A doctor prescribes Disulfiram for alcohol addiction

What is Disulfiram?

Disulfiram is a non-addictive medication that helps people who want to quit drinking but have trouble resisting the urge. Disulfiram doesn’t treat alcohol intoxication, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or alcohol cravings. Instead, works by causing a someone to get very sick if they drink alcohol. Unlike naltrexone, which is usually tried first, Disulfiram is used as a second option with doctor supervision. This means it’s often given after other treatments don’t work or if there are serious side effects.

How Does Disulfiram Work?

Quick facts about Disulfiram for alcoholism

Disulfiram is a medicine that stops the body from breaking down alcohol. When someone drinks alcohol while taking Disulfiram, a chemical called acetaldehyde builds up and causes a very unpleasant reaction. This reaction helps stop people from drinking alcohol while they are on the medication.

Each Disulfiram tablet contains either 250mg or 500mg and is taken orally. The tablets can be crushed and mixed with liquids to be taken once daily.

It’s important to note that Disulfiram is not administered to people when they are intoxicated. For this reason, individuals are required to be alcohol-free for at least 12 hours before starting treatment.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Disulfiram is a safe and effective treatment for alcohol addiction. It was also the first medication to gain approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat alcohol use disorder. Disulfiram has worked well for people who follow their treatment plan closely or have their medication intake closely monitored.

The goal of Disulfiram is to stop people from drinking alcohol by causing a bad reaction when they do. Its success depends on the person not wanting to go through that unpleasant experience.

Side Effects of Disulfiram

Along with its intended effects, Disulfiram may cause certain side effects. However, most of these side effects usually go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medication.

Common side effects may include:

  • Mild headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Tiredness
  • Impotence
  • Skin rash
  • Acne
  • Metallic or garlic-like aftertaste

Although severe allergic reactions are rare, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes in liver function
  • Swelling (especially in the face, throat, or tongue)
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures

Individuals should be advised to seek medical advice if they notice any early symptoms of hepatitis, such as fatigue, weakness, anorexia, clay-colored stools, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, or dark urine.

Drinking While Taking Disulfiram

Disulfiram causes individuals to experience unpleasant side effects even when trace amounts of alcohol are consumed. Within minutes after drinking alcohol, a combination of the following symptoms can occur:

  • Flushing
  • Headache
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Thirst
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitation
  • Hyperventilation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Marked uneasiness
  • Weakness
  • Vertigo
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion

During a severe reaction, individuals may experience:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
  • Damage to the heart muscle
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Loss of consciousness

The severity of the disulfiram-alcohol reaction differs for each person, but it usually depends on how much Disulfiram and alcohol are taken. To prevent an accidental reaction, stay away from products that contain alcohol, like rubbing alcohol, aftershave, perfumes, hand sanitizers, certain mouthwash, and hair sprays. Some foods, like sauces, kombucha, vinegar, and flavorings, may also contain alcohol and should be avoided. It’s important not to drink any alcoholic beverages while taking Disulfiram and for 14 days after stopping the medication. By following these steps, you can help avoid harmful reactions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Common questions you may have about Disulfiram treatment.

If you’re pregnant, it’s essential to discuss the risks and benefits of taking Disulfiram with your doctor. While the medication isn’t strictly contraindicated during pregnancy, the effects of the Disulfiram-alcohol reaction can compromise the health of a developing fetus. It’s generally recommended that Disulfiram not be used during pregnancy unless the benefits significantly outweigh the potential risks. Women who are breastfeeding should also avoid Disulfiram, as the medication can be passed through breast milk to the infant.

A Disulfiram reaction, which occurs when someone consumes alcohol while taking Disulfiram, typically starts within 10 to 30 minutes after alcohol ingestion. The duration and severity of the reaction can vary depending on several factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed and the individual’s sensitivity to Disulfiram.

For a mild reaction, the symptoms may last for a few hours. Moderate or severe reactions can last for 24-48 hours or longer, especially if large amounts of alcohol were consumed. In some cases, severe reactions may require medical attention and can lead to complications.

Disulfiram can stay in your system for about 2 to 3 weeks after the last dose. Because of this, a disulfiram-alcohol reaction can happen up to 2 weeks after the last dose is taken. It’s important for individuals taking Disulfiram to be aware of this extended period and avoid alcohol completely during this time.

The Importance of Comprehensive Alcohol Addiction Treatment

While Disulfiram can be an effective tool in the treatment of alcohol addiction, medication alone isn’t sufficient for a full recovery. It’s essential to participate in a comprehensive treatment program that includes therapy and counseling. Recovery from alcohol addiction can be challenging, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

A community member receives a prescription for Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT)

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Eleanor Health offers online medication-assisted treatment for opioids, alcohol, meth, and more. We know reaching out can be hard. We will listen, learn, and offer support – without judgment. We welcome every person in need of support and we believe in you and your ability to overcome addiction.