Disulfiram Reaction and Side Effects

It’s no secret that the United States is a place where a vast majority of its citizens struggle with an alcohol use disorder. While it is not possible to find out the exact number of alcoholics in the country, an estimated 86.4 percent of adults 18 years or older reported consuming alcohol at some point during their lives. Another 70 percent said they had a drink within the past 12 months, and 56 percent said they drank alcohol within the past 30 days. Another 26.9 percent of all adults in the U.S. reported engaging in binge drinking in the past 30 days, and seven percent admitted to heavy drinking in the past month. Due to alcohol’s easy accessibility and cheap price tag, it makes the substance a favorite for those with a substance use disorder.

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You are aware of the dangers that alcohol presents, but did you know, from a global standpoint, alcohol is the leading cause of death and disease worldwide? Alcohol use is the leading risk factor for death and disability and is a leading risk factor for global disease burden that causes substantial health loss. With the finding recently published, there has been a suggestion to begin revising alcohol policies around the world and focus efforts on lowering overall population-level consumption.

With that said, other reports have shown that alcohol consumption among women is on the rise. Female alcohol use disorders rose in the U.S. by 83.7 percent between 2002 and 2013, and high-risk drinking which is defined as three or more drinks in a day is on the rise by about 58 percent. Not shockingly, the death from liver cirrhosis also rose in women from 2000 to 2013. While male drinking still dominates these statistics, the rise in females struggling with a substance use disorder is not the news we need. Why is this?

It’s not a concept that is grasped entirely, but there have been some studies that highlight a shift in cultural norms around women’s drinking over the past 100 years. It’s gone from being a taboo that women drink to being expected in some setting to drink to intoxication. Women also point to confusing societal messages where pop culture will celebrate women who drink rather than warn about its potential dangers. Not only is drinking normalized in our society for men and women alike, but it is also encouraged. With all of these factors being a perfect recipe for disaster, more people are seeking treatment for their addiction to alcohol.

Quitting drinking on your own is not only tricky, but it can be deadly. Alcohol withdrawals are among some of the most deadly because of how it interacts with gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). Fortunately, there is is a medication called Disulfiram that is prescribed for alcohol use disorders, and is currently used by more than 200,000 American’s.

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Disulfiram and Alcohol Reaction

Disulfiram works by interfering with the bodies digestion and absorption of alcohol. It creates a series of highly unpleasant reactions throughout the process. When someone takes the medication and consumes alcohol, their experience will include:

  • Nausea and vomiting (which can turn violent)
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Weakness
  • High blood pressure

The effects make it rather unpleasant for someone who is taking Disulfiram to drink alcohol. While drugs like Methadone or Suboxone have the power to reduce cravings for opioids, Disulfiram cannot reduce cravings for alcohol. Despite this, however, user’s are still discouraged from drinking due to the unpleasant side effects that result from mixing the two.

Disulfiram’s method of action is to block the functioning of alcohol dehydrogenase which is an enzyme that breaks down ethanol in the liver. It will lead to an increased concentration of acetaldehyde which causes discomfort. The reaction Disulfiram causes can be severe, and in some cases, fatal. Today, the doses that are distributed to patients are much lower than doses from years past which has made severe reactions a much rarer phenomenon.


How Is Disulfiram Used?

Disulfiram is a prescription medication that is only to be used under the supervision of a medical doctor. The drug should only be administered when the person has gone through the initial period of withdrawal and detox and has remained entirely abstinent from alcohol for at least 12 hours. These instructions are crucial to follow because the drug can begin working in as little as 10 to 30 minutes after ingestion.

The initial dose is 250 milligrams once a day for one to two weeks, with the average maintenance dose of 250 milligrams a day after that.

Depending on the severity of the case, though, the daily dosage can range anywhere from 125 to 500 milligrams per day.

The drug should only be consumed after the person has been educated about potential impacts. Disulfiram should only be administered after the doctor has performed an extensive physical exam, baseline liver, and kidney function tests, pregnancy tests (for women), and electrocardiogram if the individual has a past of cardiovascular disease. Those that are committed to their sobriety will find that taking Disulfiram under the supervision of a doctor will be a sufficient means of treating their alcoholism.

If a dose is missed and it not near the next scheduled dose, it could be ok to take it. If it close to the next scheduled dose, it will be better to skip the dose. The drug is potent and consuming an extra dose should never be considered.

While the drug is effective at getting an individual to stop their alcohol use, Disulfiram alone is not sufficient to treat alcoholism. DIsulfiram should be a small portion of the continuum of care that is filled with medical detoxification, residential treatment, therapy, counseling, and 12-step programs.

Side Effects of Disulfiram

Disulfiram has been used as a means of treatment for nearly 65 years, and it has enjoyed a high level of success. It is an established medication to treat someone with an alcohol use disorder effectively, and the reason it has reached this level of success is its relatively low side effects. The side effects will lessen or disappear within a few weeks. Unfortunately, there is a risk when you are consuming any medication, and it is essential to be aware of the potential side effects. These include:

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  • Metallic taste
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Acne

There are some other less common, but more side effects of Disulfiram that include:

  • Hepatitis
  • Liver toxicity
  • Optic neuritis
  • Peripheral neuritis and neuropathy
  • Psychosis
  • Delirium
  • Hypersensitivity to the drug
  • Reactions with other medications

While side effects are less common, they do occur, and if you were to experience anything that is listed above, you must immediately contact your doctor to discuss your options. Remember, you should only consume Disulfiram if you are serious about your sobriety. If you are ready to take the path toward a better life, the team at Maryland House Detox are ready to hear your story. There is no better time than the present to start your road to a sober tomorrow.

Start Your Journey To Recovery Today

Alcoholism is a severe disease that requires intensive detox to overcome safely. Not only is the disorder itself dangerous, but the withdrawals can potentially be fatal. Maryland House Detox provides you with the options you need. Many people go on to live full lives outside of alcoholism, and you can be one of those people as well.

Learn more about your addiction treatment options and how to overcome your addiction by calling our treatment specialists at Maryland House Detox. Call (888) 263-0631 today and take your first steps toward sobriety.