Drug tolerance is a condition that tends to develop into severe substance use disorders and a cycle of addiction. Often people dismiss this and are of the misconception that it does not require treatment.

Pathfinders Recovery Centers in Arizona and Colorado run with the motto of providing support and assistance to clients at any and every stage of addiction and recovery. Earlier treatment of tolerance and dependence leads to greater chances of lasting results.

This helps with living a happy life free from the weight and burden of drug tolerance and addiction.

What Is Drug Tolerance?

The resistance to a drug’s effects on the body after its repeated usage is called drug tolerance. Once tolerance is developed they need a higher dosage for the same impact. However, tolerance to this new dosage develops just as quickly, leading to the cycle repeating.

Drug tolerance can lead to dependence and addiction. It is important to identify when a person’s body develops tolerance to heavy medication such as opioid painkillers. Early identification can lead to early treatment and reversal so it doesn’t progress into dependence and addiction.

What Is Drug Tolerance

The Clinical Definition of Drug Tolerance

The clinical definition of drug tolerance can be stated as the acquired insensitivity to a certain drug after repeated use.

It initially begins as tolerance or reduced efficacy of a certain dosage of medication. For example, your painkiller might not feel as effective as it was when you started taking it. Or you might lay awake even though you took the prescribed dosage of medication for your insomnia.

There are several different types of drug tolerance. It can be classified as follows

  • Innate: A type of tolerance that is present inherently.
  • Acute/Tachyphylaxis: Rapidly developing tolerance that increases as you increase the dosage of the substance. A good example of this is nicotine.
  • Dispositional/Chronic: This develops slowly and is often the kind that is developed by those suffering from substance use disorders.
  • Cross tolerance: Tolerance is developed towards other substances automatically once it has formed towards a different drug. For example, tolerance towards benzodiazepines and barbiturates in people suffering from alcohol use disorders. This is because they affect the same neurotransmitter system (GABA).

How Does Drug Tolerance Develop?

The mechanisms of drug tolerance involve several pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic processes.

In pharmacokinetic/metabolic tolerance, the body increases the rate of metabolism for a drug to enhance its removal from the body. This develops due to repeated administration of the same dosage over a certain period. Metabolic tolerance might develop as a result of changes in the following things:

  • Absorption (through thickening of the stomach lining)
  • Metabolism (induction of several enzymes)
  • Excretion of the drug from the body

Types of common drugs for which metabolic tolerance is developed are opioids, barbiturates, and alcohol.

Pharmacodynamic or functional tolerance develops in the sites and receptors where the drug acts. The number of receptor sites in the target areas reduces over time, resulting in decreased effects of drugs. Examples of drugs that encounter functional tolerance are morphine and caffeine.

What Are the Signs of Drug Tolerance

What Are the Signs of Drug Tolerance?

If you note the following signs in yourself or your loved ones, it might be a sign of the development of drug tolerance. People that are prescribed painkillers or psychiatric medication depend on that dosage to help them function in their day-to-day life.

Once drug tolerance begins to develop, the following signs may be notable:

  • Increased irritability and mood swings
  • Thinking or talking about wanting to increase the dosage of medication
  • Increasing the dosage of medication without consulting the doctor
  • Physical signs like indigestion, severe pain, or reappearance of mental disorder symptoms
  • Changes in behavior
  • Self-isolation

Identifying drug tolerance can be tough. If someone develops tolerance, the best way to deal with it is to consult the doctors who prescribed the medication. Pathfinders Recovery Centers Treatment Center has different regimes and specialists to help with the tolerance and addiction to prescription drugs. They help clients deal with the physical and psychological aspects of drug tolerance to help them recover from their pain.

Can Drug Tolerance Be Dangerous?

Drug tolerance is harmful because it causes people to increase the dosage of the drug they are using. An increased dosage can harm their body or/and lead to addiction.

People often start taking recreational drugs and develop a tolerance for them over time. This results in them having to bump their doses to achieve the same effects.

Seemingly irrelevant increases in these doses might lead to addiction and the development of substance use disorders. Substance use disorders may lead to drug overdose and untimely death.

