Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

What is Antabuse?


Disulfiram, more commonly known by the brand name Antabuse, is a medication designed to assist in the treatment of alcoholism and was the first of its kind to be licensed by the FDA for use in the USA. Antabuse works by interrupting the process that breaks down alcohol in the body, therefore disrupting the body’s reliance on alcohol enough to help the patient heal.


It is important to note that Antabuse is not a cure for alcoholism, but a medicine to help deter dependence on it while an addict receives the psychological treatment and other techniques needed to break their addiction fully and allow them to lead a life of sobriety. Antabuse alone will not stop cravings or reduce withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. However, there are many reasons why it is a useful tool as part of rehabilitation treatments, even in the 21st century with so many other treatment options available.


Disulfiram was first discovered in the 1930s when workers in the rubber industry became unwell after drinking alcohol. As part of the work that they were doing, these workers were handling tetraethylthiuram disulfide – disulfiram. Scientific experiments in the 1940s using disulfiram as a potential treatment to treat stomach illnesses found that those patients who drank alcohol got ill. By 1951 it had been developed as a medication to treat alcoholism and was finally approved by the FDA for prescriptive use in the USA.  It was branded as Antabuse, and doctors began to prescribe it to deter the heaviest of drinkers.

What Does Antabuse Do?


So, how exactly does Antabuse work? When alcohol enters the body it is converted into acetaldehyde, which then oxidizes into harmless acetic acid. Antabuse prevents acetaldehyde from converting into acetic acid. As acetaldehyde is toxic if it remains in the body at too high a dose, the user becomes ill, since the acetaldehyde does not convert and so is a 5 to 10 times higher dose than it is after drinking alcohol normally.


The user is deterred from drinking alcohol as it becomes associated with this feeling unwell. It is recommended that patients do not take Antabuse for at least 12 hours after drinking alcohol and that they do not drink for several weeks after they have stopped taking the medication. Someone taking Antabuse must not drink alcohol while they are prescribed the medication, including all foods that contain alcohol such as cooking wine, cough syrups, and mouthwash.


Antabuse Side Effects


If someone does drink alcohol while on Antabuse, then the drug will react as it is designed to, and cause the drinker unpleasant side effects, as predicted. Reactions to drinking alcohol while on Antabuse include flushing, nausea, vomiting, sweating, thirst, headache, respiratory difficulty, confusion, weakness, vertigo, hyperventilation, and palpitations. These reactive symptoms occur as the Antabuse impedes the oxidization of the acetaldehyde.


As a result, patients are advised only to take Antabuse if they are severely, chronically alcoholic, looking to stop drinking, and begin the medication fully aware of the risks and the effects that it causes. Long-term usage of Antabuse daily, as it is prescribed, has been proven in Europe as a very effective deterrent that encourages people to stop drinking and develop sobriety as a habit.

 Antabuse Reaction


Antabuse is effective, but it does not come without risks of reaction. While the symptoms outlined above are effective, there are further symptoms that are not part of the deterrent, and if someone begins experiencing any of these symptoms means that a doctor or 911 should be called immediately. Concerning symptoms include eye pain or vision loss, numbness or tingling, untypical behavior, and signs of liver problems such as jaundice (yellow skin), dark urine, or clay-colored stools.


Additional medications can also affect the way that Antabuse affects a patient. Seizure medications and blood-thinning medications such as warfarin, in particular, can have more of an impact on how Antabuse works. Additional medications should be disclosed to the responsible medical professional before a patient begins taking Antabuse, or,  at any point throughout their prescription period if their other prescriptions change.

Does Antabuse Cure Alcoholism?


Antabuse has been proven to be effective, but it is worth emphasizing that the effectiveness of the medication, as with any rehabilitation process, depends almost entirely on the patient and their dedication to their program and to taking the Antabuse daily as prescribed, all while being supported by their medical team. Antabuse both makes the idea and process of drinking alcohol distasteful and causes the body to react badly to it.


