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Disulfiram for Alcohol Abuse Treatment: Everything You Need To Know

By Manjari Bansal
Disulfiram is a medication that helps you quit drinking. Find out more about this drug and how it helps in treating alcohol abuse.

Disulfiram is a medication that helps you overcome chronic drinking. If you drink while taking disulfiram, you may experience undesirable side effects and feel uncomfortable. This can reduce your constant cravings for alcohol and help you maintain sobriety. Learn more about disulfiram and its role in treating alcohol abuse disorder.

What is Disulfiram?

Disulfiram is prescribed by your doctor to treat chronic alcoholism, according to the US National Library of Medicine. It does not cure alcoholism, but rather discourages you from drinking by producing unpleasant effects when you ingest even trace amounts of alcohol. These effects may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness and sweating
  • Mental confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Breathing difficulty and choking

You may experience these symptoms within 10 minutes of alcohol consumption and they may last for 1 hour or more.

“Disulfiram is a pill taken daily that causes an unpleasant physical reaction if an individual is to drink alcohol, thereby helping individuals abstain from alcohol and reduce thoughts and cravings associated with drinking,” Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“The length of time a person takes the medication will vary between individuals,” Alan Thomalla, PhD, a licensed psychologist at ABC Resources, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“The longer a person takes disulfiram, however, the more effective it becomes in relation to potency,” Thomalla says.

Disulfiram and Alcohol Use Disorder

“Disulfiram can be used as a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat those with an alcohol use disorder,” Sternlicht says.

It works by blocking the breakdown of alcohol in your body, states the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). So, when you consume alcohol while taking disulfiram, toxic alcohol-related chemicals will accumulate in your body, which can make you very sick. This reaction helps you avoid alcohol while you are on disulfiram.

According to NAMI, there are a few things you should know about disulfiram use:

  • You should not consume any alcoholic beverage for at least 12 hours before you take your first dose of disulfiram. If you take the drug too soon after drinking, it may make you severely ill.
  • Never stop taking disulfiram unless advised by your doctor. The length of the treatment is determined by your doctor and missed doses may increase the risk of a relapse.
  • Always inform your doctor about all the medications you are taking. Some medicines may have trace amounts of alcohol in them, which may react with disulfiram and cause unpleasant symptoms.  

“Disulfiram can be utilized as a short or long-term medication, and should be used in conjunction with therapy and behavioral counseling to help support individuals achieve long-term abstinence,” Sternlicht adds. 

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.