Alcohol still remains the number one drug of abuse in the United States. According to statistics provided by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • In 2013, 86.8 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70.7 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.4 percent reported that they drank in the past month.
  • Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
  • In 2013, 24.6 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month; 6.8 percent reported that they engaged in heavy drinking in the past month.
  • In 2006, alcohol misuse problems cost the United States $223.5 billion.

For those who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction, finding professional help from a quality drug and alcohol treatment center is top priority and must be done as soon as possible. For over 50 years, alcohol rehab facilities worldwide have utilized disulfiram as part of their comprehensive treatment programs. This medication has been an effective tool in helping alcoholics beat their addiction, but it also comes with its share of risks. If you are considering a disulfiram-based treatment program, it is important to know the drug’s history, its application and the benefits and risks of using disulfiram.

What is Disulfiram?

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Perhaps better known as antabuse, disulfiram was the first medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat chronic alcoholism. In its pure state, disulfiram is a white powder that is odorless and virtually tasteless. Disulfiram, which is soluble in both water and alcohol, is considered an alcohol-aversive or alcohol-sensitizing agent because it causes an acutely toxic physical reaction in people who drink alcohol while on this medication.

The drug was initially discovered in the 1940’s by Danish scientists who were looking for ways to kill intestinal parasites. They discovered that when subjects drank alcohol while on disulfiram, they became violently ill. With this discovery, scientists focused their study on how disulfiram can be used in treating alcohol dependence and alcoholism. When it was approved by the FDA in 1951, it was initially used as a form of aversion therapy in the treatment of alcoholism. However, the use of antabuse shifted to helping recovering alcoholics maintain abstinence after reports of severe reactions to drug led to numerous deaths.

How Does Disulfiram Work?

Antabuse blocks alcohol’s primary metabolite, which causes a buildup of acetaldehyde in the body, which the chemical that causes hangovers. Without alcohol, disulfiram has no impact on the body whatsoever. However, if a person drinks alcohol while on this drug, the effects they experience when they have a hangover are amplified. The common side effects seen in those who drink while taking antabuse include intense headaches, nausea, chest pain, weakness, blurred vision, mental confusion, sweating, choking, breathing difficulty, heart palpitations and anxiety. Perhaps the biggest side effect of disulfiram while drinking is the excessive vomiting.

Another consideration to keep in mind in regards to using antabuse is the fact that people will experience significant and sometimes violent reactions if there is any presence of alcohol in the bloodstream. Many common household products such as mouthwash, cough medicines, cooking wine and vinegar has amounts of alcohol in them. Great care must be taken to minimize exposure to these items while taking disulfiram. Additionally, people taking the drug should also avoid eating foods and desserts that contain small amounts of alcohol.

The Use of Disulfiram in Alcohol Rehab

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Before disulfiram can be administered in alcohol treatment, there are several important things that need to be kept in mind. First and foremost, patients must not have consumed alcohol in a 24 hour period prior to starting disulfiram treatment. This time period is needed to ensure there is no trace of alcohol present in a person’s bloodstream. There are also situations and conditions in which the use of antabuse would cause serious health complications or worsen pre-existing medical and mental conditions. These can include the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychosis
  • Personality disorders with impulsivity and self-harm
  • Known sensitivity to other medicines

Usually, those who are undergoing disulfiram treatment will receive a 200mg tablet which is partially dissolved in water and then will receive similar doses on alternating days. Usually, disulfiram is used 6-12 months and as a part of a comprehensive treatment program to promote continued abstinence.

Benefits and Risks of Disulfiram

As with type of medication therapy, you must consider both the benefits and risks of taking disulfiram as part of your treatment regimen. A great benefit of this medication is that is works quickly; the drug will begin to work in your bloodstream in as little as ten minutes. Not only does disulfiram work quickly, it stays in your bloodstream for up to two weeks. Additionally, antabuse is easy to take it tablet form and you only need to take a dose every other day, or you can take it every day depending on the severity of your addiction. When you include disulfiram as part of an overall treatment plan which includes therapy and other treatment programming, the chances of you achieving meaningful long-term recovery increase.

However, there are some serious side effects that can be experienced in people who take this drug. These effects can include liver damage, cardiovascular problems, skin rashes, acne, headaches, fatigue and impotence. You must be sure to give your doctor a complete list of any prescription medications, over-the-counter medications or supplements you’re taking to prevent drug interactions.

Are You Looking to Beat Your Alcoholism or Drug Addiction?

Alcoholism and other forms of drug addiction is complex, progressive and needs a treatment approach that is comprehensive, multi-faceted and delivered by experienced treatment staff who can handle any type of addiction and addictive behavior. With our team-based and unique holistic approach to treatment, Ocean Breeze Recovery Center has the wide range of alternative and traditional therapy and treatment programs that will help you heal in mind, body and spirit. Call us toll-free today and break the chains of addiction once and for all.

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