Alcohol and tolerance are usually part of the same conversation. Tolerance refers to the amount of alcohol someone can drink before they begin to feel “buzzed” or “drunk”, which are terms for alcohol intoxication.
So when someone becomes intoxicated, some symptoms they may experience include:
- Difficulty forming thoughts
- Excessive tiredness or fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slow or difficult breathing
- Slurred speech
- Stomach pain
When people drink to feel drunk, they often drink more than is considered safe.
Safe consumption of alcohol means no more than two drinks daily for a man for men under the age of 65 and no more than 14 drinks per week. For women and men over 65, safe drinking means one drink per day and no more than seven drinks in a week.
Drinking any more than these amounts is considered heavy drinking and can have negative impacts on one’s health.
What Is High Alcohol Tolerance?
Having a high alcohol tolerance means that someone has to drink more alcoholic drinks to feel the same level of intoxication as another person. Tolerance levels vary from person to person.
High alcohol tolerance can be dangerous because regardless of how alcohol makes a person feel, the number of drinks is what determines the health consequences.
It does not matter if someone drinks a large amount of alcohol (for example, eight drinks in one night), and does not feel drunk. They still drank eight drinks and they will have health consequences regardless of how intoxicated they became.
Genetics and Alcohol Tolerance
Genetics is the most important factor in determining how quickly a person metabolizes alcohol and what their baseline tolerance is.
The metabolism of alcohol is complex and is different for everyone. Multiple organ systems like the kidneys, livers, and skin are involved in removing alcohol from the body. For example, the liver requires multiple enzymes to deactivate alcohol and make it ready for the kidney to remove.
Regardless of genetics, tolerance can be increased by heavy and chronic drinking. Studies have shown a significant increase in enzymes that metabolize alcohol after just four days of drinking alcohol.
Gender and Alcohol Tolerance
Women are more vulnerable to the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and this is reflected in the recommendations of one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. Women have less body water than men of similar weight, so their blood has a higher concentration of alcohol when they drink the same amount as a man.
A woman who drinks as much as a man will feel less intoxicated, meaning they have a lower tolerance. This decreased tolerance may protect them from drinking as much as a man of similar weight.
By contrast, men tend to have higher tolerances and may drink more to feel drunk.
Hair Color and Alcohol Tolerance
Hair color has not been shown to have a link with alcohol tolerance, though some sources may make this false claim.
The belief may stem from the idea that people with lighter eyes tend to have lighter hair. There is weak evidence that people with light eyes have a higher tendency to abuse alcohol.
Eye Color and Alcohol Tolerance
Some studies have shown that alcohol abuse problems may be greater in individuals with light eyes compared to individuals with dark eyes.
These types of studies should be taken with a grain of salt, however, because some only tested caucasian individuals who are in the prison system. Since the sample was not a random sample from the broader population, the study may be prone to selection bias. Also, the effects seen were small and only mentioned alcohol abuse, not tolerance.
Despite the initial weak evidence, a newer study from 2015 may have replicated the results in a broader population. So, while alcohol abuse could be higher in people with light-color eyes, we do not know if that is linked to tolerance.
Weight and Alcohol Tolerance
Weight has been linked to increased alcohol tolerance, with people reporting that they feel significantly drunker after losing weight.
A person’s weight makes a difference because alcohol is more distributed throughout heavier bodies. An amount of alcohol will not cause the blood-alcohol content (BAC) to rise as much in a heavy person compared to how the same amount could affect a lighter person.
Age and Alcohol Tolerance
Alcohol tolerance decreases with age.
As people get older, the distribution of weight shifts from water-based cells to fat-based cells. Since high water content dilutes alcohol, it tends to lower BAC.
Therefore, as people age, the intoxicating effects of alcohol become more noticeable. Since a person becomes intoxicated more easily with age, this may decrease how much they drink over time.
The Complications of a Higher Alcohol Tolerance
It might sound more desirable to have a high alcohol tolerance, but it is not. Someone with high tolerance needs to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects, and if they are drinking to get drunk, this may cause them to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol.
Some examples of the negative impacts of having a high tolerance to alcohol include:
- Being legally drunk without realizing it
- Liver and kidney problems
- Being prone to drink heavily
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol consumption, help is available. Contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help. Take the first step toward a healthier future, call today.
Bassett, Jonathan; et al. “Eye Color Predicts Alcohol Use in Two Archival Samples.” 2001. Accessed Sept 12, 2019.
MayoClinic. “Alcohol: Weighing risks and potential benefits.” 2018. Accessed September 12, 2019.
Medline Plus. “Ethanol Poisoning: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” 2016. Accessed 2019.
Sulovari, Arvis; et al. “Eye Color: A Potential Indicator of Alcohol Dependence Risk in European Americans.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2015. Accessed September 12, 2019.