Antabuse and naltrexone are drugs used for medical treatment of alcohol addiction. Both are frequently prescribed around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe.
Antabuse is the brand name for disulfiram. The drug, discovered in the 1920s and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the early 1950s, is the oldest drug of its type.
Drinkers who use Antabuse become acutely sensitive to alcohol, and even very small amounts bring about extremely unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, throbbing headaches, sweating and weakness. Currently, the drug is available only in pill form.
Naltrexone is a newer drug that interferes with the way brain reacts to alcohol. Drinkers who use naltrexone are unable to experience the usual “buzz.” In fact, alcohol usually produces no feelings at all, which can remove the incentive for many drinkers.
Naltrexone is administered by pill or monthly injections. Implants, available in Europe, have yet to be approved in the United States.
Antabuse and Naltrexone: Are they Effective?
Research indicates that Antabuse and naltrexone can help problem drinkers, but only when combined with drug and alcohol treatment or rehab.
Some drinkers are interested in the drugs because they think that Antabuse and naltrexone greatly diminish the chances of experiencing a full-blown relapse. Rather, they erroneously believe that by using the drugs, they can learn to be moderate, controlled drinkers.
Many health care providers are hesitant to prescribe the medications, which are frequently ineffective because of lack of compliance. For many, the drugs quickly turn from a help to a crutch.
People who really want to drink simply stop taking the drugs. After the substances clear the system, a return to drinking often become a full-blown binge. In some cases, treatment with Antabuse and naltrexone is simply a waiting game until the day treatment ends and drinking can begin.
When Anti-Drinking Drugs are Useful
Anti-drinking medications can help curb cravings for alcohol, but aren’t effective in the long-term unless drinkers are motivated to do the hard work and make necessary lifestyle changes involved with getting well. Although they can be helpful, antabuse and naltrexone aren’t magic pills and should be considered only one weapon in the arsenal.
Ideally, Antabuse and naltrexone should be used only as a first step that gives a newly sober drinker an opportunity to ease into treatment.
In order to get well, alcoholics must learn to cope with underlying issues that caused the drinking in the first place. Alcohol treatment and rehab is critical, as drinkers receive counseling, support, and assistance in developing an aftercare plan that helps prevent relapse and increases the chance of long-term recovery.