What is Drug Tolerance?
The concept of addiction is typically a somewhat nebulous one in the public mind, with various different concepts being conflated and confused. One phenomenon which is often mistaken for addiction – one which can play a role in addiction, but can also occur independently – is tolerance.
Tolerance occurs when someone takes a specific substance repeatedly over time, and their system adjusts to the presence of a certain level of the substance, with the parts of the brain and body affected by the substance in question becoming accustomed to its presence. As the affected parts adjust, more and more of the substance is required to produce the effects which a smaller dose would originally have produced: this is the phenomenon known as tolerance.
Someone taking a substance in order to feel such effects – for example, seeking a euphoric “high” produced by particular drug – who has developed tolerance will need to take higher dosages of that substance in order to achieve the desired effect. This can have a variety of ramifications, with the substance user needing to procure and consume greater quantities of the drug of choice with potential consequences for their health, finances and life circumstances.
Drug Tolerance vs Drug Dependence
Tolerance and dependence are closely related phenomena, with both occurring as a result of the adjustment of an individual’s system to the regular presence of a given substance. As a person’s system makes that adjustment, it may also come to require the presence of that drug in order to function normally: it has come to be dependent upon the drug. Suddenly withdrawing the drug from the system – for example, if the affected person stops taking the drug – can cause the system to begin to behave abnormally, which may cause the manifestation of various potentially unpleasant and dangerous symptoms collectively known as withdrawal syndrome.
Although tolerance and dependence frequently cooccur, tolerance can develop without dependence necessarily manifesting: it is possible to come to require greater quantities of a substance without needing that substance in order to function normally. However, developing a tolerance to a substance with a known dependence liability is highly likely to result in the development of dependence.
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The Dangers of Drug Tolerance
Drug tolerance associated with numerous dangers. Primarily, the development of tolerance typically drives the consumption of higher and higher doses to achieve the desired effects; this can lead to numerous health consequences including the risk of overdose. Tolerance is also frequently a factor in the development of dependence and addiction, with their own broad range of serious ramifications.
Someone who has developed a tolerance for substance and become used to taking certain dosages of that substance, and who then goes through a period of withdrawal, is in significant danger of overdose if they resume their substance abuse, as the dosages to which they were previously accustomed may now be far too high for their system to process effectively. Many fatal overdoses, especially of opioids, a result of individuals relapsing after a period of abstinence, who resume their substance abuse at the same level at which it was previously.
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