What Happens if You Drink While on Antabuse?

October 10, 2022

Table of Contents

Antabuse (disulfiram) is a prescription medication designed to make people feel incredibly sick when they drink alcohol.

In theory, people with alcoholism will remember the sickness the next time they're tempted to drink and help them resist the temptation.

It's never smart to drink while on Antabuse. Within a few minutes, you'll feel incredibly sick.

If you're tempted to try to work around your Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) program, talk to your team. You may need more support to avoid the temptation to relapse. 

Mild-to-Moderate Risks of Drinking on Antabuse 

Antabuse works by causing a “disulfiram like reaction” if a person ingests alcohol after taking it. This serves as a deterrent to people to drink.

Common Antabuse/alcohol reactions include the following:[1]

  • Sweating: You may feel hot and sweaty 
  • Headaches: People may experience headaches 
  • Flushing: People may experience rashes and redness of the face and chest 
  • Nausea: Some people feel sick to their stomachs, while others experience bouts of nausea or vomiting 
  • Dizziness: The room may seem like it’s spinning.

Most people develop symptoms within 15 to 30 minutes of drinking alcohol. Your problems may peak after about an hour, but it might take several hours more before you feel like yourself again.[2]

Severe Risks of Drinking on Antabuse 

Disulfiram keeps alcohol from breaking down. As toxin levels rise inside your body, your organs are under pressure. Your heart struggles the most.

Some people develop severe symptoms such as these:[3]

  • Convulsions
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations

People can die due to these reactions. They’re strongest in people taking high doses of disulfiram and drinking a lot, but they’re a risk for anyone drinking while on Antabuse.[3]

Don’t Drink on Disulfiram

If you're tempted to test your MAT and slide back into drinking, talk to your medical team. You need more help to avoid a relapse, and your team can assist. 

Drinking While on Antabuse FAQs 

What will happen if you drink alcohol while taking Antabuse?

You'll likely feel sick within about 15 to 30 minutes, and your symptoms may last for hours. The medication is designed to produce an unforgettable, unpleasant experience so prevent you from drinking in the future. 

Can you get drunk on Antabuse?

The word drunk has a new meaning for people taking Antabuse. If you drink enough, you may get “drunk”, but you’ll also likely feel very sick, which isn't the pleasant reaction you might hope for. 

How long do I have to wait to drink after taking Antabuse?

Disulfiram builds in your tissues over time, and your organs need time to remove all traces of it. Experts say you can react to alcohol up to two weeks after quitting Antabuse.[1]

If you’re asking how soon you can drink, it’s a sign that you need an adjustment in your treatment. Talk to your therapist or supervising physician.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Disulfiram (Antabuse). National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Disulfiram-(Antabuse). January 2021. Accessed August 2022.
  2. Intracerebral Bleeding Due to Disulfiram-Ethanol Reaction. Karnataka Medico Legal Society. https://kamls.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/vol-28-2-2019-54-56.pdf. December 2019. Accessed August 2022.
  3. New Zealand Data Sheet: Antabuse. New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority. https://www.medsafe.govt.nz/profs/Datasheet/a/Antabusetab.pdf. June 2018. Accessed August 2022.

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