Disulfiram as a Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorders
At Searidge, we believe in a comprehensive approach to recovery, and this often includes pharmacotherapy. Disulfiram (commonly sold under the brand name Antabuse) is one medication that is prescribed to treat alcohol use disorders.
Nausea, headaches, and other hangover effects can be enough to put you off drinking large amounts of alcohol. When you’re taking disulfiram, these effects begin moments after alcohol enters your system, even if you only drank a small amount.
How Does Disulfiram Work?
Our bodies work to metabolize alcohol into acetaldehyde when we drink. Acetaldehyde is responsible for many of the unpleasant hangover symptoms we experience after drinking alcohol and is eventually converted into other harmless metabolites under normal circumstances.
When you take disulfiram, this metabolic process is disrupted. Because of this, acetaldehyde builds up in the body and you feel a very unpleasant reaction.
How Does Disulfiram Affect You?
Well, it depends on how much alcohol you consume and how much disulfiram is in your system. About 10 minutes after alcohol enters your system, its effects kick in. You can experience symptoms such as headache, nausea, sweating, vomiting, chest pain and hyperventilation, as well as several others. More severe reactions include heart attack, convulsions, and even death.
Some people experience side effects like skin rash, tiredness and mild headache when taking disulfiram. Although unusual, you may experience severe side effects such as a loss of appetite, yellowing of skin/eyes, and dark urine. In these cases, it is important to seek out medical assistance immediately.
How to take Disulfiram safely
Disulfiram has proven to be effective in treating alcohol use disorders. Regardless, you must follow some precautions before starting this medication. Firstly, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to establish that it is safe for you to take it. Specifically:
- Tell your doctor and pharmacist what other medications you are taking, especially any that might contain alcohol
- Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant or are breast-feeding
- Tell your doctor if you have or used to have brain damage, diabetes, epilepsy, kidney disease, liver disease, or thyroid disease.
Also, you cannot drink any alcoholic beverages for 12 hours before your first dose, while you are taking the drug, and for several weeks after you have stopped taking it.
Disulfiram is administered as a pill and is usually taken every morning. It is common to receive a strong prescription of disulfiram to help manage the urge to drink. Over time, this does is adjusted based on your treatment progress.
Importantly, disulfiram does not cure alcoholism. It does not reduce your craving for alcohol, nor does it treat withdrawal symptoms. It acts as a physical and psychological deterrent for people who are trying to stop drinking.
If you want to start your journey of recovery and are fully aware of the consequences of drinking while on this medication, disulfiram may be a powerful component of your recovery program. Our team of counsellors and physicians will work with you to create a recovery plan that works for you.