Antabuse and Alcohol: What Will You Experience?


Antabuse is a medication used to support people with Alcohol Use Disorder to abstain from alcohol. It is important to know how the medication works, as well as what to expect before taking it.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What Antabuse is
  • How Antabuse works
  • How Antabuse interacts with alcohol
  • How the treatment process works
  • What happens if you drink while taking Antabuse

Let’s get into it.

How Does Antabuse Work?

Antabuse contains an active ingredient called disulfiram. Disulfiram stops the full breakdown of a toxic byproduct that accumulates in the body after drinking alcohol.

This toxic byproduct, called acetaldehyde, results in unpleasant side effects such as nausea, flushing, chest pain, dizziness, and thirst.

The reaction between the medication, and alcohol, is called the disulfiram-alcohol reaction and helps promote abstinence from alcohol.

It prevents people who suffer from alcoholism from experiencing the positive feelings associated with alcohol, thereby preventing the positive feedback cycle that fuels addiction.

The medication is not considered a cure for alcoholism but can be a great tool to support sobriety.

It is recommended to be used as part of a tool kit that includes therapy, group counseling sessions, and lifestyle modifications to achieve and maintain sobriety.

Antabuse as a Treatment for Alcohol Dependence

Antabuse is not considered a cure for alcoholism but is rather a tool that helps support sobriety throughout the recovery process.

It helps prevent the positive feelings related to alcohol consumption, breaking the cycle of addiction.

The medication will not however treat the underlying cause of alcoholism and is dependent on the person being motivated to maintain sobriety and continue to take the medication. It does not treat withdrawal symptoms or alcohol cravings.

Other treatments such as therapy, education programs, and treating underlying medical conditions such as disabilities and mental illness will help address the underlying cause of problematic drinking and help the patient achieve sobriety.

Antabuse is a tool that can be used to help reinforce this and prevent multiple relapses.

Antabuse and Alcohol Interaction

Normally, when someone consumes alcohol, the body works to break ​​it down into other molecules that can be expelled from the body.

One of these breakdown products is called acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is responsible for producing hangovers and allergic reactions which makes drinking large amounts of alcohol unpleasant for most.

The disulfiram-alcohol reaction blocks one of the enzymes that breaks down acetaldehyde into a non-toxic substance.

Therefore, when someone drinks alcohol and is taking Antabuse at the same time, the toxic molecule builds up and causes unpleasant symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure and dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Thirst.

Antabuse Treatment Process: How Does It Work

Getting A Prescription

Antabuse is a prescription-only medication. Once you meet with your doctor to discuss the medication, they will ask you about your medical history along with your relationship with alcohol.

The medication may not be suitable for everyone, such as those with underlying health conditions.

Therefore, it is likely that your doctor will order procedures such as blood tests to make sure you do not have liver disease and can tolerate the medication.

Your doctor will either prescribe a 250 mg tablet or a 500 mg tablet, depending on what they see fit.

Paying For Antabuse

The average out-of-pocket cost of Antabuse without any insurance coverage is between $30-$100 per month.

However, most people who have insurance will be able to have the cost of their medication at least partially covered.

Other options that can help people pay for Antabuse include grants, coupons, and Medicaid assistance.

Taking Antabuse

Before you take the medication, it is important that you have not consumed alcohol for the past 12 hours, as this will likely result in unpleasant effects.

The medication is usually taken daily in tablet form and can be crushed and taken with liquids.

It is important to avoid any alcohol-containing products such as cough syrups and mouthwash as this can result in uncomfortable side effects.

It is also important to note that the medication stays in your system for about 2 weeks after you have stopped taking it.

This means that if you consume alcohol at any point within two weeks after you have stopped taking Antabuse, you will still experience the unpleasant effects.

How Long Do You Take Antabuse For?

According to SAMHSA, Antabuse can be taken long term for many years. However, some people prefer to stay on medication for shorter periods. This all depends on the person’s preferences and unique goals.

Some people who choose to stop taking the medication may wish to occasionally use the medication in high-risk situations, where relapses are likely to occur to help act as a deterrent.

What Happens If You Drink While On Antabuse?

Consuming any amount of alcohol will result in an accumulation of toxic substances that will cause unpleasant side effects, known as the disulfiram-alcohol reaction.

These adverse reactions occur within 10–30 minutes of consuming alcohol and may include:

  • Flushing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fast heart rate and chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blurred vision
  • Tiredness, dizziness, and fainting.

Consuming alcohol or alcohol-containing products can cause severe reactions, which can be dangerous.

It is important to seek medical advice if you do consume alcohol while taking Antabuse.

Final Thoughts

Antabuse is designed to act as a deterrent from alcohol. It helps support people in recovery from alcohol use disorders but is not designed to be a cure for alcoholism.

If you are worried about your or a loved one’s drinking, it is important to seek medical attention.

Your healthcare provider will be able to tell you if Antabuse is right for you and guide you through the recovery process.


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