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How is Disulfiram Used in Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

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Overview of Disulfiram in Treating Alcohol Dependence

Disulfiram is the first prescription medication that was approved by the FDA to be used for the treatment of alcohol use disorder in 1951. This medication is different from other substance use disorder treatments in that it alters the way your body breaks down alcohol during the metabolization process and immediately converts it into acetaldehyde, which is toxic and will make you feel very sick.
When you take Disulfiram, it can stay in your body for up to two weeks, so it can be an effective deterrent to keep you from relapsing. It’s not a cure for alcohol use disorder, but it can be one of many recovery tools you can utilize to stay sober during and after your alcohol addiction treatment.

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Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

How Disulfiram Works to Combat Alcohol Addiction

The effects of Disulfiram can be seen within minutes of consuming alcohol and will include some or all of the following side effects: 

  • Impaired vision.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Weakness.
  • Hyperventilation or difficulty breathing.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Anxiety.
  • Hypotension.
  • Sweating.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Because the effects are so unpleasant, you will begin to associate alcohol with the discomfort, which will curb psychological cravings to drink. It’s not a detoxification drug but is instead used after you’ve completed your detox and are working on rehabilitation and recovery to assist you in staying away from alcohol as you recuperate and gain new healthy habits.

Key Benefits of Using Disulfiram for Alcoholism

Disulfiram is FDA-approved and is known to be safe and efficient when used appropriately, with sufficient physician supervision. Preventing relapse takes consistent work, and you have to continue to choose not to drink every single day. It’s often easier to make a healthy choice when it’s part of your daily routine, so taking Disulfiram early in the day is a way of telling yourself that you will not be drinking. 

Combining Disulfiram with other healthy relapse prevention techniques is effective because it provides a very real, unavoidable consequence to having even a small amount of alcohol. By including Disulfiram in your daily routine, you’ll have a strong incentive to avoid alcohol. This deterrent to relapse could be the key for many people to stop them from “just having one drink.” 

Potential Side Effects and Risks of Disulfiram

This medication’s potential mild side effects include drowsiness, headache, fatigue, acne eruptions, and a metallic aftertaste. If you have health conditions like liver or kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, a seizure disorder, a lung disease, or a heart or blood vessel disease, a Disulfiram-alcohol reaction can make the condition worse. It can also worsen severe mental illnesses and can cause allergic reactions in those who have certain skin allergies. The effects of using Disulfiram can become dangerous if you have taken a large amount of alcohol and can cause unconsciousness, heart attack, seizures, or even death. 

It’s important never to take Disulfiram for at least 12 hours after drinking alcohol, and you must always disclose any other medications you’re taking, as prescription and non-prescription drugs like cough syrup may have small traces of alcohol in them. You should also be aware that many foods, sauces, vinegar, and mouthwash can have traces of alcohol in their ingredients, making you very sick when taking Disulfiram. Even topical products like rubbing alcohol or colognes or using certain paint thinners may cause issues.

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How to Start Disulfiram Therapy: A Guide

If you’re ready to get treatment for alcohol use disorder, a safe, medical detox is the first step before starting Disulfiram. At an alcohol treatment center like Resurgence Behavioral Health, you can move in for full-time care as the alcohol leaves your system and your body adjusts. 

Once you’re feeling healthy and strong enough to move forward in treatment, you can start a customized rehabilitation program, which may include Disulfiram treatments. Disulfiram doesn’t reduce physical cravings, nor does it cure addiction, but it works well as part of a comprehensive care program. Your doctors and therapists will work together with you to devise a program that’s right for your needs so you can get healthy and begin down your road to recovery. 

Combining Disulfiram with Other Treatment Modalities

Disulfiram is a medication that can help you stay sober, but it’s not meant to be used alone. It only works with a comprehensive treatment plan, therapy, healthy living, and relapse prevention programming. Addiction is a complex disease that requires treatment of underlying mental health, emotional pain, behavioral health, and social issues, along with physical alcohol dependence. 

At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we get to know each of our clients through interviews and health screenings to understand their needs and create a tailored program that will best help them. Everybody is unique, so your program should be built to fit your lifestyle, improve your health, build you up, and help you meet your recovery goals.  Some of the treatments and therapies we offer include: 

  • One-on-one therapy sessions.
  • Group therapy.
  • Biofeedback.
  • Art therapy.
  • Alumni support.

There are inpatient and outpatient treatment plans available, all of which will work well with a Disulfiram regimen. When you join us at Resurgence Behavioral Health, we will help you find the level of care that will work best for you, ensuring you get the care you need so you can live the healthy life you want, alcohol-free. 

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What to Expect When on Disulfiram

When you’re prescribed Disulfiram, you’ll have a medication schedule you must follow, taking a pill orally (by mouth) once a day, usually in the morning. This pill will make drinking alcohol extremely unpleasant, and it will help reduce the urge to drink throughout the day. It’s not a cure for addiction, but when you use it along with other recovery skills and relapse prevention strategies you’ve learned in rehab, you will find it easier to stay away from alcohol and reinforce the good habits you’ve been working on. 

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

Seeking Help for Alcohol Addiction: How Resurgence Behavioral Health Can Assist

Quitting alcohol is not something you should ever try to do at home, on your own, due to the dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can occur. At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we offer a safe medical detox program with 24-hour care from licensed, experienced doctors, nurses, and addiction specialists that is designed to prevent the most dangerous aspects of alcohol withdrawal and keep you as comfortable as possible during this challenging time. 

Through trauma-informed, evidence-based medical and psychiatric care, along with prescription medication, holistic healing options, and long-term relapse prevention support, Resurgence Behavioral Health can help you overcome alcohol use disorder, build healthy recovery skills, and work toward your individual recovery goals at your own pace. We tailor each person’s treatment plan to best suit their needs, with clinical care, therapy, counseling, life skills programs, and medications like Disulfiram, with short-term or long-term inpatient and outpatient options. 
If you’re ready to take the first steps toward alcohol recovery, or if you have any questions about how to get started, please contact us online or call us today at 855-458-0050 and speak confidentially with an addiction expert. We are happy to help you determine your next steps, check your insurance coverage, and answer all your questions.

Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.


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