The More You Drink the Higher the Risk For Alcohol Abuse

man drinking a lot of alcohol

People who drink alcohol on a regular basis—at parties, at the bar or at home—often boast of their ability to hold their liquor. Whether they think of it as a sign of toughness or if they are proud of being able to outdo their friends, such people will often gladly show off the fact that it takes more drinks for them to get drunk, or that they are able to consume copious amounts of alcohol without suffering a hangover the next day. While this may have some advantages in the short term, it may not actually be such a great thing in the long run, according to a recent study published in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The study, which was conducted as a collaboration between researchers at Arizona State University and Yale University, involved an analysis of the drinking patterns of 113 young adults, 75 men, and 38 women. All of the study participants were heavy drinkers, consuming an average of 24 drinks per week. To meet the standard definition of “heavy drinking,” a man would have to consume five drinks on a single occasion while a woman would have to consume four. The goal of the study was to investigate for associations between early subjective response to alcohol—which is essentially being able to drink without feeling the effects of alcohol as greatly as others do—and acquired tolerance to alcohol, as well as to drinking behavior and the development of alcohol-related problems. Studies performed in the past have demonstrated that people with a low subjective response are at greater risk for developing problems of alcohol abuse or dependence and the new research supports this conclusion. The people whose subjective response to alcohol was lower experienced fewer problems associated with drinking, such as:

  • Encountering drinking-related problems at work
  • Experiencing hangovers
  • Becoming involved in physical fights
  • Attending work or school high or drunk
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Passing out, fainting, or blacking out

As a result of the fact that these people don’t have to deal with short-term consequences such as these, they can get away with drinking far more alcohol, but this also leads to greater risks of developing a drinking problem or even of becoming an alcoholic. Along with alcohol dependency, they are also more prone to developing other alcohol-related health issues such as liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or alcohol poisoning. Further, they are more likely to drink and drive, since they may think they are sober enough to get behind the wheel despite having a blood alcohol concentration far in excess of the legal limit. Having a low subjective response to alcohol means that it takes far more drinks to get drunk, and such a person will often consume enormous quantities of alcohol which would put anyone else under the table. This condition of becoming increasingly resistant to alcohol is known as an acquired tolerance.

Resistance To Alcohol As Risk Factor For Alcoholism

It is a common misconception that “being able to hold your liquor” means that a person is less liable to become an alcoholic. In light of the results of the ASU/Yale study, it is clear that this simply is not the case. On the contrary, a high tolerance for alcohol is actually used as one of the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence. The new study concluded that there is a relationship between initial subjective response and drinking behavior—that is, people with a lower response to alcohol will tend to drink more—and that lower response is associated with increased levels of acquired tolerance.

The researchers noted, however, that the accuracy of such a study is limited by the fact that participants must be at least 21 years of age. As a result, some of those with a low subjective response may have already developed an acquired tolerance as a result of heavy drinking which was begun during teenage years. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether the lower response is a result of genetics or behavioral history.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.