Why do I have a high alcohol (etc.) tolerance?
February 9, 2014 4:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm pretty tolerant to any substances I've tried; alcohol, cannabis, and prescription medication always needed higher than average doses on me to procure any effects. I also sober up pretty fast. Just out of curiosity, what does this mean? Does my body do something well? Do I just have a healthy liver?

Disclaimer; I'm in no way a substance abuser. I drink rarely, and besides the occasional joint, other drug experiences were one-offs (or well, three-offs). So I didn't build up tolerance, it's always been like this. I'm not overweight nor tall, in fact, I should gain a few more kilos.
posted by ahtlast93 to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you young? That can make a big difference. Also, I don't claim to be any expert on these matters, but iirc people prone to alcoholism sometimes have a great tolerance to the stuff. They don't get the spins or awful hangovers, so they don't have those things to force them to slow down their drinking. In any case, I wouldn't assume a strong tolerance is a good thing, and I definitely wouldn't take advantage of it too often. (Not that it sounds like you are.) This could be a good reason for you to be MORE careful about your drinking. not less.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:41 AM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

my guess is you haven't gone in very hard to do enough damage. that's good! (i wish i could say the same.) everyone has their limits. when you find out what your limits are do your best to regard them with care. as you get older and have several years of partying under your belt you can maybe handle more from a built up tolerance (as opposed to your natural tolerance) but the recovery is also harsher the next day.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 5:11 AM on February 9, 2014

To be less physical about it, perhaps you have a very strong sense of yourself and the world which absorbs minor fluctuations.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:19 AM on February 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

My mother in law has a similar problem. Because of it she doesn't drink as she can get over the legal limit to drive before she feels any effect. The downside is that when she needed hip replacement surgery pretty much none of the pain killers the doctors gave her really hot the sides and they have her a wide range. she ended up getting through most of her post opp pain on Tylenol. The doctor didn't know why the drugsds didn't work, but she wasn't the first person they had seen with problem.
posted by wwax at 5:20 AM on February 9, 2014

You probably already know this, but be aware most people consciously or unconciously exaggerate the actual effects alcohol and cannabis have on them when in company and act-up to the effects. You might not have an unusually high tolerance but a lower than usual level of social calibration about these things.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 6:00 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am the opposite with prescription medicines--I often get the desired effect at sub-clinical doses, for instance. There's a word for people like me, who are a known entity in medicine, but I can't remember what the word is right now. I'm not at all sure what the bodily mechanism is that leads to this, but I was interested to hear from one of my doctors that it's definitely a known thing that needs to be taken into account in my treatment for things.

From this, I infer that people like you can also exist and it's probably a known thing. But that's the limit of my very limited information.
posted by not that girl at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know that people are taught to use body weight, fat, and gender as general indicators of tolerance. You know what that all correlates with? Liver size. So you may simply have a higher liver size to body weight ratio.

That aside, it also helps to have the alcohol dehydrogenase (there are several genetic variants of this enzyme) necessary to metabolize alcohol and other substances, and the taking other prescription drugs, and so on, will affect the rate at which your body metabolizes alcohol.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:20 AM on February 9, 2014

I'm not surprised by your observation. In truth, there's a great deal of variability in the way people respond to drugs (including medications). See, for example, this review article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine:

"Drug Metabolism and Variability among Patients in Drug Response"

The fact that patients have variable and idiosyncratic responses to medicines is a big headache for pharmaceutical companies, who prefer to have simple dosing guidelines. For another interesting look at this subject, see Over Dose, by Jay S. Cohen, MD.

posted by alex1965 at 8:20 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Any chance you are a redhead? The mutation that causes red hair also affects receptors in the brain. It's very common for redheads to not get much effect from novocaine, for example.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:34 AM on February 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm the same way, OP. Almost universally, drugs, alcohol, etc. (one exception is antiobiotics) just don't affect me very strongly at the usual/prescribed dosages.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:43 AM on February 9, 2014

Best answer: It's possible you're actually feeling exactly the same inebriation as the other people around you, but that you express it differently so assume you're not experiencing the same things.

The behaviours of drunkenness are surprisingly cultural, so it could be that you're not resistant to booze (etc) but that you are resistant to having your behaviour programmed to the same degree as the rest of us.
posted by The Monkey at 2:34 PM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Genetic variations play a large role in how effective the liver is at metabolizing drugs (of all kinds).
This article says 20-90% in the variability of patient response to medication is due to genetics. So maybe you just got lucky DNA.
posted by metahawk at 2:45 PM on February 9, 2014

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