A tolerance break is mainly a phrase you’ll hear from marijuana smokers. Essentially, it means to stop using the drug for a specific time with the intent of lowering your tolerance. Why would you do that? When using cannabis, the more you smoke, the more you build up a tolerance for it. Increased tolerance can result in feeling less euphoric or relaxed.

Regular marijuana smokers tend to smoke because they like the way tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive ingredient in the drug — makes them feel. It alters their perception.

However, over time, as their bodies develop a tolerance, the “high” they once experienced decreases.

This can cause a feeling of frustration or depression.  Taking a “T” break tends to reset brain receptors resulting in a once again feeling of being “high” when marijuana is smoked again.

While the term references marijuana users, many individuals who consume other drugs may embark on a similar journey. Over time, medications or drug consumption will stop working. A user can take extreme levels of their drug of choice to no avail.

Not only is this dangerous, but it can create an even more significant tolerance. Alcohol drinkers, opioid users, and stimulant users sometimes partake in this event to help bring their tolerance back to reality. Let’s take a look at this more in-depth below.

What Is Tolerance? 

Tolerance is a medical term that refers to the body adapting to regular substance use over time. It’s also called drug insensitivity because the drug may seem to have diminishing effects over time as the body gets used to it. You may be able to counteract tolerance by increasing your dose. This will increase the drug’s effects again, but it will only be temporary, and it’s likely to accelerate your buildup of tolerance. 

Tolerance is an important consideration in the prescription of certain medications. If you build up a tolerance to a prescription drug, it will become less effective, and your symptoms may return. In some cases, tolerance to one drug may cause you to become tolerant to similar drugs, which is called cross-tolerance. Tolerance usually occurs after a period of consistent drug use. In some cases, doctors may advise you to take a break from a drug to lower your risk of tolerance. Drugs used as needed may also avoid tolerance because they aren’t taken consistently. 

Among recreational drug users, tolerance can make it so that you need higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects that you experienced when you first started. Marijuana can cause tolerance in recreational and medical users. But many other drugs can cause tolerance as well. 

What Causes Tolerance?

Tolerance is caused by biochemical changes in the brain and body after consistent drug use. Drugs can cause tolerance in several ways, but it often has to do with the number of receptors you have for the drug. Receptors are like parking spots on your nerve cells that chemical messengers in your brain bind to in order to create their effects. Under normal circumstances, natural brain chemicals are released from one nerve cell to the next, and that’s how your brain communicates with your body and vice versa. 

Drugs typically work by manipulating your brain’s chemical messaging system. For instance, cocaine blocks the removal of dopamine, which causes a buildup. More dopamine binds to dopamine receptors, causing intense effects. Over time, your body may adapt by producing fewer receptors. Fewer receptors mean weaker effects. A cocaine tolerance break might allow your body to readapt to lower dopamine levels.

This is similar to what happens when you become tolerant of marijuana. Marijuana tolerance is tolerance to the THC, which binds to cannabinoid type I receptors in the brain. After regular use, your brain may produce fewer of these receptors. A weed tolerance break may allow your brain to adapt to low THC levels. In some cases, marijuana that’s lower in THC could also lower your tolerance.

Your body may also adapt by processing the drug more efficiently. This may involve producing more enzymes that can break down the drug. If the drug is processed and removed more quickly, it may have a shorter duration of action or weaker effects altogether.

Some drugs, like meth, increase the release of certain natural brain chemicals. Your brain can produce only so much of a drug like dopamine before you need to rest and recuperate. This could cause a brief period of tolerance. 

Does Tolerance Mean You're Addicted?

Tolerance is often associated with chemical dependence and addiction, but it’s not synonymous with addiction. Tolerance can occur after normal prescription drug use. Even with recreational drug use, it could occur after a period of consistent use without a substance use disorder. However, tolerance is a common sign of a substance use disorder. If it occurs along with other signs like needing to use the drug more and more, risky drug use, and neglecting responsibilities, it could indicate addiction.

Can You Take Tolerance Breaks For Other Drugs?

Some people wonder if taking a tolerance break from another drug will have the same effect. This varies depending on the drug. Addiction experts recommend that people who have built up a tolerance to an addictive drug should think more about quitting the drug rather than just taking a break from it.

Take alcohol, for example. Maybe you started out drinking a few beers to get that buzz you like so much. Now, years later, you’re drinking 12 beers to feel buzzed. Plus, you’re likely feeling the effects of drinking so much alcohol, since it is full of toxins.

Rather than wonder if you should take a tolerance break, perhaps think about stopping drinking entirely. The long-term effects of alcohol on one’s mental and physical health aren’t so great.

By taking a tolerance break, you’ll have to contend with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be dangerous. Also, you’ll soon develop another tolerance and be in the same boat, which isn’t healthy.

The same goes for other drugs, including cocaine, meth, benzodiazepines, and so on. Many of these drugs will produce dangerous withdrawal symptoms if you quit them abruptly.

Quitting cold turkey is not recommended. Even if you wean yourself off an addictive substance over time, you still risk experiencing some daunting withdrawal symptoms – which is why detoxing should always be done under the care of a medical professional.

