The risks of alcohol tolerance
Drinking patterns can change over time and you may find yourself drinking more than before. This could mean your alcohol tolerance has increased. But drinking less can help you reverse your tolerance to alcohol as well as reduce your risk of serious health harm.
If you’re drinking regularly, then receptors in your brain will gradually adapt to the effects of alcohol. This means that the same amount of alcohol will have less short-term effect on you. This will lead to you drinking more alcohol to get the same feeling.1
It's really important to recognise that tolerance to the short-term effects does not mean your health risks are lower. In fact, you could be at higher risk because you may not recognise how much you're drinking.
Your body doesn't build up tolerance to the damage alcohol can do to your liver, heart, gut and other organs.
If you notice your tolerance to alcohol is increasing, you’re at risk of becoming dependent on alcohol. That might feel like not being able to go out and have a good night without a few drinks. Or feeling like you can’t stop drinking once you’ve had a couple of drinks.
Because your drinking increases over time and you could be feeling fine, you might not think of these as being signs of alcohol dependence. But they are.
Getting back on track
The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to reduce your alcohol tolerance again. Start by trying to stay below the UK CMOs' low risk drinking guidelines of not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spreading your drinking out by taking several drink-free days every week. You may find that taking more drink-free days in the week is a simple way to bring your weekly total down. If you are drinking a lot more than the low risk guidelines, it may take you a few weeks to get down to 14 units a week, but don't give up: it is really important.
If you need some help keeping track of the number of units you’re drinking in a week, try using our free app. It can also help to keep track of what triggers your desire to drink and then plan how to change your response.
Another tip, if you tend to go to the fridge to get an alcoholic drink soon after getting home from work, you could replace that drink with a chilled non-alcoholic drink.
Tips to stay on track
Take the first step
Many people don’t always know how much alcohol they drink and whether their drinking could have any impact on their health.
Our alcohol self-assessment can help you identify if the amount you drink could be putting your health at serious risk.
Take the self-assessment
Taking a break and reducing your tolerance is an important thing to do for your health. Breaking the cycle of drinking can prevent your body from becoming accustomed to alcohol and help to lower or ‘reset’ your tolerance.
Drinking within the low risk drinking guidelines and having several drink-free days each week can help keep health risks from the effects of alcohol low.
If you're worried that you may be becoming alcohol dependent or are concerned about someone else's drinking, look out for these four warning symptoms:
- Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family and work events around alcohol
- Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and finding it hard to stop once you start.
- Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning
- Suffering from withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol
If you’re worried that you have any of these symptoms of alcohol dependence, talk to your GP or seek further information from a support service.
Learn about alcohol dependence