How Does Height Affect Alcohol Tolerance?

Alcohol tolerance refers to the body’s ability to breakdown alcoholic beverages and the extent or the severity of the symptoms alcohol intake causes.

People with a higher alcohol tolerance are usually able to consume a larger quality of alcoholic beverages without feeling intoxicated. This suggests that having a higher tolerance allows the body to resist the impact of alcohol on the neurological functions of the body including perception, vision, hearing, and musculoskeletal coordination.

The tolerance is also considered to be lower if the person suffers from more severe symptoms of intoxication or hangover that persist for a longer duration.

The tolerance is considered comparatively higher when the symptoms of a hangover are absent or less intense and do not last long when the same amount of alcohol was consumed.

The tolerance to alcohol is dependent on several factors. It is believed that the height of a person could modify his or her tolerance to alcoholic beverages. It is commonly believed that taller people have a better alcohol tolerance than shorter people. There are several theories supporting this belief.

However, does being tall really make you more tolerant to alcohol? What is the role of height in developing alcohol tolerance?

If you are eager to find answers to these questions, read on to know all about how the height of a person affects his or her alcohol tolerance.

What is alcohol tolerance?

Alcohol tolerance is the term used to refer to the ability of a person to consume a larger amount of alcohol before he or she begins to feel its effect than others. This means alcohol tolerance tells for how long you can resist the development of the symptoms of alcohol intoxication such as dizziness, loss of consciousness, and so on. [1]

You must have also observed that people tend to lose their balance while walking, talk with a slurred speech, speak in an incoherent manner, or have difficulty in seeing or hearing clearly after drinking alcohol.

These changes occur due to the effect of alcohol on the nervous system, including the brain and nerves. It reduces the musculoskeletal coordination due to which the person is unable to maintain balance or coordinate his movements correctly.

If a person is able to consume a large quantity of alcohol without developing these symptoms, he or she could be considered to have a higher alcohol tolerance.

Let us now see the various facets of alcohol tolerance and how height affects them.

Do short people get drunk more quickly?

Research studies have shown that short people have a higher tendency to get drunk more quickly possibly due to their lower alcohol tolerance.

It is believed that all other things like weight and body composition being equal, the blood alcohol levels in a shorter person would rise faster than that in a taller person due to them having less amount of blood and a smaller liver.

This is another theory that has been proposed to link the shorter height to a lower alcohol tolerance.

Studies have shown that the physiology of alcohol tolerance is dependent on the activities of enzymes in the body. An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase can support the reversible oxidation of alcohol to aldehyde.

Since the activities of this enzyme are related to body mass, it is believed that taller people having a higher body mass might have a higher alcohol tolerance as this enzyme would work faster and more efficiently in them.

Moreover, direct alcohol tolerance is also dependent on the body size.

This is why; people with a larger body require to drink alcohol in more quantities to reach insobriety than the people who are lightly built. [2]

This also explains why taller men with a larger build usually have a higher alcohol tolerance.

Also, the secretion of alcohol dehydrogenase is more in taller people due to their higher total body mass. So, the overall activities of these enzymes are increased thus improving alcohol tolerance in taller people due to their high body mass. [3]

The effect of gender

It is true that height does play a role in determining the alcohol tolerance of people. And this role could be explained in terms of higher alcohol tolerance in men as compared to that in women.

We know that the average height of men is higher compared to women. It has also been found that men tend to have a higher alcohol tolerance than women.

Let us see why this happens.

The primary enzymes involved in the metabolism of alcohol are ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase) and ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase). [4]

The activities of ADH are usually weaker in women than in men. So, the body of women is likely to metabolize alcoholic beverages at a slower rate, thus reducing their alcohol tolerance.

The weaker activities of ADH in women could make them more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol due to which they might develop more severe symptoms of intoxication like slurred speech, double visions, loss of balance, and reduced musculoskeletal coordination.

Comparing this phenomenon with the difference in the average height of men and women, we can say that alcohol tolerance is more in taller people than in shorter people.

It should be noted that the activities of ADH and ALDH are linked to the metabolic processes occurring in the body. Also, men tend to have a higher metabolic rate than women. This might be another reason why both ADH and ALDH work more efficiently in men allowing them to avoid the effects of alcohol intoxication more efficiently than women.

So, the role of height in determining alcohol tolerance in men vs that in women could also be linked based on the differences in their metabolism and the consequent change in the activities of ADH and ALDH.

Having said that, it is also important to note that some men have a lower ADH activity. This could be due to the slower rate of overall metabolic functions in them, which, in turn, could be associated with their shorter height or even obesity. This suggests that shorter men may have a lower alcohol tolerance, especially if their overall metabolic processes are not efficient and if they are obese. [5] [6]

The effect of body composition

When we consider height as one of the parameters for understanding the extent of alcohol tolerance, we need to evaluate its relation in terms of body composition. This means height can not be considered the only factor that could modify the body’s alcohol tolerance.

The effect of the height of a person must be correlated with the effects of other factors associated with body composition such as fat mass, weight, and so on. Let’s see how this relationship between height, body composition, and alcohol tolerance works.

Research studies have proven that the effects of alcohol on the body could vary based on body composition. [7] [8]

Hence, alcohol tolerance would be lower in obese men or women whose bodies are likely to have more fats and less water on average. So, if 2 people having the same height and gender drink the same amount of alcohol, then the symptoms of intoxication would be more severe and occur earlier in the person who has higher weight or fat mass.

Also, the obese person among the two is likely to have a lower water content in the body compared to the fat mass. This may lead to an increased blood alcohol level due to which that person may develop more intense symptoms of alcohol intoxication in spite of having the same height as that of the non-obese person.

