Disulfiram Treatment: Signs, Symptoms, Withdrawal Risks & Treatment

Disulfiram is an FDA-approved medication used as a drinking deterrent in alcohol addiction treatment. Those who drink alcohol while taking disulfiram will experience many painful, unpleasant physical side effects that encourage recovering addicts to stay sober.

Understanding Disulfiram Treatment

Disulfiram has been used in alcohol addiction treatment for over 60 years, and is commonly sold under the brand name Antabuse. Disulfiram does not reduce alcohol cravings or withdrawal symptoms, but works as a drinking deterrent by producing unpleasant side effects when users drink alcohol. Those who use disulfiram tend to avoid drinking while on the medication for the sake of also avoiding these unpleasant side effects.

When alcohol is consumed by the human body, it gets converted into a substance called acetaldehyde, which is then converted into acetic acid before it leaves the body in the form of waste. Disulfiram works by preventing the liver from metabolizing acetaldehyde, which leads to a buildup of this toxic substance in the bloodstream. This chemical reaction causes a number of unpleasant physical side effects, which normally deter recovering addicts from drinking.

Side effects that occur when combining alcohol with disulfiram include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Flushing of the face
  • Impaired vision
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Hyperventilation
  • Irregular breathing
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety

Those who drink when using disulfiram typically start feeling effects within 10 minutes of consuming alcohol. Side effects last between a minimum of 30 minutes and several hours, depending on the amount of alcohol you consume and your unique individual metabolism.

Those who use disulfiram should also avoid using any common household products that may contain alcohol. Consuming or exposing your skin to a small amount of alcohol can trigger unpleasant reactions.

Common household products that may contain alcohol are:

  • Mouthwash
  • Perfume and cologne
  • Aftershave
  • Vinegars
  • Sauces
  • Desserts
  • Cough and cold syrups
  • Medicines

Disulfiram treatment is usually combined with counseling, support groups, and other therapies that can help you overcome mental root causes of addiction. Disulfiram is not to be viewed as a cure for addiction as a whole, but as a reliable tool that can be used to help you and other recovering addicts stay sober.

Signs That Disulfiram Treatment May Help

Disulfiram treatment is ideal for recovering addicts who want to stay sober and avoid relapse. This medication is primarily intended for the treatment of alcohol abuse and addiction, and can help recovering addicts achieve lifelong sobriety

To determine whether disulfiram treatment can help you or your loved one, look for signs that indicate alcohol abuse.

Common signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Blackouts or memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Shaking
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Euphoria
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Delirium

Dangers & Risk Factors Associated with Disulfiram Treatment

Disulfiram is not an addictive substance — meaning you can end disulfiram therapy without having to worry about withdrawal symptoms. Though used as an effective drinking deterrent, disulfiram does not reduce alcohol cravings, and will cause adverse reactions when used with alcohol or with products and medications that contain alcohol.

Disulfiram may cause side effects separate from those caused by drinking alcohol. Headaches, drowsiness, and fatigue may occur when using disulfiram, as well as skin problems. Pregnant and nursing women are not advised to use disulfiram, along with patients who have a history of liver disease, heart disease, or diabetes.

Patient compliance is a major risk factor associated with disulfiram treatment. Patients who want to resume drinking can quit using disulfiram at any time, and resume drinking two weeks later without feeling the drug’s effects. This is mainly why disulfiram is combined with counseling, support, and therapy to address alcohol addiction as a whole both physically and psychologically.

Who Benefits From Disulfiram Treatment?

Anyone who needs help quitting drinking and staying sober can benefit from disulfiram treatment. Those who suffer from alcohol abuse or addiction can speak to their physicians about the benefits of disulfiram treatment, and start taking the medication immediately to discourage themselves from drinking.

You may benefit from disulfiram treatment if you:

  • Frequently lie about drinking
  • Hide your drinking from others
  • Failed to stay sober after previous attempts to quit drinking
  • Drink to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Frequently experience blackouts when drinking
  • Drink when you know it offers negative consequences
  • Require alcohol to function and feel “normally” or like yourself

If you think you or your loved one could benefit from disulfiram treatment based on the factors above, your next step is to seek help in the form of addiction treatment. Disulfiram addiction treatment can help you stay sober and achieve a healthier, more fulfilling life without the desire to drink alcohol.

