Antabuse (Disulfiram) - Uses for Alcoholism | Detox Plus UK

Generic name: Disulfiram 
Drug Class: Drugs used in alcohol dependence

Antabuse (Disulfiram) blocks the enzyme involved in processing alcohol, producing very unpleasant side effects when alcohol is consumed alongside it.

Antabuse is used in certain people with chronic alcoholism.

This medicine can help keep you from drinking because of the unpleasant side effects that will occur if you consume alcohol while taking Antabuse.

There are many medications to help alcohol addiction, but Antabuse is unique. Rather than being focused on easing withdrawal symptoms, it is designed to motivate people to stop drinking.

The medication existed for other reasons for many years. Thanks to worldwide success with Antabuse, UK doctors are using it on prescription. 

antabuse (disulfiram) mechanism action infographic

Table of contents:

How Antabuse works

Side effects

Drinking alcohol with Antabuse

Antabuse prescription

How Antabuse works

As an anti-depressant, medications such as Bupropion (for smoking cessation) directly reduce cravings. Antabuse, however, provides physical and psychological motivation to abstain from drinking alcohol by causing unpleasant physical side effects whenever you consume even a tiny amount.

These side effects take away the pleasurable experience of drinking alcohol and disrupt the reward system, which contributes heavily to alcohol addiction.

Disulfiram, sold in the UK under Antabuse, was initially used to treat parasites.

Doctors noticed that anyone who drank alcohol while using the medication became very sick as a side effect. They found the drug was blocking the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the liver.

This is one of the main reasons for experiencing a hangover after drinking. The medication causes a hangover shortly after drinking, which lasts for several hours.

The side effects are severe even if you only drink a small amount. 


Antabuse side effects

Without taking alcohol, there can be some mild side effects to taking Disulfiram, such as weight loss and flushing.

Side effects of Antabuse, if you take alcohol, are:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Mental disorientation
  • Pounding headache

These are designed to prevent people from drinking alcohol to avoid side effects. For this reason, in the UK, doctors will not prescribe this medication to people who have not stopped drinking for at least 12 hours. 

Drinking alcohol whilst taking Antabuse

Drinking on Antabuse feels similar to when you first wake up with a severe hangover. The difference is that symptoms come on immediately  (15-30 mins) after drinking only a small amount. It is as different for each person as hangovers are. You will have any combination of the usual heart racing and face flush. You might also throw up, not want to eat or feel queasy. Feeling confused like your head is fuzzy and painful headaches may also happen.

Generally, if you experience something when you have an extreme hangover, you will get it and more when you drink Antabuse. 

Unfortunately, most people who take Antabuse to stop drinking will try alcohol at least once while taking it. Usually, it is a good enough motivation to convince them not to try again. 

Can you drink on Antabuse?

It would be best if you did not drink on Antabuse. The side effects can be very severe and uncomfortable, which is the idea of taking the medication. Although some people initially feel no side effects, they can come on at any time, depending on your biology, and it is never worth the risk.

Can I Get an Antabuse prescription in the UK?

You cannot buy Antabuse over the counter in the UK. A private prescription from a qualified doctor can be an easy option if you want this medication specifically.

Detox Plus can prescribe Antabuse medication.

Can You Buy Antabuse Online UK?

In the UK, you cannot legally buy Antabuse online without a prescription from a doctor. Any online platform that you use this way could be risky and offer fake medication. You can consult a qualified private doctor about a prescription or visit a private clinic. 

Choosing the right private clinic for Antabuse implants, injections, or tablet prescriptions can be difficult. We can help you find a rehab nearby or a private addiction clinic for treatment.

Was Antabuse Discontinued in the UK?

In April 2023, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, which supplies Antabuse in the UK and worldwide, decided to stop producing Antabuse due to a combination of low supply issues and poor profit margins for the medication. There are other suppliers of Antabuse, however, so the repercussions of Sanofi’s decision in the UK are yet to be seen.

Should I Take Disulfiram?

Disulfiram is for people who want to stop drinking but can’t break the reward cycle of alcohol.

The side effects can offer motivation to prevent relapse, and it is usually used by people who have stopped drinking for a while and need help to keep it that way.

You might take it if you have relapsed after being sober for a time as well. It would be best if you took the advice of a doctor before taking Antabuse in the UK.

It is only available on prescription. If the following apply to you, Disulfiram could be a good choice:

  • You are addicted to alcohol and want to stop completely
  • Tried counselling, support groups and recovery programs before without success
  • Cannot, for medical reasons, take Acamprosate or Naltrexone
  • Willing to abstain entirely from alcohol
  • Have support from either inpatient or outpatient rehab therapy

How To Take Antabuse

One of the most significant issues with Antabuse is that UK doctors found patients weren’t taking the tablets. This was a common problem; patients wanted to have the option of drinking alcohol despite wanting to stop. Two alternatives are available to prevent this issue. These two options are usually only available from a private clinic on prescription.

  • Antabuse injections are one option. This doesn’t rely on the patient to take the medication willingly. Once you have had an injection, you cannot drink for up to two weeks without risking side effects.
  • An antabuse implant is another choice and lasts longer than an injection, about 12 months. 

Problems With Antabuse

Antabuse was prescribed to people with alcohol problems in the UK in significant numbers until 2016. UK doctors had found several issues with Disulfiram. 

  • Side effects were viewed as a cruel punishment for those who couldn’t stop drinking.
  • Several regular products that contained alcohol caused painful reactions, E.g., Mouthwash, vinegar and perfume.
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are the most common reason cited for early relapse. This medication does not help manage these symptoms. 
  • The two other medications for alcohol withdrawal, Acamprosate and Naltrexone, can manage cravings. 

Antabuse, Naltrexone or Acamprosate: Which is Better?

With Acamprosate and Naltrexone available in the UK on prescription, you might wonder why many opt for Antabuse.

Naltrexone can moderate drinking by blocking pleasure receptors in the brain. Although they are excellent treatments, these two drugs don’t work for everyone. Taking Naltrexone before drinking can stop your enjoyment of it. 

Overall, Antabuse shows better results for those with severe alcohol misuse disorder. If you are looking for complete abstinence, it gives you the best chance. 

Considering the current thinking on alcohol addiction, cutting down doesn’t work long term. Abstinence should be the goal of those with an addiction. 

Who Shouldn’t Take Disulfiram?

Antabuse isn’t for everyone, and there are several reasons for not taking it.

If any of the following apply to you, do not take Disulfiram:

Behaviour Reasons

  • Want to cut down on drinking? Any alcohol will cause a severe reaction
  • Cannot stop drinking for at least 12 hours before treatment

Medical Reasons 

  • Take blood thinners
  • Heart Problems
  • Seizure medication
  • Have Psychosis
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Diabetic
  • Need alcohol-containing products

Rehab and Antabuse

The risks when mixed with alcohol mean it is better when combined with inpatient alcohol rehab treatment. 

  • Inpatient rehab is an alcohol-free zone
  • The rehab medical staff can manage your prescription and side effects
  • Best combined with counselling, group therapy and detox treatment
  • A rehab detox doctor will do the prescription, offering more privacy
  • Typically provided as part of a medical detox program

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