genetic vulnerability
  • Individual personality characteristics
  • Psychiatric problems/mental health issues
  • Environmental stressors (loss of a job, death of a loved one)
  • Social pressures (job performance, social acceptance)

The psychological aspect of dependency is broad as well and can include the following:

  • Cravings
  • Issues with anxiety that occur when someone tries to stop their addictive behavior
  • Issues with depression when one is not using their drug of choice or tries to stop their addictive behavior
  • Irritability and restlessness that occurs when someone is not using their drug of choice or trying to quit
  • Any other issues with mood swings that occur when one is not using their substance of choice or attempting to quit
  • Appetite loss or increased appetite associated with not using the substance of choice
  • Issues with sleep associated with quitting or not using the drug of choice
  • Issues with uncertainty about being able to stop using the substance of choice
  • Denial that one has a substance use issue or romanticizing one’s substance use/abuse
  • Obsessing over obtaining or using the drug of choice
  • Cognitive issues, such as issues with concentration, memory, problem-solving, and other aspects of judgment, etc.

It is important to understand that no matter the severity of an addiction, help is available, and healing is possible. Reaching out for professional help and care is generally regarded as the best and safest option for anyone seeking to break the cycle of addiction.

Getting Help for Drug Dependence and Addiction

Getting help for drug dependence and addiction can be a difficult decision to make, but there are many benefits to doing so. Seeking professional treatment or joining a support group can provide much-needed relief from the physical and psychological effects of substance use and addiction. Some of the potential benefits include the following:

  • Increased chances of successful recovery
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved psychological well-being
  • Support from professionals and peers
  • Reduced risk of relapse
  • Improved quality of life

Getting professional help for drug dependence or addiction is a brave step that can make all the difference in achieving long-term sobriety. With the right support, individuals can learn to manage their addictions and reclaim their lives.

Discover a Variety of Treatment Options at BrightView

If you or a loved one need long-term help to recover from substance use disorder, please call us today 888.501.9865. BrightView will treat you with respect and dignity and answer any questions that you may have. You can also reach us by filling out our online contact form. Don’t let fear get in the way of reclaiming your health.