Treating Alcohol Addiction Using Disulfiram

Treating alcohol addiction using disulfiram can be an effective way to help someone stop drinking. Disulfiram is a medicine that helps people stay off alcohol. Sold under the brand name Antabuse, it’s often successfully used as part of a broader alcohol treatment programme that combines inpatient or patient rehab, detox, counselling and support groups.


How Does Disulfiram Work?

The treatment aims to deter and repel people from drinking alcohol. If you drink when taking Disulfiram, within around 10 minutes you’ll experience unpleasant feelings, much like an extreme hangover.

Disulfiram targets how your body breaks down alcohol. Your body usually works hard to help you feel better after drinking by breaking down alcohol into a chemical compound called acetaldehyde.

In time your body removes the acetaldehyde, and you feel much back to your usual self. But Disulfiram changes this. It stops your body from breaking down acetaldehyde, so it stays in your system, making you feel unwell, much like you would after drinking heavily.


When Can I Start Taking Disulfiram?

Before you begin taking Disulfiram, you’ll need to complete a medically supervised alcohol detox at a rehab centre to get rid of any alcohol in your body. You can start taking Disulfiram when you don’t experience any withdrawal system. Your doctor will initially give you a strong dose of around 500mg to take every day for one to two weeks. After this time, your doctor will reduce the amount.

You have to wait at least 12 hours after you last drank alcohol before taking Disulfiram.


How Do I Take It?

Disulfiram is taken in tablet form once a day, usually in the morning. Since you swallow just one every day, it’s easy to remember to take it. People usually take it for between 3 and 12 months, depending on the level of their addiction.


What Happens If I Drink Alcohol Or Consume Alcohol Products?

If you drink alcohol, even the smallest amount, you’ll feel unwell — much like you would on a hangover. You’ll become sleepy and confused, have a headache, feel sick or be sick, and have breathing problems. You’ll likely sweat, feel weak, and increase your anxiety levels.

You mustn’t eat or use products containing any alcohol, so read the labels carefully. Examples include vinegar, mouthwashes and cough syrups.

It’s also important that you don’t breathe in alcohol fumes, so avoid products such as paint, paint thinner and any type of varnish. You’ll have to stop using body or personal grooming products, including perfumes, aftershaves and lotions, if they contain alcohol.


What Are The Side Effects Of Disulfiram?

Some people don’t experience any side effects. Those who choose to tolerate them have decided that the short-term side effects outweigh the problem of long-term addiction.

Talk to your doctor if you’re taking any other medication, such as prescription drugs, as they can interfere with Disulfiram. Don’t forget to mention any over-the-counter medicines you’re taking, as they can also stop Disulfiram from working.

Side effects are usually mild and tend to last a few days:

-Feeling sleepy


-Itchy skin

Some people experience severe side effects such as dark urine, sickness, and yellowing eyes. If you’re one of those people, speak to your doctor right away, as they’ll prescribe a medication that works for you.

Disulfiram can sometimes make you feel drowsy for a few days after taking it, so it’s best not to drive or operate machinery until you feel alert.


What Does Disulfiram NOT Do?

Disulfiram helps people beat alcohol addictions for good. This medication doesn’t change the chemistry of your brain. It’s a deterrent that repels you from drinking, making you feel unwell if you consume alcohol.

-Disulfiram doesn’t treat withdrawal symptoms. When you’re at the initial detox stage, you’ll take separate medicine to help stop unpleasant withdrawal feelings.

-Disulfiram doesn’t reduce cravings for alcohol. A medicine called Acamprosate is very effective in helping people curb their urges to drink.


Can I Take Disulfiram Alongside Other Medication?

Tell your doctor if you’re taking any other medicines, as some aren’t compatible with Disulfiram. If you are taking medication for the conditions listed below, then you could be prescribed a different treatment to help you beat your alcohol addiction.

-Depression, bipolar or any other mental health condition

-Heart, liver or kidney diseases



-Underactive thyroid gland

-Skin conditions and allergies



Can I Get Addicted To Disulfiram?

No. The drug doesn’t contain properties that lead to addiction, so it’s safe to take in the prescribed amount.#


Disulfiram Reduces Alcohol Tolerance

You may have initially turned to alcohol to help you cope with stress, depression or relationship difficulties. People often find casual drinking enjoyable, but others start to rely on alcohol to help lift their feelings and get through the day.

If you’ve had a long-term or chronic drinking problem, you’ll be used to drinking every day. Drinking becomes routine, and you drink more to curb a hangover and your alcohol tolerance increases.

If you drink when you’re on Disulfiram, you won’t get any of the pleasant feelings you’d previously associated with drinking. The fleeting feelings of happiness and relaxation will be gone, replaced with sickness, headaches, increased anxiety and feeling generally unwell.


The Role Of Disulfiram In Recovery And Aftercare

Whilst the role of Disulfiram is fantastic in helping you stop drinking, you need to do more than take medication. When you combine Disulfiram with your broader rehab treatment plan, you’ll really start to see its benefits.

An effective alcohol rehabilitation programme is a long-term process tailored to individuals – one size doesn’t fit all. Rehab treatment usually consists of a medically supervised detox, and you’ll then receive inpatient or outpatient rehab, depending on your level of addiction and personal circumstances.

Counselling in the form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and group therapy plays a valuable role in helping you beat your alcoholism.

Fighting an alcohol addiction takes courage and commitment. When you’ve finished your alcohol rehab, we always recommend you attend group therapy sessions. Learning and gaining support from other recovering addicts is vital in helping you on your path to recovery.

  • How long do rehab programmes last?

    Typically, rehab programmes usually take around 28 days – that programme includes drug or alcohol detox. After detox, you will be physically sober and hopefully feel ready to return to your normal life. Some people can afford to stay in rehab longer and programmes can run up to 12 weeks in some facilities, depending on the severity of the addiction. What is important is that you pick the programme that suits your circumstances and recovery goals.
  • Is rehab expensive?

    There are many options when it comes to rehab and so the cost varies. If you are wanting to access a premium private inpatient rehab, then the cost will be a lot more than going on an outpatient basis. Outpatient rehab costs less as you are accessing fewer facilities (private room, food) and can be an option for those with a mild dependence on drugs and/or alcohol. The NHS provides free options but there is usually a long waiting list, and the quality of care might not match that of a private facility.
  • How do I prepare to go to rehab?

    In terms of preparation for rehab, the main thing that you need to be is ready to make serious changes to your lifestyle, thought patterns, and behaviour. The willingness to commit to recovery and give yourself over to the positive changes that specialist therapists can bring about is key to a successful stay at rehab. When it comes to your physical preparation, there is little that needs to be done as the facility’s detox clinic will get you in the best physical state for your recovery. We do not advise detoxing at home prior to arrival as this is extremely dangerous.