How It Works
Disulfiram changes the way your body breaks down (metabolizes) alcohol. If you drink alcohol while you
are taking disulfiram, you will experience uncomfortable symptoms, including
severe nausea, vomiting, and headache. These symptoms discourage you from
drinking alcohol by making it unpleasant.
Why It Is Used
Disulfiram is used to treat alcohol
dependence. It is most helpful if you are motivated to
stop drinking and are willing to take the medicine under supervision. Medicines
are not typically used alone to treat alcohol abuse or dependence. The best
treatment is a combination of medicine and
How Well It Works
The effectiveness of disulfiram varies. When taken as directed, it
can help you completely stop drinking by increasing the number of days you go
without a drink.1 It works best if you are motivated
to stop drinking and you take the medicine as directed. Disulfiram is used less
often than some of the newer medicines (naltrexone, acamprosate), because it
might damage the liver.
The effects from disulfiram are intentionally unpleasant to help
encourage you to remain sober. Disulfiram causes the following effects when you
drink alcohol, with effects lasting from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
- Face and body flushing
- Throbbing in
your head and neck, severe headache
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Severe low blood pressure
When you take disulfiram and do not drink, the main effect is
drowsiness. Use caution when you drive or operate machinery while taking this
In rare cases, disulfiram can cause abnormal liver function and
numbness or tingling in your hands or feet.
You should not take disulfiram if
- Are pregnant.
- Have severe heart,
lung, kidney, or liver disease.
- Have serious psychological
illnesses (such as
- Take certain medicines that
interact with disulfiram or those that contain alcohol, such as cough medicine.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference
is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
You take this medicine every day for a period of weeks or longer,
until you overcome your craving for alcohol. Disulfiram should not be taken
within 24 hours of drinking alcohol. Disulfiram stays in the bloodstream for up
to 2 weeks after the last dose. Uncomfortable symptoms will develop during this
time if you drink alcohol.
While taking disulfiram, you cannot take medicines or use
substances that contain alcohol (such as cough syrups, liquid medicines
containing alcohol, mouthwashes, and wine vinegars). This will cause the same
effects that occur when you take alcohol.
Several medicines, including seizure medicines, interact poorly
with disulfiram. Be sure your doctor knows all the medicines you are taking
before you try disulfiram.
You might want to ask friends or family to help you take disulfiram
as directed until you feel confident about taking it on your own.
You might need liver function tests before and during the time you
You will need to carry an identification card or wear a medical
alert bracelet while taking disulfiram.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Department of Health and Human Services (2009). Incorporating alcohol pharmacotherapies into medical practice. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP), Series 49 (HHS Publication No. SMA 09-4380). Available online: http://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-49-Incorporating-Alcohol-Pharmacotherapies-Into-Medical-Practice/SMA09-4380.
Primary Medical Reviewer
||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
||Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
Current as of
||March 12, 2014