Rather than take a break from harmful drugs, consider working with an addiction specialist to create a taper schedule to gradually and safely get off the drug. This way, you’ll have an easier time contending with uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms. You’ll also have the opportunity to work on any underlying emotional issues, such as anxiety or depression.

How do Tolerance Breaks Work?

To build up tolerance means that your body gets used to a certain amount of the drug, like marijuana, for example. The body becomes “tolerant” of a certain amount and needs more to produce a “high” feeling.

Neurologically, this process is called downregulation. This means that after you’ve been smoking for a while, your brain decreases its THC receptors because it’s trying to become rebalanced. It’s getting the artificial THC hit on the CB1 receptors, so it “down regulates.”

When you take a break from smoking marijuana, the brain starts to make some adjustments.

It starts to balance itself out chemically, just like before you started smoking in the first place. Researchers say that with cannabis, it takes about one month for your tolerance to go back to where it was before you started smoking.

Should I Take a Tolerance Break?

If you’re abusing or misusing a drug, you may wonder if you should take a tolerance break. If you speak with an addiction expert, you’ll certainly be directed to think more about stopping use rather than just taking a break from it. This goes for alcohol, stimulants, benzos, barbiturates, and opioids.

Experts assert that for many drugs, your tolerance decreases, and when you reintroduce that drug, tolerance may go right back to where it was the second time you use. Maybe that first time you reintroduce it to your body, it might give you a more enhanced high feeling. However, after that, your body remembers the tolerance level you had and takes you there.

This frequently happens to smokers who quit for a while and then light up again. They may get a nice buzz from that first cigarette, and then they are addicted right away. Their brain remembers their tolerance and takes them from 0 to 100 very fast. This is why you’ll hear ex-smokers say, “No way. I can’t even have one puff, or I’ll be completely addicted again.”

The same thing is said to occur with other drugs as well.

Tolerance and Opioids

When it comes to opioids, if you take a break from an opioid, lowering your tolerance, you run the risk of overdosing if you start using again. For example, let’s say you’re taking pain pills primarily because you like the way they make you feel. You’re misusing or abusing them. Your tolerance has increased, and you’re taking double what you used to take, yet you’re not really enjoying the feelings as much as you used to. You think maybe you should take a tolerance break.

Be warned that this is very dangerous. First of all, it’s essential to wean off opioids because some of the withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. Second, when your tolerance becomes lower, and you reintroduce the pills into your body, at the same dosage you were taking, it can be too much of a shock to your body. You could overdose and die. This is why tolerance breaks should never be considered for opioids.

The same type of thought goes for the other drugs. Rather than think about taking a break, think about cutting them out of your life entirely. Through a medically supervised detox and treatment program, you can stop using the drugs and go on to live life without feeling like you need a drug to reduce anxiety, feel happy, or numb out.

Even marijuana can have adverse long-term effects despite what some say about the drug.  Those who come to rely on the drug to get through their days report that they feel like they can’t handle life without it. This is an example of addiction. They used to like the feeling it gave them, but now it has become more of a dependence or addiction. And sometimes it causes them to have problems with their family, job, and health.

Tolerance and Stimulants

Stimulants can range from short-term energy boosts, which can lead to long-term alterations of the brain or organ system. The harm can be long-lasting in extreme cases, but it has been documented that any amount of stimulants can cause damage to the user. Since stimulants can be dangerous even in moderation, those who use drugs like Adderall should consider taking a break from the drug.

Many use Adderall as prescribed for medical reasons, and with that said, they may not need it on a daily basis. It’s possible that you can take intermittent breaks to see how useful the drug is for your body.

For others, however, who consume more deadly drugs like methamphetamine, taking a break can lead to undesirable withdrawal effects. What is known as the dopamine dilemma, the withdrawal effects can be debilitating and push an individual to the brink of suicide. In that scenario, we believe that seeking treatment is the most responsible choice.

For those heavily addicted to stimulant drugs, a break is not a viable option, and seeking out treatment is their only choice to mitigate the risks involved. Suicidal thoughts are a normal part of stimulant withdrawal, and those serious about their recovery must seek treatment.

Tolerance and Alcohol

Those who use alcohol in moderation may be walking a slippery slope. Many can consume the elixir socially throughout their lives without any problems. For some, however, they may realize they’ve been drinking too much alcohol and become dependent.

Those who don’t drink too much must consider taking a tolerance break. A tolerance break is necessary to allow the body to readjust and acclimate to no alcohol in the system. It will enable the body to hydrate and stop swelling that is involved with alcohol consumption.

For those who lose all control of their alcohol use, a break will not be enough. Once addiction has been developed, the individual needs serious medical help. Merely stopping alcohol on your own is not enough to deal with tolerance.

Alcohol withdrawal is deadly for those who consume excessive amounts and can cause delirium tremens (DTs) or seizures. These severe disorders can cause death. If you are a heavy drinker who wishes to stop drinking, you must immediately seek out professional help.

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