What is Antabuse? Everything You Need To Know

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Antabuse, also known as disulfiram, is a medication used to help people with chronic alcoholism abstain from alcohol.

It helps to achieve this by utilizing the disulfiram-alcohol reaction, which causes unpleasant symptoms when alcohol is consumed.

In this article, we will explain how the medication works. We will also outline:

  • What Antabuse is and how it works
  • How Antabuse is administered and the typical dosages
  • What the medication is used for
  • What to know before using the medication, and how to use it properly
  • Who can’t take the medication
  • Side effects of Antabuse
  • Precautions to take with Antabuse
  • How to take the medication.

Let’s get into it.

What Is Antabuse (Disulfiram)?

Antabuse is an FDA-approved medication used to help people with Alcohol Use Disorder (also known as alcoholism) to discourage further drinking.

It is a medication that can be prescribed to people to take at least 12 hours after they stop drinking and causes undesirable effects if they consume alcohol.

The medication is taken as a tablet and is usually taken once a day.

Antabuse is usually prescribed together with psychological treatments such as counseling and therapy, to help you maintain sobriety.

How Antabuse Works

Antabuse, also called Disulfiram, works by stopping the full breakdown of alcohol in the body.

This is called with disulfiram-alcohol reaction. It inhibits the actions of one of the enzymes which is involved in processing the breakdown of alcohol byproducts.

Even small amounts of alcohol result in the build-up of one of these byproducts called acetic acid. This results in unpleasant side effects such as nausea, flushing, chest pain, dizziness, and thirst.

This discourages alcohol use but does not treat alcohol cravings for alcohol or alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

It is therefore not considered a cure for alcoholism but rather a tool that is used with other treatments, such as therapy and group counseling sessions.

Administration and Dosage

If your healthcare provider believes that you will benefit from the medication, they will prescribe the medication to be taken once a day.

Depending on what your doctor deems necessary, they will prescribe two doses of disulfiram: either 250 mg or 500 mg. These are available in tablet form and can be crushed and taken with liquids.

It is important not to take the medication if you have consumed alcohol or alcohol-containing products such as cough mixtures/cough syrups in the past 12 hours, as doing so will cause unpleasant side effects.

Indications for Use

Antabuse is designed to be used in people with Alcohol Use Disorder.

Once you have undergone medical detox and it is safe for you to take the medication (or if you suffer from mild to moderate chronic alcoholism that does not need detox), you may be prescribed the medication.

It can also be prescribed for cocaine dependence, as it is thought to help balance the levels of neurotransmitters thought to be involved in cocaine addictions.

Before Using

It is important to wait for 12 hours after you last ingest alcohol to take this medication in order to avoid an unpleasant reaction.

It is also important to discuss your past health with your doctor.

This includes letting them know of any past medical issues you may have and checking for vitals such as blood pressure to make sure the medication is safe to use.

You should know how to take the medication and what symptoms to look out for in case of any serious side effects.

Proper Use

Antabuse is available in tablet form and comes in 2 strengths (either 250 mg or 500 mg) which your doctor will prescribe depending on what they deem fit.

These tablets are taken once daily and can be crushed and mixed with various other liquids such as juice, tea, or water, which can make it easier to take.

It is important to not double up on your dose, as this may increase the risk of side effects.

Precautions

It is important to make sure you only take the medication as prescribed and let your doctor know if you are taking or are planning to take any other medications.

Antabuse can interact with other prescription medications as well as recreational drugs such as cannabis and produce undesirable side effects.

It is also important to know that drinking large amounts of alcohol will result in a toxic build-up of acetic acid, which can be dangerous especially in people with other underlying health conditions.  

Contraindications

Antabuse is not safe for everyone to use. Severe reactions and adverse reactions can occur in people who have had past medical problems and are unlikely to tolerate the medication well.

These people may include:

  • People with severe liver disease, or impaired liver function
  • People who have had a history of heart attacks (myocardial infarction), congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, or other forms of cardiovascular disease
  • People who have had brain damage before
  • People with kidney disease (renal disease)
  • People with an underactive thyroid
  • People who have had allergic reactions to similar medications.

 Interactions With Other Medications

It is also important to know that Antabuse can interact with certain medications.

If you intend to use the medication, it is important to tell your doctor what other medications you are (or are planning to) taking.

Common medication interactions that can cause unpleasant symptoms include:

  • Blood thinners
  • Cough medicine
  • Amitriptyline
  • Imipramine
  • Phenytoin
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Diazepam
  • Omeprazole
  • Acetaminophen.

Side Effects of Antabuse

Like any medication, it is important to be aware of any adverse effects the medication may have.

While severe reactions are rare, it is important to know what the symptoms are so that you can seek help.

Serious side effects are more common in people who have underlying health conditions, it is therefore important to fully discuss your medical history with a doctor before being prescribed the medication.

Common Side Effects

There are some common side effects that you may experience if you are taking the medication. These are usually mild and usually subside over time.

Common reactions include:

  • Headaches
  • Sleepiness
  • Metallic taste (halitosis)
  • Unpleasant side effects if accidentally taken with alcohol-containing products, such as ingested mouthwash or cough syrup.

The medication will stay in your system for up to 2 weeks. This means that you are likely to still experience unpleasant side effects, even if you have stopped taking the medication.

Serious Adverse Effects

Although severe reactions are rare, it is important to know that there is always a possibility of severe side effects.

If you experience any of these symptoms (or anything else that is out of the ordinary and concerning you), it is important to seek professional help.

Serious side effects include:

  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and hepatic impairment
  • Peripheral neuropathy (disease of the nerves in the extremities)
  • Dermatological side effects such as rash, potentially due to an allergic reaction
  • Psychosis, especially when taken with cannabis
  • Chest pain and a risk of heart attack when taken with alcohol.

Symptoms of Serious Side Effects

Since there is potential for adverse effects when taking this medication, it is important to know what symptoms to look out for.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite and hunger
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain.

In order to minimize the risk of any serious side effects, it is important to take the medication as prescribed.

It is also vital to try to avoid any alcohol intake and to make sure you let your doctor know of any other underlying medical conditions.

Your doctor may ask you to do a blood test called a full blood count to make sure you can take this medication.

How To Take Antabuse

Antabuse should only be taken under the guidance of a trained medical professional.

The medication can be taken with or without food and is usually taken in the morning.

It is important to not take a double dose even if you have missed a dose as this can result in unpleasant side effects.

The tablet can be taken with a drink and should be taken around the same time each day to help you keep track of whether you have taken the medication.

Do not take the medication if you have consumed alcohol within the last 12 hours, as this will result in unpleasant side effects.

The medication will stay in your body for 2 weeks after it was last used, so it is important to avoid alcohol at all times even after you stop the medication.

Wrapping Up

Antabuse is a tool used to help people with Alcohol Use Disorder abstain from alcohol.

The medication works by discouraging alcohol use as it causes unpleasant side effects when alcohol is consumed.

Although less common, it can also be used to help people with cocaine addictions.

It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of the medication with your doctor before taking the medication as it may not be a suitable tool for everyone.

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