Antabuse has a long history in the field of addiction treatment, and the medication continues to be used today to help alcoholics fight this debilitating disease. More recently, Antabuse (generic name: disulfiram) has shown promising outcomes when used to treat cocaine addiction. If you’ve tried to quit drinking without success, Antabuse may be an effective way to help you stay abstinent and resist the impulse to drink.

The Principle Behind Antabuse Treatment

Alcohol abuse is the third-leading cause of death worldwide, causing approximately 2.5 million deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. Statistics like these make it clear that helping alcoholics recover from this condition should be a top priority. Medications like Antabuse, combined with psychosocial treatment strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy and 12-step support groups, offer hope to chronic alcoholics who have been unable to stop drinking on their own.

Antabuse treatment is based on the principle of aversion therapy. When you’re taking this medication, the exposure to alcohol in any form — alcoholic beverages, foods, condiments, cosmetics, hair care products, mouthwashes, cleaning products, etc. — can cause violently unpleasant physical reactions. These reactions, which typically begin within 10 to 30 minutes of ingesting alcohol, can range from mildly uncomfortable to dangerous and severe:

  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Vertigo
  • Altered mental status

Ingesting alcohol while you’re taking Antabuse can make you feel like you have a sudden, severe hangover. You may start sweating, feeling warm and flushed, and have intense abdominal cramps combined with a rapid heart rate. In severe cases, drinking while taking Antabuse can cause heart attack, heart failure, unconsciousness or death.

Aversion therapy is a form of behavioral modification that discourages you from repeating a harmful experience (like abusing alcohol or cocaine) by making these experiences extremely unpleasant. No one should take Antabuse without understanding the potential side effects of drinking while taking this medication.

Before you begin Antabuse treatment, you should have been sober for at least 12 hours and should be evaluated by a doctor to make sure that you have no health conditions that would make it dangerous for you to take this medication. Antabuse therapy may not be recommended for people with heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, thyroid problems or serious psychiatric disorders. If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or nursing a baby, Antabuse may not be safe for you.

Antabuse and Relapse

When taken as directed, Antabuse can discourage the alcoholic from drinking. Taking your pill every day may remind you of your commitment to abstinence and serve as an extra motivation to stay sober that day. But Antabuse doesn’t stop the craving for alcohol, and it can’t keep you from picking up a drink. Alcoholism is a devious, powerful disease, and many alcoholics are able to convince themselves that drinking while they’re on Antabuse is worth the severe side effects.

Antabuse isn’t the only anti-addiction medication on the market. Drugs like acamprosate (Campral) and naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol) can help you manage the craving for alcohol and avoid a relapse by taking the edge off your desire to drink. But Antabuse does work for certain alcoholics when nothing else will. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Antabuse is most effective for alcoholics who meet the following criteria:

  • Those who are willing to commit to long-term rehab
  • Those who have a history of relapse but are currently in treatment
  • Those who can benefit from a structured approach to rehab
  • Those who are motivated to try Antabuse therapy

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that you won’t drink while you’re taking Antabuse. But with adequate support from counselors, peer groups, supportive family members and sober friends, Antabuse can be an effective part of your recovery plan.

Antabuse for Cocaine Addiction

In addition to treating alcoholism, Antabuse may be valuable resource for people who are struggling with cocaine addiction. As with alcohol, Antabuse can cause an aversive physical reaction when the user takes cocaine. In 2004, the National Institute on Drug Abuse announced the results of a study showing that cocaine-dependent patients who took Antabuse in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy had higher abstinence rates than those who participated in therapy alone. Patients who were not alcohol dependent and who avoided alcohol during treatment had the highest rates of success.

Could Antabuse help you stay clean and sober? If you’re dedicated to leading a healthier life, this medication could give you the support you need to keep up with your rehab plan and avoid alcohol or drugs. Antabuse isn’t safe or effective for everyone. Before you take this medication, you should have a complete medical evaluation. If you have questions about alcoholism treatment or you’re ready to get into treatment, our addiction specialists here at Axis Residential Treatment are ready to offer the help you’re looking for.