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How Effective Is Antabuse?

Antabuse can be very effective for people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Essentially, it works as a powerful deterrent that will render an individual sick and nauseous if they drink alcohol. While Antabuse might be an effective treatment for AUD for some individuals, there are others who do not respond well to this type of treatment. Because of this, it may not be effective for some people.

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What Is Antabuse?

Antabuse (also called disulfiram) is a medication that blocks an enzyme that interacts with alcohol. When alcohol is consumed, the body metabolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that is attributed to symptoms of having a hangover.

Hangover symptoms include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tremors

Normally, the body is able to oxidize acetaldehyde, which then turns into acetic acid. This substance is not harmful to the body or its processes.

When Antabuse is taken, this medication will disrupt the metabolic process. Antabuse essentially prevents the oxidation process, which results in acetaldehyde not being converted to acetic acid. What results is an acetaldehyde buildup in the body. This buildup is typically 10 times greater than normal levels that occur when consuming alcohol. 

Antabuse and disulfiram generally come in tablet form and in either 250-mg or 500-mg dosages. If you are taking Antabuse for the first time, it is recommended to start with a smaller dose to ensure there are no intense reactions or symptoms.

Antabuse response will vary from person to person depending on body mass index (BMI) as well as other physiological factors. 

Antabuse Candidacy

Those who are viable candidates for taking Antabuse are usually struggling with alcohol abuse or full-blown alcoholism. If you consider yourself a good candidate for Antabuse, it’s important to be fully aware of the consequences and possible adverse reactions related to taking Antabuse while drinking. 

Antabuse is often used in more extreme cases of alcohol abuse and addiction. A majority of individuals recover from alcoholism with more traditional treatment methods such as detox, rehabilitation, and therapy.

If an individual has tried multiple times to quit drinking and misusing alcohol with poor results, Antabuse may be a viable option for managing alcohol cravings and deterring an individual from acting on those cravings.

Who Should Avoid Antabuse?

Although Antabuse has been shown to inhibit NET (neutrophil extracellular trap) formation, Antabuse can cause some serious reactions. This form of medication should be avoided by those who have heart problems (such as heart disease) or any sort of allergy to Antabuse. Antabuse should also be avoided if the individual considering taking it has any sort of psychological issues. 

Antabuse should also not be taken during pregnancy unless the matter is discussed with an experienced health care professional, and both parties agree that the benefits outweigh the risks.

In any circumstance, it’s important to discuss the matter with a health care professional before taking Antabuse. The medication interacts with other drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Antabuse should only be given or taken with an individual’s informed consent. This medication should never be given to someone without their knowledge.

Consequences of Drinking Alcohol While Taking Antabuse

If you consume alcohol while taking Antabuse, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience.

Common symptoms that occur if you drink alcohol while taking Antabuse include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion or disorientation

Higher doses of Antabuse combined with alcohol can even cause reactions that are more severe, including these symptoms: 

  • Respiratory depression
  • Palpitations
  • Seizure
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Unresponsiveness or unconsciousness 

High doses of Antabuse combined with alcohol can even result in death. It is advised to avoid all alcohol consumption while taking Antabuse in any dosage.

Antabuse is hardly a cure for alcohol use disorder since there is no cure for alcoholism. As a result, Antabuse should never be considered as such. 

Antabuse should only be taken in conjunction with traditional forms of addiction treatment. At the end of the day, medical detox, rehab, therapy, and aftercare are still the most effective ways of treating alcoholism.

Alternatives to Antabuse

Anyone who is hesitant when it comes to taking Antabuse for the treatment of alcohol use disorder might be interested in exploring alternatives. Here are some of them:

Naltrexone

Naltrexone provides another treatment option for those looking to abstain from alcohol use. Naltrexone is generally prescribed for opioid dependence, but it has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of alcohol use disorder.

The medication is also used as a powerful anti-inflammatory and has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of fibromyalgia, IPL (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), as well as trichotillomania. Naltrexone is also used to help individuals quit smoking.

Vivitrol

Vivitrol is a variation of naltrexone that is administered by intramuscular injection. Vivitrol is generally utilized to treat opioid use disorder as well as alcohol use disorder. Vivitrol doses are given by health care professionals once every four weeks.

Antabuse will remain in a person’s system for around two weeks while naltrexone is gone in about a day. A Vivitrol injection, on the other hand, stays in the body’s system for around a month.

The Need for Complete Treatment

While taking Antabuse or an alternative, it’s important to understand that prescription medication alone is not an effective way to abstain from alcohol or drug use. Although medication can aid when needed, there is no substitute for engaging in a well-rounded recovery plan that includes therapy.

Although Antabuse has been shown to be an effective physical and psychological deterrent to drinking alcohol, it does not help with withdrawal symptoms or reduce cravings. Antabuse should only be pursued by individuals who are struggling with cravings and relapse. Its use should always be complemented by rehabilitation, support group work, and psychiatric care.

If extreme symptoms or reactions occur, it is recommended to stop taking Antabuse immediately. Consult your doctor regarding next steps.

Updated April 25, 2023
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