Antabuse and Rehab


An addict’s commitment to the rest of the treatment program and the other aspects involved is needed, for example, the psychological counseling aspect. Professionals help patients tackle the psychological issues that are the root cause of their alcohol abuse, and allow them to reconcile with being mentally deterred from drinking as Antabuse deters them physically from drinking. These two different aspects of the treatments working together mean that patients are able to gain a new focus with new sobriety, and start to rebuild their lives from the derailment that alcohol addiction and abuse typically causes.


Overall, the circumstances and situations that result in an alcoholic patient being prescribed Antabuse are specific. The medicine is only used with the complete understanding from the patient of the effects of Antabuse if they were to drink alcohol. Antabuse is a temporary measure to be used alongside counseling as patients undergo treatment. Patients are under continued medical guidance, and have support throughout their recovery.


Once patients are no longer taking Antabuse as part of a rehabilitation program, they are not allowed to continue taking the drug, and can only take it again if are thought to be extremely close to relapse, or have relapsed, and once again do so under close medical follow up. Antabuse may seem drastic or questionable to some. Under careful prescription and as part of treatment for the most severe addictions, Antabuse has proved time and time again to be an effective tool part of alcoholism recovery when embraced by patients.

References: Antabuse

  • Warren D. Prescription Drug and Alcohol Use Disorders: Alcohol Use Disorder. FP Essent. 2019 Mar;478:30-42. [PubMed]
  • Heldal AT, Skurtveit S, Lobmaier PPK, Vederhus JK, Bramness JG. Use of drugs for alcohol use disorder in Norway 2004–16. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2018 Nov 13;138(18) [PubMed]
  • Blanco-Gandía MC, Rodríguez-Arias M. Pharmacological treatments for opiate and alcohol addiction: A historical perspective of the last 50 years. Eur J Pharmacol. 2018 Oct 05;836:89-101. [PubMed]
  • Guerzoni S, Pellesi L, Pini LA, Caputo F. Drug-drug interactions in the treatment for alcohol use disorders: A comprehensive review. Pharmacol Res. 2018 Jul;133:65-76. [PubMed]
  • Falk D. E., Ryan M. L., Fertig J. B., Devine E. G., Cruz R., Brown E. S., Burns H., Salloum I. M., Newport D. J., Mendelson J., Galloway G., Kampman K., Brooks C., Green A. I., Brunette M. F., Rosenthal R. N., Dunn K. E., Strain E. C., Ray L., Shoptaw S., Tiouririne N. A.-D., Gunderson E. W., Ransom J., Scott C., Leggio L., Caras S., Mason B. J., Litten R. Z.; National Institute on Alochol Abuse and Alcoholism Clinical Investigations Group (NCIG) Study Group , Gabapentin enacarbil extended-release for alcohol use disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multisite trial assessing efficacy and safety. Alcohol. Clin. Exp. Res. 43, 158–169 (2019). []
Chairman & CEO at Remedy Wellbeing | Website | + posts

Alexander Bentley is the Chairman & CEO of Remedy Wellbeing™ as well as the creator & pioneer behind Tripnotherapy™, embracing ‘NextGen’ psychedelic bio-pharmaceuticals to treat burnout, addiction, depression, anxiety and psychological unease.

Under his leadership as CEO, Remedy Wellbeing™ received the accolade of Overall Winner: Worlds Best Rehab 2022 by Worlds Best Rehab Magazine. Because of his incredible work, the clinic is the world’s first $1 million-plus exclusive rehab center providing an escape for individuals and families requiring absolute discretion such as Celebrities, Sportspeople, Executives, Royalty, Entrepreneurs and those subject to intense media scrutiny.

At Worlds Best Rehab, we strive to provide the most up-to-date and accurate Addiction Recovery and Rehab information on the web so our readers can make informed decisions about their healthcare.
Our reviewers are credentialed subject matter experts specializing in addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare. We follow strict guidelines when fact-checking information and only use credible sources when citing statistics and medical information. Look for the medically reviewed badge Worlds Best Rehab on our articles for the most up-to-date and accurate information.
If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate or out-of-date, please let us know via our Contact Page