How Long Does Antabuse work? | AspenRidge Recovery

How Long Does Antabuse work?

What is antabuse?

Antabuse is an oral medication taken to discourage people from consuming alcohol. When taken correctly, users will become violently ill shortly after drinking alcohol. It is used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder.   


Does antabuse work?

How Was Antabuse discovered?

Antabuse is the brand name of a medication called disulfiram, and its first known mention was in 1881. Its original use was as part of the manufacturing process of rubber. Interestingly, the usefulness of the compound as a tool to combat alcoholism was accidental. In 1937, a factory doctor at a rubber plant in the U.S. published a report noting the employees of the rubber factory became violently ill after consuming alcohol.

In the 1940s, researchers at a pharmaceutical company called Medicinalco began testing disulfiram’s efficacy for the treatment of intestinal parasites. Employees of the firm self-experimented with the substance and inadvertently discovered that they became ill when they consumed alcohol. Two years later, the company began to explore the possibility that the drug could be used for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.  

The chemists at Medicinalco soon discovered a new form of disulfiram while purifying a contaminated batch. This new form of the compound had more effective pharmacological properties, and the company patented it. It was first introduced in Denmark under the brand name Antabus and marketed to English-speaking countries Antabuse. In 1951, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for the treatment of alcohol use disorder (then referred to as alcoholism). 


How Does Antabuse Work?

The body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde by using a naturally present enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. Another enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, then converts acetaldehyde into acetic acid. Disulfiram blocks the second enzymatic reaction and prevents acetaldehyde dehydrogenase from converting acetaldehyde into acetic acid. This creates a buildup of acetaldehyde in the blood, causing a severe reaction. Commonly reported effects of consuming alcohol in combination with disulfiram are: 


  • Nausea 
  • Excessive vomiting 
  • Heart palpitations
  • Abnormal heartbeat 
  • Low blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Throbbing headache 
  • Flushing of the skin 
  • Dizzyness 
  • Sweating
  • Thirst
  • Fainting
  • Blurred vision 
  • Drowsiness
  • Acne
  • Metallic or garlic-like taste in the mouth
  • Skin rash
  • Impotence
  • Swollen or sore tongue


Possible serious, but less common, side effects include:

  • Heart attack
  • Liver failure
  • Polyneuritis (a disorder that affects the peripheral nerves) 
  • Hepatitis
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Optic neuritis
  • Psychotic disorder
  • Acneiform eruptions (papules and pustules formation
  • Polyneuritis

How Long Does Antabuse Stay in Your System?

Several factors influence how long Antabuse remains in the bloodstream. The dosage is taken and for how long are the main factors. Generally speaking, disulfiram should not be taken if you’ve consumed in the last 12 hours. Now that may be longer considering how much alcohol is consumed. People do not develop a tolerance to Antabuse. It’s absorbed slowly via the digestive tract and eliminated slowly. The effects can last for up to two weeks after the last dose.

Does Antabuse Work to Treat Alcoholism? 

Studies indicate Antabuse works no better than s placebos. This is largely because many people suffering from alcohol use disorder simply stop taking it so they can drink again. In Europe, physicians can implant Antabuse under the skin to deliver a constant dose for a year. Unfortunately, implants are not yet available in the U.S. 

Antabuse for treatment of alcoholism

One report suggests that up to 80% of alcohol abusers stopped taking the drug. One nine-year study found that alcoholics who were engaged in medication-assisted treatment services, including disulfiram, had abstinence rates of about 50%, and higher abstinence rates when people took it for more than 20 months. However, the people in this study also received intensive therapy as part of their treatment as well. Antabuse does work, but not for everyone.  for some, it’s not the right treatment for everyone. It does not reduce or eliminate cravings. It relies purely as a deterrent. If someone is not 100% ready to stop drinking, it’s unlikely they will be successful. Addiction needs to be treated with a holistic approach and there is no substitute for intensive counseling. To finally beat alcohol addiction, it takes time, hard work, and determination. There is no quick fix or pill that can cure the disorder overnight. 

If you or someone you know has a question about what is considered alcoholism, call AspenRidge Recovery at 855-281-5588. We’re here to answer questions and walk you through what treatment will look like for you. 

Antabuse as Part of Treatment

Antabuse can be used as an additional motivational tool for people who find themselves in tempting situations, like work-related happy hours or pre-football tailgate fun. However, the key to long-term, sustained sobriety is to develop a strategy with addiction professionals that changes how you think and how you behave. Addiction counseling will help you identify the triggers and underlying causes that compel you to drink. Once you’ve identified the root causes of addiction, you can begin to address them and learn healthy ways to cope with them. Therapists will also help you find new, healthier options to replace the role alcohol played in your life. Our treatment team will develop a treatment strategy that’s appropriate for you that will include therapy and, possibly, a medication like Antabuse or Vivitrol.


Our team of experienced and compassionate addiction specialists can help answer questions. AspenRidge Recovery is a leading provider of recovery programs in Colorado that help more individuals and families overcome the devastations that result from substance abuse. Whether you’re facing challenges with alcohol or drugs, our dual diagnosis center can point you in the right direction to begin developing the tools and skillsets needed to find long-term sobriety. For more information contact us 24/7 directly at 855-281-5588.

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