Similarly, since body composition of women includes more fatty tissues compared to that in men, their chances of having lower alcohol tolerance are more. The higher amount of fat tissues in the body of women, coupled with their lower average height and the slower metabolic rate, are some factors that might contribute to them having reduced alcohol tolerance than men.

This suggests that the height of a person plays a direct and indirect role in determining the alcohol tolerance depending on the metabolic rate as well as body composition and the comparative fat mass and water content.

The effect of blood volume

The link between the height of a person and his or her alcohol tolerance can be determined based on their blood volume.

The blood volume is obviously more in taller people because their bodies have taller columns of blood vessels and more amount of blood is circulated throughout their body to ensure an adequate supply of nutrients and oxygen to all organs.

The muscle fibers, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues also tend to be longer and have a higher volume in taller people. So, even the blood supply to these tissues needs to be more, which is why the total amount of blood circulation in the body of taller men and women is higher.

The blood volume correlates closely to the height and body weight. The rule of thumb is about one quart of blood is present for each 10 to 12 pounds of the weight of the person.

So, you can expect a taller person to weigh more than a shorter person having the “same” build.

Thus, all other things being equal, you may expect a shorter person to have a lower blood volume due to which he or she is likely to become intoxicated within a shorter period after alcohol consumption.

The reduced blood volume would cause a comparatively higher concentration of the metabolites of alcohol in the body. This would lead to more intense symptoms of alcohol intoxication indicating reduced tolerance in shorter people.

In taller people, on the other hand, the metabolites of alcohol would be present in the blood in a lower concentration due to their higher total blood volume. So, it would take longer for them to develop the signs of intoxication. This suggests that height does play a role in determining alcohol tolerance by affecting blood volume. 

The role of genetics

One of the most important factors that influenced your height is genetics. The genetic make-up of a person plays a role in determining his or her height. The heights of parents are commonly taken into consideration while calculating the expected height of a child in the future.

Genetics has also been found to play a role in the development of alcohol tolerance in men and women.

This provides an indirect link between the height of a person and the alcohol tolerance.

It is not just the alcohol tolerance but even alcohol dependency and addiction that run in families. This could be explained by how a higher alcohol tolerance can increase the risk of alcohol addiction.

Several genes linked to the development of alcohol tolerance have been identified so far. And some of these genes are believed to be linked to the height of a person too.

Research studies have found that people who have one or both parents with a higher alcohol tolerance or a history of chronic alcohol addiction have higher alcohol tolerance. This could be attributed to the passing of the genes that influence the body’s metabolic rate.

Several genes play a role in regulating the metabolic processes occurring in the body. The efficiency of the metabolic functions, thus passed on through generations, could influence the alcohol tolerance of the offspring. [9]

Since some of these genes are also linked to the height of a person, it could lead to similarities in the groups of people having similar heights and similar levels of alcohol tolerance.

However, there is no clarity on whether the higher alcohol tolerance, as determined by the genetic make-up of a person, is more prevalent in shorter people or taller people. Further studies are needed to assess the exact role of these genes in influencing alcohol tolerance and to correlate their effect on height.

Moreover, genetics can also affect the alcohol tolerance as well as height by influencing the activities of the enzymes, total body mass, liver functions, liver size, and body composition including blood volume and the amount of fatty tissue.

Since most of these factors are genetically linked just like height, it is believed that being taller or shorter might have an influence on whether you can have a higher or lower alcohol tolerance.

How does higher alcohol tolerance increase the risk of alcohol dependency or addiction?

Most studies have linked being taller to having a higher alcohol tolerance. However, it should not be considered an advantage that taller people have over shorter people.

It only shows that taller people may not develop intense symptoms of alcohol intoxication immediately after the intake of alcoholic beverages.

It is very important to understand that the height of a person has not been shown to influence the body’s ability to avoid the long-term impact of alcohol constitution. This means that higher alcohol tolerance can only protect taller people from the immediate symptoms like dizziness, loss of muscle coordination, unconsciousness, or slurred speech that occur within a few hours after drinking alcohol.

They may not develop these symptoms or if they do develop these symptoms, the intensity and the duration might be less than that in shorter people.

But, taller people would still be at nearly the same level of risk of developing long-term complications like fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.

The risk may even be somewhat higher in them because the higher alcohol tolerance might make them believe they are immune to the effect of alcoholism.

So, they would drink more quantities of alcohol, more often!

And this tendency arising from the false sense of being safer could actually put taller people at a much higher risk of liver diseases.

Shorter people, due to having a lower alcohol tolerance, might limit their alcohol intake. And this tendency would protect them from developing cirrhosis and other diseases of the liver linked to alcoholism.

Hence, taller people need to be aware that their height only protects them against the short-term effect of alcohol intoxication without doing any good to prevent the long-term complications of alcoholism.


Alcohol consumption is known to interfere with several bodily functions and affect the behaviors and actions of a person. Chronic alcohol consumption may cause the drinker to develop a higher tolerance to at least some of the effects of alcohol. [10]

The development of tolerance suggests that after continued consumption, drinking the same amount of alcohol could produce a lesser effect on the body. It also indicates that an increasing amount of alcohol needs to be consumed for producing the same effect.

Hence, a person is more likely to increase his alcohol intake further to derive the same amount of effect thus putting him or her at a risk of diseases linked to chronic alcoholism.

So, though studies have suggested that taller people are more likely to have a higher alcohol tolerance, it does not mean that they are less prone to develop the consequences of alcohol consumption.

Hence, taller people, in spite of having a higher alcohol tolerance, are advised to strictly avoid or limit their alcohol intake in order to protect themselves against the chronic or long-term consequences of alcohol consumption.

Even shorter people need to avoid or limit their alcohol intake not just for avoiding the symptoms of intoxication but also for preventing the diseases linked to the same.