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Disulfiram for Alcohol Addiction

Disulfiram works by interfering with the body’s digestion and absorption of alcohol. It also creates a series of highly unpleasant reactions in the process, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, sweating, weakness, and high blood pressure. By making alcohol consumption extremely unpleasant, Disulfiram acts as an effective deterrent.

Navigation: Proper Use of Disulfiram, Side Effects of Disulfiram, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Disulfiram is one of the three medications currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of alcoholism.  Also known by the brand name Antabuse, Disulfiram has been prescribed for alcohol use disorders (AUDs) in the US for more than 65 years. In fact, around 200,000 Americans are currently using this medication.

Disulfiram works by interfering with the body’s digestion and absorption of alcohol. It also creates a series of highly unpleasant reactions in the process, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, sweating, weakness, and high blood pressure. By making alcohol consumption extremely unpleasant, Disulfiram acts as an effective deterrent.

The medication does not actively reduce alcohol cravings, which are still present. However, it is effective for many individuals who are sufficiently discouraged from alcohol use that they find it easier to remain sober.

Disulfiram blocks the functioning of alcohol dehydrogenase. This is the enzyme that breaks down ethanol in the liver. This leads to an increased concentration of acetaldehyde, which causes discomfort. If a person who has taken Disulfiram drinks alcohol, only then will they experience the adverse effects.

The Disulfiram-ethanol reaction can be very severe, and in rare cases even fatal. But modern day doses are much lower than doses from decades ago, which is why severe reactions are much rarer as a result.


Proper Use of Disulfiram

Disulfiram should only be taken under the supervision of a physician. It is only prescribed after the patient has gone through the initial period of withdrawal and detox. They also need to be completely abstinent from alcohol for at least 12 hours, with a blood alcohol level of zero. This is important because the medication can have an effect as early as 10 to 30 minutes after ingestion of Disulfiram. The average initial dose of Disulfiram is 250 milligrams once a day for 1 to 2 weeks, with the average maintenance dose of 250 milligrams a day thereafter. The daily dosage can range from 125 to 500 milligrams a day, depending on the doctor’s prescribed dose.

Some physicians want patients to have a reaction in front of them so that they know exactly how Disulfiram affects them, but this is no longer a common practice. However, Disulfiram is only administered after the physician has performed a physical exam, baseline liver and kidney function tests, and a pregnancy test for women or electrocardiogram for patients with a history of cardiovascular disease.

Studies indicate that Disulfiram is most effective when taken in conjunction with other medications, especially Acamprosate, also known by the brand name Campral. It is widely accepted that Disulfiram is most effective for patients who are truly committed to their sobriety.

It is worth noting that some individuals may be resistant to the impact of Disulfiram-ethanol reaction and may not feel any adverse effects.

Unlike other medications, if a patient misses their dose of Disulfiram, and it is not close to the next scheduled dose, it may be okay to take it. But if it is close to the next scheduled dose, the patient should not double their dosage to try to make up for the missed dose. It is better to skip it entirely and just take the next dose. Patients should never double up on a dose of this medication.

When a patient does take Disulfiram, they need to take special care around products that contain alcohol. There is a chance that Disulfiram might create reactions when patients inhale fumes of paint, paint thinner, varnish, and similar products. Similarly, Disulfiram may cause reactions when the patient’s skin comes into contact with aftershave lotions, colognes, and rubbing alcohol.

Disulfiram is a highly effective deterrent from alcohol use, but it is not sufficient to treat alcoholism on its own. It needs to be taken as part of a larger treatment regimen that includes rehab and therapy.


Side Effects of Disulfiram

One of the reasons why Disulfiram has been used for alcohol addiction treatment for such a long time is because it has comparatively fewer side effects. Even if a person does encounter side effects, they are generally minor and have a tendency to lessen and disappear within a few weeks.

Common side effects of Disulfiram include: drowsiness, headaches, sexual dysfunction, acne, and a metallic taste in the mouth.

Disulfiram’s less common but more serious side effects include hepatitis, psychosis, optic neuritis, delirium, hypersensitivity to the drug, liver toxicity, liver disease, and liver failure. Disulfiram may also have reactions with other medications, so patients should inform their doctors about medications that they are currently taking.

With its long history of success in treating alcoholism, Disulfiram is perhaps one of the best medications against the condition. It works best when taken while undergoing a proper treatment program from a trusted rehab facility.

If someone in the family is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to seek help. A combination of medical detox and behavioral therapy can go a long way in the fight against substance abuse. But because every individual is affected by addiction differently, a comprehensive program tailored to their specific needs is necessary. Look for a nearby addiction treatment facility today and find out how drug treatment programs work.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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