The ability to ‘hold one’s liquor’ indicates risk of developing alcohol problems

When I was starting out on my drinking career around 14/15 years old, I prided myself on my ability to hold my drink or as they say in the US to hold my liquor. It made me feel like a man for some reason especially as I could easily drink grown men under the table. Was this due to my budding alcoholism? Did this innate ability to drink large amounts of alcohol mark me out as at risk for future alcoholism?


A study from last year  showed that an ability to “hold one’s liquor” is likely to become a risk factor for longer-term problems as tolerance to alcohol develops.

“People who feel less impaired after drinking are at increased risk for developing AUDs,” said William R. Corbin, associate professor and director of clinical training in the department of psychology at Arizona State University. “A low subjective response (SR)  to alcohol may result from differences in drinking history.”

It should be noted that this low SR precedes the development of alcohol problems, as distinct from acquired tolerance – whereby individuals feel less intoxicated than they used to at the same level of consumption –  is a symptom in itself.

This study examined the unique role of initial SR and tolerance in a sample of heavy drinking young adults.

Corbin and his colleagues examined associations between early subjective response and acquired tolerance, and both drinking behavior and alcohol-related problems, within a sample of 113 heavy drinking young adults (75 men, 38 women) who had volunteered for a clinical trial of naltrexone in combination with brief motivational counseling.

“Consistent with the one prior study on this topic, we found that both initial SR and tolerance were related to drinking behavior, with heavier drinking among those with a low initial SR and greater acquired tolerance,” said Corbin.

“The participants in our sample were young heavy drinkers who had not yet passed through the peak period of risk for alcohol use disorders (AUDs),” said Corbin. “We speculate that protection against alcohol-related problems among young heavy drinkers with a low SR may allow them to continue to drink more heavily as they miss the ‘stop’ signal to cease drinking. A continued escalation in heavy drinking may ultimately contribute to an increased risk for AUDs.”

Corbin said this study provides further evidence for differential roles of initial SR and acquired tolerance. “Whereas both were associated with drinking behavior, only initial SR was related to AUDs among heavy drinkers with considerable acquired tolerance,” he said.

“In this study, the responses measured are primarily sedative and unpleasant, hence playing a stronger protective role in individuals who have negative responses to alcohol. However, and as noted by the authors, this sample is characterized by heavy drinkers who may differ in terms of their genetic make up and predisposition to problem drinking”.sujective rep

“In addition,” said Corbin, “there is evidence that individuals at increased risk for alcohol problems, such as heavy drinkers and those with a positive family history of alcoholism, experience a heightened stimulant response to alcohol in addition to a blunted response to more negative impairing effects.”



Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. “The ability to ‘hold one’s liquor’ indicates risk of developing alcohol problems.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2013. <>.