What Is The Difference Between Alcohol Dependency And Alcohol Tolerance?

Alcohol and boy

What Is The Difference Between Alcohol Dependency And Alcohol Tolerance?


Alcohol dependency has two key markers. The first is a tolerance to alcohol. The second is the body going through withdrawals when there is a reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed. Alcohol tolerance is one aspect of alcohol dependency. They are not the same thing.


In the DSM there are 11 factors that address the psychological addiction and physical dependence of alcohol use disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports physical dependence is a component of addiction. They claim you can be physically dependent on alcohol without having psychological dependence. Psychological dependence is the mental obsession with alcohol.


The two keys markers of physical dependence are tolerance and withdrawal. The body naturally builds a tolerance over time. This means a higher intake of alcohol is required to produce the same effects. Tolerance can develop after a physical addiction to alcohol, or tolerance can lead to addiction.  A tolerance to alcohol occurs over time as more alcohol is consumed.


When an alcohol abuser stops drinking the signs of withdrawal kick in. They may continue to drink to avoid feeling these symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety and shakiness to seizures and delirium tremens. Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Individuals who are withdrawing from alcohol should be closely monitored.


Alcohol dependence occurs when an individual needs to drink any amount of alcohol to avoid withdrawal symptoms or to be able to carry out normal daily functions and responsibilities.

Here are some indicators that may suggest you are dependent on alcohol:

  • It is hard to stop drinking once you start.
  • You have a compulsive need to drink.
  • You have feeling of anxiety or depression.
  • You have physical withdrawal symptoms like sweating, shaking, or nausea that cease when you drink alcohol.
  • You worry where your next drink will come from.
  • You plan social, family, and work events around alcohol.
  • It’s hard for you to stop drinking for a few days.


Alcohol tolerance is one ingredient in alcohol dependency. If you or a loved one have signs of increased alcohol tolerance or withdrawals, you may need help. Everyone has the resiliency and capacity to change. Willingness is the first step. Reaching out to a treatment facility to support you as you address your alcohol dependence can be a loving gift. You are not alone.


At Simple Recovery, we maintain a simple goal for our residents: learn how to live sober. Our multi-phase program is structured to rebuild life for each resident through clinical therapy, holistic recovery, and integration to either school, work, or volunteering. For information on our programs of treatment for addiction and dual diagnosis, call us today: 888-743-0490