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Tolerance and Withdrawal Syndrome

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Tolerance and Withdrawal Syndrome

Addiction can be a serious condition for some, and it has the potential to turn a low harm activity into something that can destroy lives. Many stories in the news revolve around the catastrophic effects of drug addiction, and similarly, those addicted to gambling can also face dire situations.

Addiction usually comes about due to taking or engaging in a behaviour in excess. With consistent use and abuse, the behaviour causes both tolerance and withdrawal symptoms to develop, especially when the person stops performing the addictive behaviour.

One of the main requirements for a diagnosis of addiction is the build-up of tolerance and the presence of withdrawal symptoms upon stopping. So, let’s define tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

Drug Addiction Bottle Tolerance StudySmarterDifferent forms of addiction, Flaticon

Tolerance Definition Psychology

Tolerance describes the situation wherein the body has adapted to a substance, drug or behaviour, and taking the same amount will no longer have the same or strong effects (for example, drinking alcohol or smoking nicotine). In fact, you will likely feel ‘normal’ taking the drugs and will need to take a lot more, or you will need to engage in more of the behaviour to elicit the same euphoric or relaxed feelings.

The body has adapted to the situation and developed ways to metabolise the drug faster. As we mentioned above, the new normal for your body is being engaged in drug use (or behaviour, such as gambling).

Without it, your body will experience withdrawal symptoms, which we will discuss further later.

Types of Tolerance in Psychology

There are different types of tolerance, but it’s enough to know about the definition and examples for your exam.

However, for those interested, tolerance typically is divided into different clinical classes:

  • Acute
  • Behavioural
  • Dispositional
  • Inverse
  • Reverse
  • Select
  • Pharmacodynamic
  • Pharmacokinetic

Each one affects how much a drug or behaviour affects your system/body and the type of tolerance it develops.

A clear example of tolerance developing is in the case of heroin addiction. Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, a highly addictive substance. Upon an initial dose of heroin, the euphoric sensation is enough to encourage most to continue taking the drug.

However, after a few doses of the same amount, they find the effects are not as strong, and to achieve that euphoric sensation again, they need to take more of the drug.

This urge is the result of developing tolerance.

Interestingly, tolerance is not always a sure thing. Whilst a tolerance to a certain drug may develop in one person, another may have no issues at all and can engage in the behaviour without their body adapting too quickly to it, perhaps due to vulnerabilities.

What are vulnerabilities in addiction?

Addiction vulnerability is where someone is more likely to develop an addiction to a substance or behaviour due to pre-existing conditions, behaviours, or genetic influences. It describes the risk of developing an addiction if they engage in addictive behaviours.

For example, both dopamine and serotonin have been linked to addiction due to how the neurotransmitters affect the reward systems, behaviours and how they control impulsivity. Dopamine itself elicits feelings of pleasure, and serotonin is associated with control.

Abnormal serotonin levels affect the ability to modulate impulsive activities. Abnormal impulsivity levels is a known risk factor for developing an addiction (Kirby et al., 2011). So, any underlying issues affecting the modulation of serotonin will influence the risk of developing an addiction.

Genetic vulnerabilities are also known to exist, so some people can have a history of addiction in their families.

For example, a person’s parents may have been addicted to alcohol, so the person avoids alcohol to avoid the risk of developing an addiction.

Headache Addiction Tolerance StudySmarterVulnerability, Flaticon

Withdrawal Symptoms Definition Psychology

Withdrawal symptoms in psychology are when the body begins to experience uncomfortable (and sometimes even painful) effects when a person reduces or stops taking a substance or engaging in addictive behaviours. When the person takes the drug or participates in the behaviour once more, the withdrawal symptoms stop.

As the body has adapted to the drug and adopted the drugged state as the new ‘normal’, it can no longer operate without it, resulting in physical and emotional symptoms.

These symptoms usually manifest as:

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Shakiness

  • Fever

  • Muscle pain

  • Tenderness

  • Irritability

  • Anger

  • Fatigue

  • Constipation

  • Cravings (appetite loss or increased appetite)

Different addictions cause different symptoms. Someone addicted to nicotine will not experience the same withdrawal symptoms as someone addicted to alcohol or even chocolate (which can also be an addiction, believe it or not).

For example, someone with an alcohol addiction will suffer the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Shaky hands
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Let’s compare that to withdrawal symptoms resulting from a nicotine addiction:

  • Irritability
  • Increased hunger/appetite
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation

We can see that although they have similar symptoms, there are specific symptoms unique to each addiction, some more so than others.

Despite the ramifications of addiction, many people continue to indulge in these habits. Some can have long-lasting effects (for instance, smoking and lung cancer, alcohol and liver disease). Yet, despite this, they still cannot stop, and this is because of how powerful addiction can be.

