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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Learn how to prevent and recover from chemical dependency as well as the aftereffects of chemical dependency on you and your family. Read Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. series of Recovery books.

What is Meant by Tolerance?

ear Dr. Steve:

Over the course of the last 10 years I have noticed that my sister drinks more alcohol more often than back in the days when we were in high school. In the old days I could keep up with her, but now, she drinks me under the table. It seems that when I have had my fill for the night, she’s barely begun her drinking, although we will have drank the same amount. The following night, while I’m still hung over from the night before, she’s ready to go back out there. The most bizarre thing about all of this is that whereas I become incapacitated after my third mixed drink, twice that amount barely seems to faze her. Am I just a wussy or is there something superhuman about my sister.

You’re not a wussy and your sister is not superhuman. Instead, it sounds like alcohol affects you about the same way it affects most normal drinkers. At the same time, it’s likely that your sister has developed an increased tolerance for alcohol.

What that means is that your sister’s body has had to adapt to the chronic alcohol consumption that your sister likely has consumed. Tolerance means that after continued consumption of a constant amount of alcohol produces a lesser effect or increasing amounts of alcohol are necessary to produce the same effect.

As you know, alcohol consumption interferes with many bodily functions and affects behavior. However, after chronic alcohol consumption, the drinker often develops tolerance to at least some of alcohol's effects. Tolerance develops when an individual’s brain functions adapt to compensate for the disruption caused by alcohol in both their behavior and their bodily functions.

Chronic heavy drinkers display functional tolerance when they show few obvious signs of intoxication even at high blood alcohol concentrations, which in others would be incapacitating or even fatal. Because the drinker does not experience significant behavioral impairment as a result of drinking, tolerance may be an explanation for why an individual begins to consume increasingly more alcohol. This can result in physical dependence and alcohol-related organ damage.

Tolerance is a symptom of alcohol dependence. If you have any concerns about your sister’s drinking you should not ignore those concerns. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. You can be assured that your sister’s drinking problem, if indeed she has a drinking problem, will only get worse with time.

Pathfinder’s Checklist
1.) Consult with a qualified healthcare provider about alcoholism and drug addiction.
2.) Educate yourself about the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction.
3.) Develop a plan to help your sister address the issues surrounding her alcohol and other drug use.
4.) Develop a plan of self-care for yourself to help you cope with the affects of your wife’s alcohol and other drug use.
5.) Contact your local chapter of Al-Anon—a support group for friends and family members of people who abuse and are dependent on alcohol and other drugs.



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