Are Tolerance Breaks Necessary? Understand the Science

A tolerance break is mainly a phrase you’ll hear from marijuana smokers. Essentially, it means to stop using the drug for a certain period with the intent of lowering your tolerance. Why would you do that? Because with cannabis, the more you smoke, the more you build up a tolerance for it. With more tolerance, it can cause you to feel less of that euphoric or relaxed feeling.

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

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It alters their perception. However, over time, as their bodies develop a tolerance, the “high” they once experienced decreases. This can cause them to feel frustrated or depressed, so taking a “T” break tends to reset their brain receptors, causing them to once again feel that “high” when they start to smoke again.

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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 can vary depending on the drug, but 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. And you’re likely feeling the effects of drinking so much alcohol, as it is full of toxins.

Rather than wonder if you should take a tolerance break, perhaps you can think about stopping drinking entirely. The long-term effects of alcohol on one’s mental and physical health aren’t so great. By just taking a tolerance break, first of all, you’ll have to contend with some really uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be really dangerous. Second, you’ll soon develop another tolerance and be in the same boat, which isn’t serving your highest good.

The same goes for other drugs, including cocaine, meth, benzodiazepines, and so on. Many of these drugs will produce dangerous withdrawal symptoms if you up and quit them suddenly. Quitting cold turkey is not recommended. Even if you wean yourself off an addictive substance over time, you’re still risking 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 that you may be having, 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. It becomes “tolerant” of a certain amount and needs more to produce that “high” feeling you enjoy. 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 balance out. It’s getting the artificial THC hit on the CB1 receptors, so it “down regulates.”

But when you take a break from smoking it, the brain starts to make some adjustments. It starts to balance itself out chemical-wise, 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 the use rather than just taking a break from it. This goes for alcohol, stimulants, benzos, barbiturates, and opioids.

At the same time, experts assert that for many drugs, when your tolerance decreases and then you reintroduce that drug, your tolerance may go right back to where it was the second time you use. Sure, maybe that first time you reintroduce it to your body, it might give you a more enhanced high feeling. However, after that, it’s like your body remembers the tolerance level you were at and takes you right there.

This happens frequently for 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. It’s like 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.

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