What Happens If You Drink Alcohol While Taking Disulfiram?

by | Feb 19, 2023 | Addiction | 0 comments

Alcohol is one of the most widely normalized substances, with tremendously harmful effects on the brain and body. It causes 10 percent of deaths of people aged 15-49 in the United States. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) has a vice-like grip on our society, however, there are viable options to treat this addiction.

Medication-Assisted Treatment For AUD

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) refers to the adjunctive use of various medicines and therapies to treat a range of substance use disorders. MAT generally involves taking pharmacological medications to curb the withdrawal discomfort that occurs upon quitting a substance. MAT can be used for alcohol, as well as nicotine, opioids and opiates, and methamphetamines. This type of treatment typically takes place as a specialized treatment to monitor patients and aid recovery. However, it is also common for MAT to be used in primary care practices, meaning it doesn’t have to take place at a specialized facility. The FDA has approved 4 drugs for opioid addiction recovery, 3 drugs for tobacco addiction, and 3 drugs for alcohol addiction. The drugs that are used for MAT purposes are drastically less addictive than their counterpart substances. With that being said, MAT medications can present side effects and become addictive over time. It is imperative to have a trained professional prescribing, monitoring, and advising you during treatment.

What is Disulfiram?

Disulfiram, sold as Antabuse, is a medication used to assist in the treatment of chronic alcohol addiction. When alcohol is consumed, it is broken down at many stages to be at least somewhat tolerated by the body. It is first broken down into acetaldehyde, which is then broken down further by the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Acetaldehyde is toxic to the body, and so is short-lived. It is subsequently converted to acetate, which is also toxic to the body. Disulfiram inhibits acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, causing a buildup of acetaldehyde. When one is taking disulfiram and consumes alcohol, severe discomfort follows. Disulfiram is like other MAT medications because it doesn’t interact with receptors in your cells and interacts solely with the alcohol. Disulfiram hinders the breakdown of alcohol, causing the body to form an acute sensitivity to ethanol (drinkable alcohol).

What Happens If You Drink While Taking Disulfiram?

When alcohol is consumed during disulfiram treatment, it inhibits the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, blocking the oxidation process of acetaldehyde. This causes a buildup of acetaldehyde up to 5-10 times higher than after the breakdown of acetaldehyde without the presence of disulfiram. This causes a patient undergoing disulfiram treatment to feel the effects of an extremely severe alcohol hangover immediately upon consuming alcohol.

Symptoms of alcohol consumption while taking disulfiram can include:

  • Sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blurred vision
  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Throbbing in the neck or head
  • Vertigo
  • Confusion

Disulfiram, also known by the brand name Antabuse, serves to discourage patients from alcohol consumption, encouraging them to avoid the uncomfortable interaction between disulfiram and alcohol intake instead. It is vital that disulfiram is only prescribed to someone who is not under the influence, is fully understanding the consequences of alcohol consumption during this plan, and has carefully considered the treatment plan considering its confronting methodology.

We Can Help You

If you or someone you love is struggling with chronic alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), please reach out to us. We can help design an adequate treatment plan, potentially involving disulfiram, or some other medication to assist recovery.