It’s likely your drinking patterns have probably changed over time. Once, you might have drunk alcohol while out on the town. Now, because of the demands of a career and maybe a family, you could be spending more time at home. But even though you’re going out less – you still may be drinking over the alcohol unit guidelines. This may increase your tolerance. The good news is changing your drinking habits can help you reverse your tolerance to alcohol.

Building tolerance

If you’re drinking on a regular basis, then the amount of alcohol you need to get the same click or buzz gradually goes up,” says Dr Nick Sheron, a liver specialist from Southampton University.

So, if your brain has got used to a certain level of stimulation, you won’t get that same ‘buzz’ if you drink less.

Your tolerance can creep up without you even noticing. So it’s worth checking the recycling bin or your supermarket receipt for evidence you’re consuming more than you used to.

Take our Alcohol Self Assessment test to find out if you're drinking too much.

Alcohol dependence

If you think your tolerance is rising, then think about whether you could be becoming dependent on alcohol e.g. beginning to use it regularly to unwind after work, or to socialise.

“People tend to think of alcohol dependency as black or white,” says Dr Sheron. “They think they know what it looks like. But everybody who is drinking on a regular basis, reasonably heavily will have a degree of alcohol dependence.

“That might be manifested as the idea that you can’t conceive of going out and having a good night out without having a few drinks. Or you have people who can have a few drinks and then they can’t stop drinking. We see people around us doing this all the time. But we don’t think of them as being dependent on alcohol.”

Getting back on track

The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to get your mind and body back on track – and getting back in balance is easier than you think. Start the process by taking steps to stick within the weekly alcohol unit guidelines of not regularly drinking more than 14 units a week for both men and women.

Staying within the guidelines not only lowers the risk of contracting alcohol-related illness or disease in the future, alcohol can affect your sleep patterns so cutting back can also improve your quality of sleep and help your mental health so you feel more positive and productive.

See how much alcohol is really in your drinks with our Unit Calculator.

If you need some guidance, we’re here to help with a range of tips and advice and tracking your drinking has never been easier than with our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app or personal alcohol tool, MyDrinkaware.

If you’ve got into a habit of regularly drinking more than the unit guidelines, it’s worth applying a bit of psychology too. See what triggers your desire to drink too much and try to change your response.

For instance, if you tend to go to the fridge to get an alcoholic drink soon after getting home from work – replace that drink with another chilled drink such as a smoothie.

Alcohol is not a cure for stress; it can make you feel worse. Talk to your partner or a friend about how you’re feeling rather than reaching for the bottle.

Reset your tolerance

If your tolerance rises, and you drink more and more to get the same effect you once got from one glass of wine, then you could be heading into dangerous ground.

Luckily, if you think your tolerance is rising, fighting back is simple: just give your body a break from alcohol with some alcohol-free days each week.

“For most people, you can ‘reset’ your whole system by having an alcohol-free period,” says Dr Sheron.

“And people feel better for it. I can tell as soon as they walk through the door by their facial appearance. The difference is dramatic.”

Once you’ve reset your tolerance you won’t need as much alcohol to feel the effects. This makes it far easier to drink more sensibly. If you’ve fallen into a pattern of heavier drinking, having a break also gives you the opportunity to build new, more positive drinking patterns based around the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk drinking guidelines.

Overall you’ll have more energy and look and feel better.

It's time to tackle your tolerance if...

  1. You’re taking two bottles of wine to the party in case you run out.
  2. The amount of wine in your weekly shop is increasing.
  3. You’re starting to finish off an evening of drinking with a night cap.
  4. You buy bigger glasses.
  5. You’re drinking more than the daily unit guidelines most nights of the week.

Find out more about how much is too much alcohol?


Alternatively, if you're looking for information or advice about your own, or someone else's alcohol use, speak to one of our trained advisors. You don't even have to make a phonecall. 

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