If alcohol is or has been a problem for you or someone you know, you’ve probably heard of Antabuse. Even though you’ve heard of it, you may be unsure as to what it actually is.

When you chronically use (or misuse) alcohol, you have a higher risk of having adverse outcomes such as mental health challenges, chronic disease, and alcohol use disorder. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimated that over 14 million people aged 12 and older were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder in 2019.

Alcohol use disorder is not always severe. It can appear to be mild with some people. However, even if a person’s alcohol use disorder doesn’t seem completely out of control, it can still lead to adverse outcomes. That’s why it is extremely important to get help before it gets worse

There are many facets to alcohol use disorder treatment and it requires the help of healthcare professionals. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and self-help groups can be used together to help a person get a stay sober.

However, there is another facet to treatment for a person struggling with alcohol use disorder. That facet is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT makes use of medication to help with things such as cravings so a person can focus on the other facets of treatment.

One of these medications is Antabuse.

Antabuse is a medication that is approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat alcohol use disorder. It’s the purpose of this article to address what Antabuse is, how it works, and who it’s for.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder, keep reading.

Antabuse Is a Deterrent Agent

Antabuse (Disulfiram) is a medication that’s used to deter you from drinking and help you stay sober. It’s a medication that is usually used after some other medications have been tried for the same reason. If you’ve tried something like naltrexone to reduce cravings and you continued to drink alcohol, Antabuse might be the next medication a healthcare provider suggests.

Antabuse is not an addictive medication. It belongs to a group of medications known as antidipsotropic medications.

If you aren’t serious about getting and staying sober, Antabuse probably isn’t for you. If you are serious about getting and staying sober but find it hard to resist the cravings to drink, then Antabuse could help you a lot.

How Antabuse Works

The active ingredient in Antabuse is disulfiram. It’s an alcohol inhibitor that prevents the breakdown of alcohol in the body. The chemical compound “acetaldehyde” occurs when you drink alcohol. If you’re taking Antabuse when acetaldehyde accumulates in your system, you are going to experience some nasty side effects.

You may have associated having a “good” time with drinking. If you drink while taking Antabuse, you will have anything but a “good” time. This may help discourage you from trying to drink while taking Antabuse.

It’s important to note that Antabuse is not a medication that treats alcohol intoxication or the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. It is also not an anti-craving medication like some other MAT medications.

How Antabuse is Taken

Antabuse comes in 250 mg and 500 mg tablets and is taken orally once a day. You can easily crush these tablets and mix them with water, fruit juice, milk, etc. A healthcare provider is not going to administer Antabuse to you if you are currently under the influence of alcohol. In fact, you’ll need to be free from any alcohol for a bare minimum of 12 hours.

There are 2 phases to Antabuse treatment. You take a max dose of 500mg a day during the initial phase. Then you’ll move down to the average dose of 250 mg a day. Your gastrointestinal tract absorbs this medication and then eliminates it from the body. You can start to feel the effects of Antabuse a mere 10 minutes after you take a drink of alcohol.

Who is Antabuse For

As previously stated, you have to be committed to being and staying sober from alcohol for Antabuse to be truly beneficial for you. You also need to know that you will get extremely ill if you drink alcohol while on Antabuse and if you have any severe medical conditions you need to let your healthcare provider know.

These medical conditions include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • History of heart attack
  • History of stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Head injury
  • Brain injury
  • Seizures
  • Epilepsy
  • Rubber allergy
  • Mental illness
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding

The Side Effects of Antabuse

Of course, Antabuse intended unpleasant side effects to deter you from drinking, but there are also just regular possible side effects with it.

Mild side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Mild headache
  • Impotence
  • Acne
  • Skin rash
  • Metallic after taste
  • Garlic-like after taste

More severe side effects are rare but they include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Severe dizziness
  • Changes in liver function
  • Abdominal pain
  • Psychosis
  • Swelling of the throat, tongue, and face
  • Seizures

You should also contact your healthcare provider and let them know if you notice any early symptoms of hepatitis. These include weakness, fatigue, clay-colored stools, vomiting, nausea, dark urine, anorexia, and jaundice.

Avoid Products That Contain Alcohol

If you are taking Antabuse you should stay away from products that contain alcohol such as:

  • Perfumes
  • Aftershave
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Certain mouthwash
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Hair sprays

You should also be aware of any food that may have alcohol such as vinegar, kombucha, sauces, and flavorings that may contain alcohol.

If you decide to stop taking Antabuse you shouldn’t drink alcohol for at least 14 days after your last dose.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol While Taking Antabuse

Drinking while on Antabuse is meant to give you an unpleasant experience.

These are some symptoms that may occur if you do drink alcohol while taking Antabuse.

These symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Vomiting
  • Thirsty
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitation
  • Hyperventilation
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Vertigo
  • Blurred vision

You need to know that there are risks involved with taking Antabuse. A severe reaction could cause you to experience damage to your heart muscle, cardiovascular collapse, and congestive heart failure.

Note: Taking Antabuse during pregnancy has yet to be determined as safe or unsafe.

Is Antabuse Effective?

Antabuse is most effective for a person that is completely ready to stop drinking alcohol. There are other medications available to help people with alcohol use disorder stay sober. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if Antabuse will be helpful to your specific situation.

If you are ready to get sober, medication can help. However, it should be used in tandem with things such as self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery, individual counseling, group counseling, sober living, etc.

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At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier coping skills and build a recovery supportive network in all aspects.

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