Antabuse is an FDA-approved prescription medication for the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Those who take Antabuse may experience specific side effects, including headaches, drowsiness, swollen or sore tongue, and impotence.
Less common and more severe side effects when taking Antabuse include the following:
- Compromised vision
- Numbness of the extremities (arms and legs)
- Mood swings
- Weakness or lethargy
Individuals who experience more severe side effects when taking Antabuse should consult with a medical professional for treatment and assistance.
Antabuse for AUD
Antabuse is classified as a psychological deterrent to those who have alcohol use disorder. The medication works by inhibiting alcohol metabolism, causing acetaldehyde to build up, which is the toxic chemical that yields hangover-like effects and nausea.
Antabuse should only be given to individuals who have given their consent. Antabuse should never be given to someone without their full knowledge, and it should never be given to someone who is in a state of intoxication.
Long-Term Antabuse Side Effects
Although Antabuse is considered a safe and effective medication for the treatment of AUD, studies have suggested that long-term use of Antabuse can contribute to apparent liver injury, a condition that is severe and can even prove to be fatal. This acute liver injury occurs in about 1 per 10,000 to 30,000 individuals who have taken Antabuse for multiple years.
Antabuse works best in medically supervised scenarios and among individuals who have a genuine desire to remain abstinent from alcohol use.
Pregnant individuals should only use Antabuse as prescribed by a medical professional. It remains unknown if Antabuse passes into breast milk. It’s important to consult with a doctor before continuing to take Antabuse while breastfeeding.
During initial treatment, a maximum of 500 mg of Antabuse is given every day in tablet form. Antabuse tablets contain the following ingredients:
- Colloidal silicon dioxide
- Anhydrous lactose
- Magnesium stearate
- Microcrystalline cellulose
- Sodium starch glycolate
- Stearic acid
Dosage should not exceed 500 mg in a 24-hour period. Even though it should go without saying, Antabuse should not be taken with beverages or food items that contain alcohol. Common household items that contain alcohol include cough syrups, mouthwash, mints, and a variety of toothpaste.
Food items that contain alcohol include excessively ripe fruits (especially bananas), vanilla extract, yogurt, kefir, and baked goods (including bread).
Avoiding any foods and beverages that contain any levels of alcohol will help ensure that undesired symptoms do not occur.
When to Consult a Doctor
Individuals who continue to relapse and fail to get the results they are looking for when abstaining from alcohol should discontinue Antabuse use immediately. This medication is intended for individuals who have the ability to abstain from alcohol use on a consistent basis.
When taking Antabuse, if undesirable symptoms occur, do not simply write them off as normal. If you or someone you know experiences vision problems, respiratory issues, unusual thoughts or behavior, or liver problems, it’s important to consult with an experienced medical professional.
Problems with the liver manifest in a variety of ways, including upper stomach pain, nausea, persistent itching, exhaustion, lack of appetite, discolored urine (dark in color), and yellowing of the skin or the eyes (also called jaundice).
While Antabuse and disulfiram are powerful psychological deterrents for those struggling with AUD, it is not a cure for alcoholism. There is no cure for alcohol use disorder, as it is a chronic condition, but it can be effectively managed.
Antabuse should always be used in combination with a comprehensive treatment approach that includes medical detox, addiction therapy, psychiatric care, and support group work.
- LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. (September 2021). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
- Disulfiram Produces Potent Anxiolytic-Like Effects Without Benzodiazepine Anxiolytics-Related Adverse Effects in Mice. (February 2022). Frontiers in Pharmacology.
- Disulfiram. (November 2021). StatPearls.