Applying the General Adaptation Theory (see the Allergies module) to addiction, we see that frequent toxic biological imbalances can produce a tolerance, especially in addiction-susceptible people. This forms the physical basis for addiction.


Some substances are highly toxic even in small amounts. There are “designer drugs” that will produce a high from a dose of 1 microgram (1/28,000,000 ounce). Others are nontoxic in normal quantities but are toxic or psychoactive in unusually high amounts. Also, some people are far more sensitive to certain chemicals than others.


Ingesting or producing a toxin or a toxic excess of any substance will cause the body to react swiftly to do everything in its power to rid the body of this danger, or to restore a balance. With repeated excess of the substance, the body usually learns to metabolize or excrete it more effectively, or the target cells become less sensitive to the drug. In the treatment of chemical dependency there are even programs and facilities to help an alcoholic or drug addict through this detoxification period.

If you have received a pleasurable mood change as a result of the toxin, as your body adapts you must take in or create more and more of the substance to get the same effects. You have to drink more to get the same high. That, in turn, stimulates more drinking, etc. We call this a tolerance.

Eventually, in the degenerative phase the body may lose its ability to detoxify, and a “reverse tolerance” develops where a smaller quantity of the toxic substance will produce more reaction, although not always pleasant.


Some substances produce a very rapid tolerance, called tachyphylaxis. LSD is an example of this. After three days of regular use it loses its effect, although not using it for a few days will restore sensitivity.


Other substances produce an effect like starting a wood fire. They may start slowly with hardly any progress and then suddenly produce an increased effect. Cocaine, for example, may suddenly begin causing convulsions at the same dose that previously produced just a high.

For information on detoxification and withdrawal, see the Withdrawal module.

Tolerance, see also: Addiction, Alcoholism, Allergies, Bingeing, Biochemistry, Constipation, Craving, Drugs, Exercise & activity, Fantasy, Neurotransmitters, Progression, Purging, Unmanageability, Withdrawal.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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