Tolerance Withdrawal Symptoms Man Health StudySmarterMedical examination, Flaticon


Tolerance and Withdrawal Syndrome - Key Takeaways

  • Tolerance describes the situation wherein the body has essentially adapted to a substance, drug or behaviour, and taking the same amount will no longer have the same or strong effects. One will likely feel ‘normal’ taking the drugs and will need to take a lot more, or engage in more of the behaviour, to elicit the same euphoric or relaxed feelings.
  • An example of tolerance developing is in cases of someone taking heroin. Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, a highly addictive substance. Upon an initial dose of heroin, the euphoric sensation is enough to encourage most to continue taking the drug. However, following doses are not enough to achieve the same high; a tolerance to heroin has been built.
  • Withdrawal symptoms in psychology are when the body begins to experience uncomfortable (and sometimes even painful) effects when a person reduces or stops taking a substance or engaging in addictive behaviours. When the person takes the drug or participates in the behaviour once more, the withdrawal symptoms stop.
  • These symptoms usually manifest as headaches, nausea, vomiting, shakiness etc.
  • These symptoms vary depending on the addiction (an alcoholic quitting drinking will have different withdrawal symptoms to someone quitting smoking).
  • Addiction vulnerability is where someone is more likely to develop an addiction to a substance or behaviour due to pre-existing conditions, behaviours, or genetic influences. It describes the risk of developing an addiction if they engage in addictive behaviours.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tolerance and Withdrawal Syndrome

Typically, tolerance develops with consistent and excess use of a substance or behaviour, where the body has adapted and the drugged state is the new 'normal'. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the person stops taking the substance, and their tolerance levels demand the drug to achieve this 'new normal' state, resulting in symptoms. One exists as a result of the other. 

Tolerance is where the body becomes used to the substance or behaviour, achieving a new normal state. Withdrawal symptoms are where the person stops taking the substance or engaging in the behaviour, and has symptoms (such as headaches, nausea, and vomiting) as a result. They stop once the person takes the substance again. 

Four examples of withdrawal symptoms are:


  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Fatigue

Tolerance describes the situation wherein the body has essentially adapted to a substance, drug or behaviour, and taking the same amount will no longer have the same or strong effects. In fact, you will likely feel 'normal' taking the drugs, and will need to take a lot more, or engage in more of the behaviour, to elicit the same euphoric or relaxed feelings. 

Excessive and consistent use of a substance or engaging excessively and consistently in behaviours (such as gambling).

Final Tolerance and Withdrawal Syndrome Quiz

Question

Taking something in _______ can result in addiction. 

Show answer

Answer

Excess.

Show question

Question

Define tolerance in addiction.

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Answer

Tolerance describes the situation wherein the body has adapted to a substance, drug or behaviour, and taking the exact amount will no longer have the same or strong effects.

Show question

Question

Why does tolerance occur in the body?

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Answer

Because the body has adapted to the substance and can metabolise the drug faster

Show question

Question

What are the different types of tolerance? (try to name three)

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Answer

  • Acute
  • Behavioural
  • Dispositional
  • Inverse
  • Reverse
  • Select
  • Pharmacodynamic
  • Pharmacokinetic

Show question

Question

Give an example of a drug that can lead to tolerance.

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Answer

Heroin. Cocaine. Meth (methamphetamines). Alcohol. Nicotine.

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Question

Can you be addicted to chocolate?

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Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

If a person no longer feels the same euphoric sensation when they take heroin, they have developed a _______.

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Answer

Tolerance.

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Question

Is tolerance always going to occur in a person?

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Answer

No, tolerance can develop differently in individuals. Whilst some develop a tolerance quite quickly, and others don’t.

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Question

What is addiction vulnerability?

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Answer

Addiction vulnerability is where someone is more likely to develop an addiction to a substance or behaviour due to pre-existing conditions, behaviours, or genetic influences. It describes the risk of developing an addiction if they engage in addictive behaviours.

Show question

Question

Can genes affect a person’s risk of developing an addiction?

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Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

Define withdrawal symptoms in addiction.

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Answer

Withdrawal symptoms in psychology are when the body begins to experience uncomfortable (and sometimes even painful) effects when a person reduces or stops taking a substance or engaging in addictive behaviours. When the person takes the drug or participates in the behaviour once more, the withdrawal symptoms stop.

Show question

Question

Name four withdrawal symptoms.

Show answer

Answer

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shakiness
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Tenderness
  • Irritability

Show question

Question

Are withdrawal symptoms universal? Or do they differ depending on the substance a person is addicted to?

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Answer

They differ and are somewhat unique to the drug or behaviour. For instance, shaky hands result from alcohol addiction withdrawal and constipation results from nicotine withdrawal.

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Question

Can withdrawal symptoms be emotional?

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Answer

Yes. People can feel irritable and upset.

Show question

Question

Abnormal levels of impulsivity (possibly due to serotonin abnormalities) are a risk factor for addiction. True or false?

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Answer

True.

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