Deliberate induction of alcohol tolerance: empirical introduction to a novel health risk


Julia A. Martinez, Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, 200 South 7th Street, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. E-mail:


Aims  Alcohol tolerance is a hallmark indicator of alcohol dependence. Even so, the allure of peers' admiration for having the ability to drink heavily may lead some adolescents and young adults to practice, or ‘train’, to increase their tolerance (particularly at US colleges, where heavy drinking is highly prevalent and central to the social culture). This is a potential health hazard that has not been documented empirically. Thus, we initiated a study of tolerance ‘training’ and its association to risky and heavy drinking.

Design, setting and participants  A cross-sectional online survey of 990 college student life-time drinkers at a large Midwestern US university.

Findings  Of the sample, 9.9% (n = 97) reported deliberately ‘training’ to increase tolerance. On average, they reported increasing from approximately seven to 10 US standard drinks in a night prior to ‘training’ to 12–15 drinks at the end of ‘training,’ over approximately 2–3 weeks' duration. Although the proportion of frequent binge drinking among ‘non-trainers’ (34.4%) was similar to national rates, ‘trainers’ were much more likely to be frequent bingers (76.3%; OR = 6.15).

Conclusions  A number of students report deliberately inducing alcohol tolerance, probably directly increasing the risk for alcohol poisoning and other acute harms and/or dependence. This phenomenon might additionally be applicable to other populations, and deserves further study and attention as a potential personal and public health risk. Prevention efforts might aim to reduce the perceived importance of heavy-drinking abilities.