Treating Addiction Using Disulfiram

Disulfiram discourages its users from drinking on behalf of the unpleasant side effects this drug causes when combined with alcohol. Disulfiram is available in tablet form in doses of 250 mg or 500 mg, and lacks odor or taste. Most patients take disulfiram orally once per day at doses that do not exceed 500 mg.

Recovering addicts can take disulfiram for as long as needed until they can demonstrate success with long-term sobriety. Since disulfiram is not addictive, patients cannot become physically dependent on this drug during treatment. Alcohol addiction treatment can last anywhere from 30 days to several months, depending on how long it takes you to fully overcome addiction.

Do I Need Disulfiram Addiction Treatment?

When you’re coping with alcohol abuse or addiction, it can be difficult for you to determine whether you truly have a drinking problem until it’s too late. Addiction can cause you to neglect important life responsibilities in favor of alcohol, and affect your overall well-being and quality of life.

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you need disulfiram addiction treatment:

  • Do I drink to escape feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety?
  • Do I frequently make excuses to drink?
  • Do I drink to self-medicate one or more existing mental health conditions?
  • Do I continue to drink despite existing health problems?
  • Have I relapsed after quitting drinking in the past?
  • Have I been struggling with alcohol abuse for an extended period of time?
  • Do I use alcohol with other substances?
  • Do I spend time with people who drink regularly?
  • Do I have a personal history of alcohol abuse or addiction?
  • Does alcohol abuse or addiction run in my family?
  • Is drinking causing problems with my career, education, or family?
  • Do I neglect important life responsibilities to use, obtain, or recover from alcohol?

Disulfiram Addiction Treatment Options

Disulfiram can be prescribed to addiction recovery patients in either an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting. The medication must be started at least 12 hours after having your last alcoholic beverage, since taking the drug sooner can trigger unpleasant side effects. In most cases, disulfiram is administered following the detoxification stage of addiction treatment.

Inpatient alcohol rehab centers help long-term addicts establish new daily routines packed with activities that leave no room for alcohol abuse. Using disulfiram in an inpatient setting can help you establish a routine with taking the medication daily as prescribed. Inpatient alcohol rehab centers also offer safe, stable environments away from alcohol and other negative influences that may interfere with your recovery.

Disulfiram is most commonly prescribed to those in outpatient alcohol rehab programs. Since disulfiram is a drinking deterrent, patients can rely on the drug to discourage them from drinking as they go about their daily lives. Outpatient alcohol rehab is ideal for those who must also balance jobs, school, and family, and who can recover safely at home without facing distractions or having access to alcohol.


Detoxification helps you overcome physical dependency on alcohol. Detox is usually the first stage of alcohol addiction treatment, and must be completed before beginning disulfiram treatment for the best results. Detox helps you withdraw from alcohol so the substance is no longer in your body by the time you start taking disulfiram.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as eight hours after quitting drinking, and usually peak at between 24 and 72 hours. These symptoms may last for several days or weeks, and gradually dissipate after time.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Sleeping problems
  • Hypertension
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Many alcohol rehab centers prescribe medications during detox that help eliminate or reduce certain withdrawal symptoms. This type of detox is known as medical detox or medically assisted detox, and is typically overseen by medical staff who monitor your progress around the clock. This reduces your risk for health complications associated with certain withdrawal symptoms.


Alcohol rehab centers offer all the treatments you need to successfully quit drinking and stay sober for life — including disulfiram therapy. Disulfiram therapy is often combined with counseling and other therapies aimed at addressing psychological causes of addiction so you can stay sober long-term. The amount of time you spend using disulfiram depends on the severity of your addiction, and on your ability and motivation to quit drinking.

Addiction counseling is conducted one-on-one, in groups, and with family, and helps you identify behaviors and triggers that influence you to drink. These counseling sessions teach you how to manage and avoid these triggers after completing addiction treatment so you can navigate the real world facing a lower risk for relapse. Behavioral counseling also treats you for co-occurring mental health conditions that may be driving your addiction, such as bipolar disorder or OCD.

Aftercare programs are offered as part of ongoing addiction treatment at most alcohol rehab centers. Aftercare programs often consist of ongoing education, counseling, and support groups. For instance, 12-step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous allow you to spend time with other recovering addicts who can share their own tips and tricks for staying sober with and without using disulfiram.

Most alcohol rehab centers will customize addiction treatments just for you based on the therapies you need to successfully overcome addiction.