For prescription drugs, tolerance is just as dangerous. People often bump up their dosages on their own, without consulting their doctors. This also leads to substance use disorders if not timely identified and treated.

Prescription drug use disorders are extremely detrimental to the mind and body and are harder to recover from. As they are often started to treat an illness or chronic pain.

Misconceptions And Myths About Drug Tolerance

“One must only seek treatment when necessary.”

Oftentimes, people hesitate while seeking treatment for their drug tolerance. This is because they believe that help is only available to those people who suffer from severe addiction. The earlier the treatment, the higher the chances of complete recovery.

“Addiction is a choice.”

Addiction is not something that affects everyone who consumes drugs recreationally or prescribed. High-risk populations for drug tolerance and addiction include:

  • Those with family history and genetic predisposition
  • The occurrence of other mental or physical health disorders.

“If one becomes dependent or addicted to a substance, it denotes moral failure.”

As mentioned before, drug tolerance develops as a result of metabolic, genetic, and environmental factors. It is not a moral failure on the part of anyone who falls victim to it.

Several different detox programs and support for chronic pain and mental health disorders are available at both our Pathfinders locations. At each facility the clinicians and staff work together to make sure the clients receive the best treatment possible. The environment is designed so that it nurtures and supports them.

How To Prevent Drug Tolerance

How To Prevent Drug Tolerance

There is no fixed set of rules to prevent drug tolerance. As mentioned before, tolerance may develop in several different ways and through several different mechanisms.

When a doctor prescribes a medication that tends to develop tolerance from the body, they closely monitor doses and reactions. In case a patient shows signs of developing tolerance, they switch medications and give drug holidays to prevent drug tolerance.

A good example of this is prescribed drug holidays from the anti-Parkinson’s disorder drug Levodopa. Doctors closely monitor patients with Parkinson’s disease for complications produced by Levodopa. They then prescribe drug holidays to reverse these effects.

Tolerance vs Dependence vs Addiction

Drug tolerance is merely the acquired resistance of the human body to the effects of drugs. Tolerance, if left untreated or ignored, might progress into dependence.

The effects of psychological and physical dependence on drugs differ from each other. When a person is dependent on a certain drug or medication, their body’s functionality becomes dependent on that drug. They must consume the drug, medicine, or psychoactive substance regularly or they might experience withdrawal symptoms.

Dependence may not always develop into a full-blown addiction. In many cases of people being prescribed medication, their body becomes dependent on them. They may require medical assistance and supervision to gradually taper off their medication, so they don’t develop harmful withdrawal-like symptoms.

Addiction is a state where a person develops a severe mental and physical dependence on a drug or combination of drugs. This renders them unable to function normally in their day-to-day life. Substance Use Disorders compel a person to continuously seek out the drug despite the rapid deteriorative effects it has. Addiction causes detrimental and often lifelong changes to the brain and other organs.

Treatment Options for Drug-Tolerant Clients

The following treatment options are available for individuals who seek recovery from drug tolerance:

  • Medically supervised drug detox
  • Psychological and behavioral counseling
  • Alternative drugs that ease withdrawal symptoms like anti-depressants (Bupropion), anxiolytics (benzodiazepines), etc.
  • Naloxone, Naltrexone, and Methadone for opioid withdrawal.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplementation to combat malnutrition caused by neglect.
  • Tapering off prescription medication and prescribing non-narcotic pain medication to those suffering from dependence on prescription drugs.

It is recommended to seek medically-assisted rehabilitation so that you have the best possible chance of recovery rather than trying it on your own.

Is Recovery Possible from Drug Tolerance and Dependence?

Recovery from drug tolerance and dependence has a much higher success rate than recovery from fully developed substance use disorders. Earlier diagnosis and identification of these conditions result in increased chances of reversibility of tolerance. Choosing a good rehabilitation facility is important.

At Pathfinders Recovery Centers, clients are reminded to never downplay their pain at any level. They are provided a variety of therapy, counseling, detox, and recovery programs catered to each client’s individual needs and health status.


  • 7580 E Gray Rd Suite 201 Scottsdale, AZ 85260
  • (877) 224-0761
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