Antabuse – The Stop Drinking Pill
In this article I explain what Antabuse is, 3 ways that drinkers can use it to stop drinking and its 1 major risk.
Antabuse is often referred to as the “Stop Drinking Pill” and thousands of former problem drinkers swear by it as one of the chief cures to their drinking problem. But what exactly is this magic pill, how does it work and how can you use it to stop drinking?
That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this article: we will learn what Antabuse is, what happens if you drink alcohol while taking Antabuse, how Antabuse can be used as an aid to stop drinking and what its downsides are.
What is Antabuse, the “Stop Drinking Pill”?
Antabuse (also known by the name of its active ingredient, Disulfiram) is a drug that produces a sensitivity to ethanol (contained in alcohol). This means that if you take an Antabuse pill and drink alcohol you will experience a severe negative reaction (described as the effects of a severe hangover immediately upon consumption of your first drink!).
For this reason Antabuse is used by people who are trying to stop drinking alcohol, the logic being that the drinker will no longer have the desire to drink alcohol when they know it is accompanied by the unpleasant side effects of being mixed with Antabuse.
What happens if you drink alcohol while taking Antabuse?
“Disulfiram [the active ingredient in Antabuse] plus alcohol, even small amounts, produce flushing, throbbing in head and neck, throbbing headache, respiratory difficulty, nausea, copious vomiting, sweating, thirst, chest pain, palpitation, dyspnea, hyperventilation, tachycardia, hypotension, syncope, marked uneasiness, weakness, vertigo, blurred vision, and confusion. In severe reactions there may be respiratory depression, cardiovascular collapse, arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, acute congestive heart failure, unconsciousness, convulsions, and death.” Source: Drug Label Information
These unpleasant effects can last up to 2 weeks after the last dosage of Antabuse!
Who should take Antabuse, where can you get it and how do you use?
Antabuse is a prescription drug so you will need to visit your local GP to get it. As the negative consequences of drinking while taking Antabuse can be quite severe, your GP will need to determine that you understand these consequences before prescribing the drug for you.
Anyone who is serious about stopping drinking should take Antabuse – take 1 tablet every day as prescribed by your doctor (most people take a pill every morning).
3 ways Antabuse can help you stop drinking alcohol – for good
1. Short term: as a deterrent
The most obvious way Antabuse can help you stop drinking is by acting as a deterrent: if you take Antabuse, you know you can’t drink alcohol.
This works because of the exceedingly unpleasant effects when alcohol is mixed with Antabuse, as a result the drinker will no longer have the desire to drink alcohol when they know it is accompanied by these unpleasant side effects. Or, more correctly, the drinker will still want to drink, but they won’t drink because they know it will not be worth it.
There are a number of benefits to this:
- You can stop drinking immediately
- You can have a “safe” period of time not drinking to begin work with a counsellor or using another long term method of stopping drinking [read the list of methods here]
- You have the opportunity to safely learn about alcohol cravings
- You have the opportunity to safely learn how to handle situations without alcohol
2. Medium term: opportunity to safely learn about alcohol cravings
Experiencing a craving for alcohol while taking Antabuse gives you a unique opportunity to safely observe what happens during a craving, what triggers it and how it can change your thinking.
Imagine this scenario:
You wake up in the morning and take Antabuse because you are committed to stopping drinking. A few hours later you are at a brunch party where all your friends are drinking alcohol. Suddenly you no longer feel committed to not drinking – in fact you’d love nothing more than to have a drink. You become furious at yourself for taking the Antabuse pill that morning, furious that because of your foolish actions you are now unable to drink. Although you would love to have a drink, you accept that because you have taken the Antabuse pill you are unable to and you sit there angrily. A short time later the brunch is over, your anger has passed and you are overwhelmed with relief that you took the Antabuse pill that morning – you know beyond doubt that if you had not taken the pill that you would be drunk right now.
You have just lived through a craving for alcohol and witnessed its power first hand! Despite being committed to not drinking alcohol, in the heat of the moment in the middle of the craving not only were you uncommitted but you were furious with yourself for your stupidity in taking the Antabuse pill!
This might seem like an exaggeration, but countless drinkers who have taken Antabuse have reported similar startling insights into the power and nature of their cravings.
Having lived through this experience without actually drinking, you now have a better understanding of what a craving is and how it works – you are beginning to understand why it’s been impossible for you to stop drinking without first eliminating the root cause of your emotion led cravings. With this increased awareness comes increased incentive to do the work needed to prevent cravings from arising in the first place.
3. Medium term: opportunity to safely learn how to handle situations without alcohol
Because Antabuse acts as a deterrent to drinking alcohol (you know you won’t drink because you’re taking Antabuse), you can have the confidence to put yourself in situations where you might have been tempted to drink and can access these “risky” experiences earlier than you could if you didn’t have Antabuse.
Because you are able to safely put yourself in these situations, you can safely learn how to handle them, even to enjoy them, and become confident in those situations without alcohol.
Let’s go back to the brunch from above – it’s the next weekend and your friends are having another brunch.
Without Antabuse, you’d most likely not attend this brunch as you know that it is likely to trigger an alcohol craving that you haven’t yet learned how to deal with. However, you know you won’t drink because you’ve taken an Antabuse pill so you are able to safely attend this brunch.
Suddenly here you are, stone cold sober in a situation that usually you would always drink during. This is a new, uncomfortable experience for you. If you could, you would drink. But, thanks to Antabuse, that’s not an option. So instead you decide to make the most of the situation and you begin to learn how to enjoy yourself without alcohol.
After repeated experiences like this 2 major changes happen:
- You learn how to enjoy these situations without alcohol
Being forced to sit there not drinking you begin to learn how to make the most of the situation and enjoy yourself. After a few brunches like this you are now able to have fun in this situation without alcohol!
- You feel more confident that you can handle these situations without alcohol
Without Antabuse you might have been too worried about the risk of drinking to have let yourself go to these brunches – even after months or years of not drinking! But with Antabuse you can attend immediately and after just a few short months have learned to be fully confident about going to these brunches and not needing alcohol at all.
In these 2 ways Antabuse accelerates your progress toward living a normal life without alcohol, able to enjoy yourself without having to avoid many situations.
We’ve seen the upsides – but are there any downsides to stopping drinking taking Antabuse pills?
The risks of taking Antabuse to stop drinking alcohol
The main risk of using Antabuse to stop drinking is to think that Antabuse is THE solution to your drinking problem. It is not. Antabuse is not a long term solution to a drinking problem. It is a short to medium term solution to buy you time to work on the long term solution: eliminating the root cause of your alcohol cravings. Antabuse should be taken as part of a holistic attempt to stop drinking ([alongside one or more of the other methods listed here]) – not as the entire attempt.
Two things will likely happen if you do not incorporate Antabuse alongside other methods to stop drinking:
- You will stop taking Antabuse (and start drinking)
- You will begin to drink despite taking Antabuse
This will happen as your unaddressed cravings become more powerful over time. The only way to stop drinking for good is to address the root cause of these cravings. Antabuse is a wonderful aid to help you stop drinking, but only when used alongside a program that works to eliminate the cause of your cravings.
We’ve just seen how Antabuse can help you stop drinking by acting as a deterrent in the short term and in the medium term by helping you to learn about your cravings and learn how to enjoy life without alcohol. We’ve also seen that it should be taking in conjunction with an ongoing program of recovery. [If you’re interested in reading a comprehensive overview of all the recovery program options available then check out this article on how to stop drinking]