November 13, 2020

When You Can’t Hold Your Liquor “Like a Man”

Men in this society are also socialized to believe that they should be capable of drinking more, and longer, than their peers. So what happens when you can’t “hold your liquor like a man”?

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Table of Contents

Contributors & Editors

Megan Krause

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on July 5, 2023

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In Western culture, boys are raised to be masculine, and often, being masculine translates to being “tough.” Tough in the sense that they should not show emotion, should hide their pain, and should certainly not ask for help.

Men in this society are also socialized to believe that they should be capable of drinking more, and longer, than their peers. So what happens when you can’t “hold your liquor like a man”?

The Myth of Male Tolerance

Throughout history, boys and men have been told that “real men” can drink large quantities of alcohol with little to no ill effect. Even if they did suffer adverse consequences, it was chalked up to boys being boys and often laughed off. The gist of this was that men, in general, have a higher tolerance than women, and therefore the more manly the man, the higher the tolerance. And the higher the capacity for the resulting fallout, such as hangovers, bar fights, romantic problems, or minor legal issues. While biologically, men do have a higher tolerance for alcohol than women, these myths surrounding the male drinking culture can have dangerous outcomes. Especially when a drinking pattern has become established in high school, trouble can loom on the horizon. Compared to college-aged women, college-aged men encounter increased dangers of problem drinking and adverse alcohol-related consequences. There is nothing to suggest that men who can hold large amounts of alcohol are more masculine than their peers. Having a high tolerance can, however, be a warning sign of serious trouble in the making.

When Tolerance Is a Red Flag

Tolerance is about how drunk you feel, not how drunk you are. High tolerance for alcohol is a significant risk factor for alcoholism. If you don’t feel alcohol’s effects as quickly as someone with a lower tolerance, you’re apt to drink more to achieve a buzz. There are many scientific reasons that some people have a bigger capacity for alcohol than others, such as body weight, genetics, age, and hormone balance. Any combination of these things can work together to create a higher tolerance for alcohol. They are not, however, the only reasons that some people can drink more than others. If a young man has the biological components that start him off with a high tolerance and he likes the effects of alcohol, he will probably find himself drinking more than his friends to feel the desired results. This repeated consumption of higher-than-average alcoholic beverages can lead to an even higher tolerance. When this happens, there is a genuine risk of alcohol dependence and, further down the road, full-blown alcoholism.

Signs That Your Drinking Is a Problem

While many young men drink heavily during their late adolescence and college years, as well as in their early 20s, you may begin to worry that your drinking is taking an ominous turn. Especially if you started with a high tolerance, there are warning signs to look for:
  1. You set limits that you consistently cannot meet.  If you regularly start with the resolve to either only have one or two, or no drink at all, and find yourself at the end of the night wondering what happened, that is a frequent early indication that you are losing control of your drinking.
  2. Others make comments about how much you drink.  They may not say you’re an alcoholic, but if you’re known as the “lush” of your group, you have a reputation for being able to hold a lot of liquor. And that you do it frequently. The people around us often notice things before we do, including problematic behaviors and warning signs.
  3. You have alcohol cravings.  The term craving doesn’t necessarily mean that your mouth is watering and your hands are shaking at the idea of a drink. It can be romanticizing an after-work drink with co-workers at happy hour. While there’s nothing wrong with relaxing with a drink, if that’s the only thing getting you through work, that is a problem.
  4. You have become defensive regarding your drinking. If your hackles go up when someone close to you suggests you slow down or take a break, ask yourself: Why? Is it possible they echo your internal concerns, and the thought of not drinking scares you?
  5. Drinking is starting to damage your health and welfare. Moderate drinkers suffer occasional hangovers. If dealing with hangovers has become part of your routine, that is a problem. If it feels strange to wake up without a hangover, that is a problem. Essentially, if it takes most of the morning to recover from the night before, that is a problem.
  6. You use drinking to cope with life. You have a terrible day at work, something terrible happens, something good happens, you need to celebrate, you need to unwind. If your first response is, “I need a drink,” these are all signals that alcohol plays a far more significant role than it should be in your life.

There Is Strength in Surrender: How to Get Help

Putting aside all that you have learned about what denotes masculine and “manly” behaviors, fighting a losing battle is never wise. In the case of a drinking problem, finding the courage to surrender and get help is the most vital thing you can do. Contrary to what you may think, there is no shame or weakness in acknowledging that this is a battle you cannot fight alone. Even the most outstanding generals and warriors had an army at their back. From boys to men, males in Western society tend to feel like they have “something to prove” regarding alcohol consumption. Sadly, this is often at the cost of their health, relationships, careers, and quality of life. This fallacy damages the lives of thousands of men. As with any battle, fighting alcohol use disorder requires a well-trained battalion, and you can find one.  Cornerstone Healing Center is dedicated to treating men in a safe, non-judgmental environment. You can tap into the spiritual aspect yourself which will open the door to an entirely new life. While living among other men and immersed in a recovery environment, you will learn a different context for the word “masculine.” You can reach Cornerstone Healing Center at (800) 643-2108. Their staff can answer your questions, help you determine if you need treatment, and get you started on the path to the life you deserve.

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Author & Reviewers


Megan Krause

lionel estrada lisac clinical director
Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

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