Antabuse for Addiction Treatment

Antabuse is a brand name for disulfiram, a medication that can be used in conjunction with substance abuse treatments such as 12-step meetings, individual counseling, and social support to help people struggling with alcohol abuse.

Antabuse is a tablet taken once a day. It functions by creating unpleasant physical effects if even a small amount of alcohol is consumed by the patient. The effects begin ten minutes after alcohol consumption, and continue for an hour or longer.

Understanding Antabuse Addiction Treatment

Antabuse (disulfiram) is a treatment for chronic alcohol abuse. It cannot cure alcoholism, but it does discourage drinking, thereby supporting a patient’s abstinence through recovery.

Antabuse interferes with the breakdown of alcohol in the body. Acetaldehyde builds up in the patient’s system, which will result in disagreeable interactions if the patient consumes alcohol. Getting patients to continue to take Antabuse can sometimes be a problem, but the drug can be quite helpful for individuals who are highly dedicated to their recovery.

According to MedlinePlus from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Antabuse causes extremely unpleasant effects when even small amounts of alcohol are consumed. These effects include:

  • flushing of the face
  • headache
  • nausea, vomiting
  • chest pain
  • weakness
  • blurred vision
  • mental confusion
  • sweating
  • choking
  • breathing difficulty
  • anxiety

When used in conjunction with other treatment modalities such as talk therapy and 12-step meetings, Antabuse can greatly increase an alcoholic’s chance of maintaining their sobriety for the long-term.

How to Take Antabuse

MedlinePlus from the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that Antabuse comes in tablet form, to be taken by mouth once a day. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part of the instructions that you do not understand.

Antabuse (disulfiram) should be taken exactly as directed. Do not take more or less of it, or take it more often than prescribed by your doctor. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed one.

If you cannot swallow the tablets, the medication can be crushed and mixed into water, coffee, tea, milk, soft drink, or fruit juice.

Sometimes Antabuse may be prescribed to be taken on an occasional basis. For example, a patient may only take the medication prior to events that are likely to offer an unusual level of temptation, such as a New Year’s Eve party.

Possible Side Effects of Antabuse

According to MedlinePlus from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Antabuse (disulfiram) may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:

  • skin rash
  • acne
  • mild headache
  • drowsiness
  • tiredness
  • impotence
  • metallic or garlic-like taste in the mouth

If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

  • excessive tiredness
  • weakness
  • lack of energy
  • loss of appetite
  • upset stomach
  • vomiting
  • yellowness of the skin or eyes
  • dark urine

Who Might Benefit from Antabuse Treatment?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) can be diagnosed when a patient answers “yes” to two or more of the following questions.

In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. Antabuse is an extremely useful tool for individuals who are highly motivated to recover from alcoholism and to achieve and maintain a sober lifestyle.

Treatment with Antabuse

When taken under a doctor’s instructions, as part of a substance abuse treatment program, Antabuse can help alcoholics abstain from alcohol while they work on underlying issues and co-occurring conditions that may be contributing to their addiction.

Although there are side effects, as long as the patient is being monitored by medical professionals while taking Antabuse, the benefits of the medication usually outweigh the risks.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of ‘alcohol use disorder’ or AUD. Approximately 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older had an AUD in 2012. This includes 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women. Adolescents can be diagnosed with an AUD as well, and in 2012, an estimated 855,000 adolescents ages 12–17 had an AUD.”

Individuals suffering from alcohol use disorders almost always require some form of professional help to break the devastating cycle of addiction. The rehabilitation specialists at a qualified substance abuse treatment facility are trained to manage alcohol abuse issues and lead alcoholics safely to recovery.


Detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated for alcohol abuse. Because withdrawal from alcohol can be extremely unpleasant, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals is ideal.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours, but may go on for weeks.”

Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Not thinking clearly

Other symptoms may include:

  • Clammy skin
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Headache
  • Insomnia (sleeping difficulty)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pallor
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Tremor of the hands or other body parts

A severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens can cause:

  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Seeing or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion

Having quality medical care throughout the detoxification process will insure that a patient transitions into sobriety as safely and comfortably as possible.


Whether an alcoholic chooses inpatient residential treatment, and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy.

Individual therapy allows patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is a fundamental tool to ensure individuals encounter the best possible environment at home, to prevent relapse.

Other treatment options include:

  • Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.
  • 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations
  • Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.