|Addiction and dependence glossary|
Drug tolerance is a pharmacological concept describing subjects’ reduced reaction to a drug following its repeated use. Increasing its dosage may re-amplify the drug’s effects, however this may accelerate tolerance, further reducing the drug’s effects. Drug tolerance is indicative of drug use but is not necessarily associated with drug dependence or addiction. The process of tolerance development is reversible (e.g., through a drug holiday) and can involve both physiological factors and psychological factors.
One may also develop drug tolerance to side effects, in which case tolerance is a desirable characteristic. A medical intervention that has an objective to increase tolerance (e.g., allergen immunotherapy, in which one is exposed to larger and larger amounts of allergen to decrease one’s allergic reactions) is called drug desensitization.
The opposite concept to drug tolerance is drug reverse tolerance (or drug sensitization), in which case the subject’s reaction or effect will increase following its repeated use. The two notions are not incompatible and tolerance may sometimes lead to reverse tolerance. For example, heavy drinkers initially develop tolerance to alcohol (requiring them to drink larger amounts to achieve a similar effect) but excessive drinking can cause liver damage, which then puts them at risk of intoxication when drinking even very small amounts of alcohol.
Pharmacodynamic tolerance begins when the cellular response to a substance is reduced with repeated use. A common cause of pharmacodynamic tolerance is high concentrations of a substance constantly binding with the receptor, desensitizing it through constant interaction. Other possibilities include a reduction in receptor density (usually associated with receptor agonists), or other mechanisms leading to changes in action potential firing rate. Pharmacodynamic tolerance to a receptor antagonist involves the reverse, i.e., increased receptor firing rate, an increase in receptor density, or other mechanisms.
While most occurrences of pharmacodynamic tolerance occur after sustained exposure to a drug, instances of acute or instant tolerance (tachyphylaxis) can occur.
Pharmacokinetic (metabolic) tolerance
Pharmacokinetics refers to the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of drugs (ADME). All psychoactive drugs are first absorbed into the bloodstream, carried in the blood to various parts of the body including the site of action (distribution), broken down in some fashion (metabolism), and ultimately removed from the body (excretion). All of these factors are very important determinants of crucial pharmacological properties of a drug, including its potency, side effects, and duration of action.
Pharmacokinetic tolerance (dispositional tolerance) occurs because of a decreased quantity of the substance reaching the site it affects. This may be caused by an increase in induction of the enzymes required for degradation of the drug e.g. CYP450 enzymes. This is most commonly seen with substances such as ethanol.
This type of tolerance is most evident with oral ingestion, because other routes of drug administration bypass first-pass metabolism. Enzyme induction is partly responsible for the phenomenon of tolerance, in which repeated use of a drug leads to a reduction of the drug’s effect. However, it is only one of several mechanisms leading to tolerance.
Behavioral tolerance occurs with the use of certain psychoactive drugs, where tolerance to a behavioral effect of a drug, such as increased motor activity by methamphetamine, occurs with repeated use; it may occur through drug-independent learning or as a form of pharmacodynamic tolerance in the brain; the latter mechanism of behavioral tolerance occurs when one learns how to actively overcome drug-induced impairment through practice. Behavioral tolerance is often context-dependent, meaning tolerance depends on the environment in which the drug is administered, and not on the drug itself. Behavioral sensitization describes the opposite phenomenon.
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Despite the importance of numerous psychosocial factors, at its core, drug addiction involves a biological process: the ability of repeated exposure to a drug of abuse to induce changes in a vulnerable brain that drive the compulsive seeking and taking of drugs, and loss of control over drug use, that define a state of addiction. … A large body of literature has demonstrated that such ΔFosB induction in D1-type [nucleus accumbens] neurons increases an animal’s sensitivity to drug as well as natural rewards and promotes drug self-administration, presumably through a process of positive reinforcement … Another ΔFosB target is cFos: as ΔFosB accumulates with repeated drug exposure it represses c-Fos and contributes to the molecular switch whereby ΔFosB is selectively induced in the chronic drug-treated state.41. … Moreover, there is increasing evidence that, despite a range of genetic risks for addiction across the population, exposure to sufficiently high doses of a drug for long periods of time can transform someone who has relatively lower genetic loading into an addict.
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Substance-use disorder: A diagnostic term in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) referring to recurrent use of alcohol or other drugs that causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. Depending on the level of severity, this disorder is classified as mild, moderate, or severe.
Addiction: A term used to indicate the most severe, chronic stage of substance-use disorder, in which there is a substantial loss of self-control, as indicated by compulsive drug taking despite the desire to stop taking the drug. In the DSM-5, the term addiction is synonymous with the classification of severe substance-use disorder.
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