Drug Tolerance: What it is and Why it’s Dangerous

Last Updated on November 10, 2022

Drug Tolerance: What it is and Why it’s Dangerous

Tolerance, dependence, and addiction often get used interchangeably. But they’re all different words with very distinctive meanings. If you’re considering rehabilitation in your recovery journey, understanding these words and their varying meanings is crucial. Today we’ll focus on the term Drug Tolerance, its definition, and its dangerous implications.

Definition of Drug Tolerance

Drug Tolerance occurs when a person’s body acclimates to a specific substance and no longer produces the desired effect. This means that the drug is no longer as effective as it once was even though its potency remains the same. Drug tolerance is usually a pretty gradual process but can develop even after just a few doses of a given drug. 

Tolerance is Not Dependency

Tolerance and dependency often get confused because their results are generally the same: increased substance use. But while tolerance is the body becoming accustomed to a drug, dependency is all about the body’s reliance on a drug to function. With tolerance, the body is still responding to a drug, just not as strong as it once was despite no change in dosage. 

Types of Drug Tolerance

There are two types of tolerance that occur in drug use, physiological and behavioral. A person may experience only one type at a time or even both types simultaneously. 


Physiological tolerance is the physical experience of tolerance. It occurs on the cellular level and affects how the body metabolizes a drug. A frequently used drug reduces the number of receptors that respond in the body. Essentially, the body stops reacting to a drug the way it is meant to react. 


Behavioral tolerance occurs when a person learns to compensate for the presence of a drug in their system. For instance, a person who drinks alcohol at work can become behaviorally tolerant and perform the essential functions of the job despite inebriation. Behavioral tolerance is also situational in the sense that a person may be more affected depending on their surroundings. You may feel more caffeinated drinking coffee surrounded by the sounds and smells of roasting coffee at a cafe, rather than at work. 

Drug Tolerance Dangers

Drug tolerance is quite common but it is an issue and carries the potential to become quite dangerous. When an individual becomes tolerant to a drug, a doctor will often increase the dosage that person takes. If a person has already exhibited signs of drug tolerance, upping the dosage will only progress said tolerance further. This increases the risk of a person developing an addiction. 

Conversely to traditional prescription-based drug tolerance, self-medication can get equally out of hand. If a person is self-medicating and begins upping their dosage to compensate for tolerance, the situation can become deadly. In this situation, an individual can very easily overdose.


The following is a small checklist for you to assess your risk for drug tolerance. Keep track of which statements you agree with.

  • My rate of drug use has increased over a short period of time.
  • I frequently refill prescriptions even if I am not close to running out.
  • The drugs I use are hidden in discreet containers (ie mint tins).
  • I obsess or hyperfocus over how much I have left of a prescription/drug.
  • Mood swings have become routine for me. 
  • Excessive worry and anxiety are becoming more noticeable and affecting my daily life.
  • I have found myself complaining about a drug being less effective than it previously was.

If you agreed with three or more of the above statements, you may be at risk of or experiencing drug tolerance. Consider discussing treatment options with your doctor or a rehab facility like Nova.

Recovery With Nova

At Nova Recovery Center, Houston we provide our patients with a very comfortable detox process, where they will be monitored round the clock by trained professionals. You will be provided with all the medications you need to combat the withdrawal symptoms. You will then be enrolled in the in-patient recovery program where you’ll learn to stay away from drugs, through counseling, group therapy, and so on.

Nova Recovery Center is committed to helping you overcome your addiction so you can get back to what is most important to you. If you or someone you know are struggling with addiction, Nova Recovery Center can provide support. We have locations in Austin, Houston, and Wimberley Texas. Call today to begin your journey in recovery at (888) 428-1501.

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