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Side Effects of Antabuse

Antabuse is a medication used to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD), though it isn’t as commonly used as it once was. The medication can cause some serious side effects, especially for those already at risk for its most serious side effects. In some cases, these side effects can become life-threatening, so it’s important to talk to a doctor about these risks and report any symptom that seems serious as soon as possible.

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Can Antabuse Cause Side Effects?

Even if a person doesn’t drink or consume alcohol, Antabuse can still cause some side effects. Some common side effects include acne, drowsiness, fatigue, impotence, a strange taste of metal or garlic in the mouth, skin rash, and mild headache.[1] While these side effects usually aren’t serious, talk to a doctor if they seem severe or last a while.

Potential signs that Antabuse is having a more serious effect on a person include severe tiredness, weakness, lack of energy, vomiting, severe nausea, appetite loss, yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundicing), and dark urine. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately or call 911, as they may signal life-threatening issues.

Breaking Down the Side Effects of Antabuse

Antabuse can cause physical, psychological, behavioral, and sexual side effects. We note some of these in the chart below and then discuss each type of side effect in more detail below:[2,3]

Notable Side Effects
Physical Side EffectsDermatitis, itching, liver problems, heart problems, seizures, and eye inflammation (optic neuritis)
Psychological Side EffectsPsychosis, confusion, mutism, headbanging, memory impairment, and stupor
Behavioral Side EffectsAlcohol avoidance
Sexual Side EffectsImpotence and other sexual dysfunction in males

Physical Side Effects

The disulfiram in Antabuse has been linked to a number of different side effects. The medication can cause skin problems, like itchiness, rashes, and acne, but these complications are reportedly relatively rare. 

More concerning are reports of the medication causing serious problems with the liver and heart.[4] People who have health conditions affecting these areas are usually not prescribed this medication as a safety measure, even if it otherwise would be a good fit. 

Antabuse can also cause seizures and inflammation of the eye, two symptoms which should also be treated as serious and reported to a doctor immediately if experienced.[5]

Psychological Side Effects

Psychiatric adverse effects are rare when a person uses Antabuse, but they can be serious if they do occur. A person may suffer a break from reality, acting illogically and believing, hearing, and seeing things that aren’t real. Some people enter confusion states when on the medication, temporarily losing their understanding of the world around them and what they’re doing.[2] 

Some people go mute, not speaking, and some even enter a stupor, becoming completely unresponsive. Memory impairment and headbanging, where a person repeatedly bangs their head for no logical reason, have also been reported.[2,6]

Behavioral Side Effects

Beyond where they overlap with certain psychiatric side effects listed above, Antabuse isn’t typically associated with many behavioral side effects. The primary purpose of the medication, helping a person avoid alcohol, will typically be an effect of the drug, but this is less a direct effect of the medication and more because a user knows alcohol will cause them to feel unwell if used. 

If a person experiences sexual side effects, they may engage in less sexual behavior, either because they feel incapable or embarrassed.[3] If this occurs, talk to your doctor if these effects are significantly impacting your quality of life.

Sexual Side Effects

Antabuse can affect men and women differently when it comes to sexual side effects.


Several sources have linked disulfiram use to sexual dysfunction in alcohol-dependent men who use the drug. Common complaints include impotence, reduced sexual performance, and difficulty achieving orgasm.[3]


Research seems to indicate that disulfiram usually only causes sexual dysfunction in males. 

What Are the Short-Term vs. Long-Term Side Effects of Taking Antabuse?

The following table breaks down both short-term and long-term side effects of Antabuse:[1,2]

Short-Term Side EffectsLong-Term Side Effects
Alcohol becomes unpleasant to consume.With a comprehensive treatment plan in place, alcohol will likely become increasingly easier to avoid.
Some unpleasant side effects are likely to occur, such as feeling more tired and potentially experiencing sexual dysfunction.Common side effects may lessen. If side effects don’t go away or seem severe, talk to a doctor.
More serious side effects may occur, warranting medical attention.The potential for liver and heart problems will likely be a doctor’s primary concern, as both can signal a major issue with the current treatment.

In the short term, using Antabuse can be challenging for some people. Without other types of treatment (like behavioral therapy), you may not notice much change in your cravings for alcohol. Instead, the medication just deters you from drinking, as it makes alcohol unpleasant to consume. 

You will also experience some other side effects that can be unpleasant. Many users feel like they have less energy, and some men report a decrease in sexual function.

In the long term, the medication should get easier to handle. When combined with continued addiction therapy, it can be a useful tool for some people to avoid drinking. 

Work with your doctor and monitor how you feel and behave. Immediately report any side effects to your doctor. While there are a variety of serious side effects associated with disulfiram, issues related to the heart and liver are most concerning, so report these promptly.[7] 

Not the Only Choice

Antabuse is not as commonly used as it once was due to the potential for more severe reactions and side effects.[8] Talk to your treatment team about whether Antabuse or another form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the right form of alcohol addiction treatment for you.

Updated April 10, 2024
  1. Disulfiram. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published August 15, 2017. Accessed March 26, 2024.
  2. Disulfiram. StatPearls. Published January 2024. Accessed March 26, 2024.
  3. Sexual dysfunction in alcohol-dependent men on disulfiram or baclofen prophylaxis: A preliminary report. Grover S, Sarkar S, Nebhinani N, Mattoo S, Basu D. Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. 2014;5(3):205.
  4. A study of cardiovascular complications of disulfiram-ethanol reaction. Kumaraswamy G, HP P, Ramaiah V, Anjanappa J. National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 2013;3(1):35.
  5. Epileptic seizure due to disulfiram treatment. Erensoy H, Sargin AE. Korean Journal of Family Medicine. 2019;40(6):406-408.
  6. Delirium-associated disulfiram and ethanol interactions. Hasan Mirsal, Irem Yalug, Tan D, et al. The Primary Care to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2005;7(5).
  7. LiverTox: Clinical and research information on drug-induced liver injury. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published 2012. Accessed March 26, 2024.
  8. Does disulfiram have a role in alcoholism treatment today? Fuller RK, Gordis E. Addiction. 2004;99(1):21-24.
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