Tolerance vs. Reverse Tolerance

Drug tolerance is a condition where the body builds up a resistance to the effects of a drug, leading to the need for higher doses to achieve the same effects. Drug tolerance is commonly experienced by people with substance use disorders.

However, there is also a rare condition known as ‘reverse tolerance’ where some individuals experience the opposite effect – the body becomes increasingly sensitive to a drug over time.

This condition is not well known. Most people don’t even know what reverse tolerance is. People experiencing it may assume that they just have a low tolerance to drugs, but it can be a sign of something much more serious.

In this blog, 1st Step Behavioral Health will answer the question: What is reverse tolerance?

What is Reverse Tolerance?

Reverse tolerance, also known as sensitization, is a phenomenon where an individual becomes increasingly sensitive to the effects of a substance with repeated use. This is different from drug tolerance, where the opposite effect occurs.

With drug tolerance, a person needs to use larger amounts of a drug to feel the same effects. With reverse tolerance, a person experiences more substantial effects on smaller doses.

Which Drugs Can Reverse Tolerance Happen With?

Reverse tolerance can occur with several drugs, including alcohol, cocaine, opiates, and cannabis. In some cases, reverse tolerance can occur after just one use, while in others, it may take years of repeated use before it becomes noticeable. Amphetamines are another category of drugs where reverse tolerance has been observed1.

For example, heavy cannabis users may start to experience reverse tolerance, where lower doses of cannabis produce the same effects that previously required higher doses. Note that this condition is still not fully understood.

It’s important to remember that we do not yet know which other drugs may be subject to the phenomenon of reverse tolerance. Just because you do not see a drug listed below, it doesn’t means someone cannot experience reverse tolerance to it.

Just some drugs users may experience reverse tolerance with, include:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Opioids/Opiates
  • Marijuana

What Are The Symptoms of Reverse Tolerance?

You might be wondering, what is reverse tolerance like? How do I know if I am experiencing it? Individuals who experience reverse tolerance may start experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, tremors, and even seizures. Moreover, they may begin to feel intoxicated even when using smaller doses, leading to self-harm or accidents.

In some cases, reverse tolerance can be dangerous since it puts individuals at risk of overdose. This is because, with unpredictable drug sensitivity, a previously tolerable dose of a drug can become overwhelming, leading to an overdose.

There is no specific treatment for reverse tolerance. Stopping drug use altogether is the only surefire way to alleviate the symptoms. By avoiding drug use, the body can reset its sensitivity, and tolerance levels can return to normal. For people trying to overcome addiction, it is essential to seek professional help, including pharmacological and behavioral therapies that can support recovery.

Some symptoms of reverse tolerance include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

What is Reverse Tolerance and How Can It Be Avoided?

In summary, reverse tolerance is a rare condition where the body becomes increasingly sensitive to a drug’s effects with repeated use. While it may appear to be a low tolerance to drugs, it can be a sign of something more serious.

The symptoms of reverse tolerance can be severe and, in some cases, increase the risk of overdose. It is essential to seek help from medical professionals to receive the support required for recovery.

Avoiding drug use altogether seems to be the only sure way to reduce or eliminate symptoms. With time, tolerance levels can return to normal. Overall, educating oneself about the risks of drug use and seeking professional help when needed is crucial to achieving a healthier life.

Let’s Take the 1st Step Together

1st Step Behavioral Health has over 22 years of experience helping people like you or your loved one overcome addiction and mental health disorders. Give us a call at (855) 425-4846 with any questions you have about mental health or addiction treatment or our facility. You are also welcome to submit your health insurance info for benefits verification using our confidential form here.

Chronic amphetamine: tolerance and reverse tolerance reflect different behavioral actions of the drug. N J Leith, R Kuczenski (1981)

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