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Why Tolerance and Dependence Are Addiction Warning Signs

Substance use disorders don’t discriminate. College students, parents of young children, retirees, blue-collar factory workers, and high-earning executives can all find themselves struggling with drug or alcohol problems. However, understanding the relationship between tolerance, dependence, and addiction can help you determine if you or someone you love may need treatment for a substance use disorder

What Is the Difference Between Tolerance and Dependence?

Tolerance occurs when a person needs increasing amounts of a substance to achieve the same effects they initially experienced with lower doses. It is a physiological adaptation that indicates the body has adjusted to the substance’s presence—requiring higher doses to produce the desired effects.

Dependence is a state in which the body has adapted to the presence of a substance, so that when the substance is reduced or stopped, withdrawal symptoms occur. These withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological, and they vary depending on the substance. They can include things like anxiety, nausea, tremors, and headaches. More severe symptoms may also be possible, such as when someone who has drank heavily for many years develops delirium tremens (DTs) during alcohol withdrawal.

Why Are Tolerance and Dependence a Cause for Concern? 

Tolerance and dependence don’t necessarily mean that a person has developed a substance use disorder. However, they are concerning for the following reasons:

  • Escalating substance use. Tolerance often leads to escalating use, as a person will continue to chase the initial euphoric effects of drugs or alcohol. 
  • Compulsive use. As dependence sets in, a person may feel compelled to use the substance regularly to avoid withdrawal symptoms, even if they want to quit or cut down.
  • Loss of control. Tolerance and dependence can be indicators that a person is losing control over their substance use. They may find it difficult to cut down or control their use despite negative consequences.
  • Negative impact on daily life. Addiction often interferes with daily life, relationships, and responsibilities. Tolerance and dependence can contribute to these negative impacts as a person prioritizes drug or alcohol use over other aspects of their lives.

How Long Does It Take for Tolerance and Dependence to Develop? 

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to predict how long it will take for a person to develop a tolerance or dependence when they are abusing a specific substance. There are several different factors that must be considered:

  • Genetics. People with a family history of substance use disorders are more likely to experience tolerance and dependence in a quicker time frame.
  • Overall health. A person’s overall health, including both physical health and mental health, can significantly influence the development of tolerance and dependence. 
  • Dosage and frequency. Higher doses and more frequent use often contribute to a more rapid development of tolerance and dependence.
  • Polydrug use. The use of multiple substances simultaneously or sequentially can complicate the timeframe, and the interactions between substances can influence the development of both tolerance and dependence.

Typically, tolerance develops before dependence. Then, as a person consistently uses higher amounts of the abused substance, they start to notice withdrawal symptoms whenever their drug or alcohol usage is stopped or reduced.

What Are the Other Warning Signs of Addiction?

It’s not always easy to tell when a person’s drug or alcohol use has progressed to meet the definition of a substance use disorder. However, the following signs also suggest that a full evaluation from a medical professional is in order:

  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Failing to meet work, school, or home obligations
  • Decreased interest in once enjoyable hobbies or activities
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Unexplained changes in mood and behavior
  • Money problems due to spending on drugs or alcohol
  • Involvement in legal issues related to substance use, such as charges for drunk driving or possession

How Can Waypoint Recovery Center Help?

If you or your loved one have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, Waypoint Recovery Center‘s South Carolina drug and alcohol addiction treatment center can offer the following benefits:

  • Medical detoxification. Medical professionals can monitor and manage the detox process to ensure safety and comfort.
  • 24/7 supervision. This can be crucial during the early stages of recovery when cravings and withdrawal symptoms are most intense.
  • Individualized treatment plans. Treatment plans at our facility are tailored to meet each client’s unique individual needs. Therapists and counselors work with residents to address specific issues, triggers, and co-occurring mental health conditions.
  • Peer support. Living in a community of people who are facing similar challenges provides a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. This can be instrumental in the recovery process.
  • Skill building. To build the foundation for a lasting recovery, we focus on teaching practical skills for maintaining sobriety, managing stress, and making positive lifestyle changes.
  • Aftercare planning. We support the transition back to independent living by creating an aftercare plan for ongoing support after leaving the facility that includes outpatient therapy, support groups, or other community resources.

Want to learn more? Contact our admissions representatives today