|Q: What was the reason you chose to use Antabuse? |
I’d been trying to moderate with the help of a therapist for a while. I’d be able to “moderate” in that for a month or two I wouldn’t drink to the point of incoherence every night, but it would always slowly build back up into me stashing bottles of booze around the house and sneaking out from the office for a drink or two. Eventually, I’d stop pretending and go on the full-on bender I’d wanted to go on all along. After drying out again for the ninth or tenth time in two years, I finally gave in to the overwhelming evidence that I couldn’t moderate. I tried to go sober, and could white-knuckle it for a while, but would eventually dip into a bar or liquor store. My therapist began to gently suggest I give Antabuse a try. I resisted for a long, long time for a bunch of bullshit reasons, with the real one being that I wanted to keep the ability to start drinking again if I wanted to. Finally, I was just so wrung out and weary, I said yes.
Once I started, I kept taking it because what I found is that by putting a hard chemical backstop to my ability to drink, it opened up a lot of extra space in my head. I didn’t have to debate whether to go into an inviting bar I’d pass while walking around the city, because it wasn’t an option. It’s also made me start doing the harder job of finding ways to cope with all the external and internal stuff that made me want to smear my brain out of existence with high-proof alcohol every night. There’s freedom in not having a choice.
Q: Any weird side effects?
Some people get various stomach stuff or anxiety when they first start taking it. For me, I just felt a little sleepy at first, so I started taking it at night which I still do before I go to bed. I acclimated after about five days.
Q: What happens if you miss a day?
Physically, nothing I can detect. Antabuse stays in your system for one to two weeks. If I miss a day, it’s not like I can immediately order a martini that afternoon. You have to choose not to take it for a pretty extended period of time before you can drink without feeling really, really bad.
That said, I’ve also stopped taking it on my own twice, once on purpose and once after not refilling my script and then kind-sorta-on-purpose letting that stretch until I was like “Oh, huh, been two weeks since I took the Antabuse.” Both times I relapsed.
Q: What happens if you drink?
I’ve only done it twice, which was enough. Within about two minutes of taking a drink, I start to feel flushed and prickly, and get a sledgehammer headache. My heart will start racing, and I get jittery. I also get stuffed up and wheezy, like I’ve got a gnarly head cold. It also makes booze taste kinda sickly sweet, like spoiled fruit. It’s colossally unpleasant. I’ve never drank enough to induce vomiting, but according to other people I know who have used Antabuse, it’s like when you get alcohol poisoning and just keep heaving your guts up long after there’s anything in your stomach to puke up.
Q: How long do you plan to take Antabuse?
I roll this around in my head a lot. Like I said, I’ve got more than a year sober now, and it’s made every area of my life better. Per my prescribing psychiatrist and my physician, I can take Antabuse for the rest of my life if I want. So maybe I’ll do that because it means I’ll never drink again, which would be pretty great.
I do wonder if Antabuse is a crutch, and I’ll need to stop taking it eventually to learn how to live a “truly” sober life. Like a lot of people in recovery, my natural impulse is to have fewer and fewer substances I depend on. (I’ve also heard people talk shit about people who use Antabuse at an AA meeting, which may have gotten under my skin more than I realized at the time.)
For right now, even if Antabuse is a crutch, fuck it. A crutch lets you walk when you couldn’t, and proving to myself that I’m “truly” sober isn’t worth risking the disaster a relapse could bring down on me and my family. I’ve got no immediate plans to stop taking it.
Q: Do you do any outpatient stuff or go to recovery meetings?
Through my therapist’s practice, I go to a once-a-week “process group” with around eight members and two therapists who run everything. I’m lucky in that I’ve got relatively good insurance that covers 90 percent of it even though it’s out of network; without that it would way too expensive for me. I’ve also recently started doing Recovery Dharma (or what, until recently, was called Refuge Recovery), a Buddhist approach to recovery that resonates with me.There’s also an AA group I stop in from time to time if I’m feeling like the mooring lines are starting to strain a little bit, but I mainly sit and listen in AA meetings; I’ve never started doing any step-work. But if I’m traveling I’ll find a local AA group since airports, hotels, and being away from home are all blaring red triggers for me. Just because you take Antabuse doesn’t mean you won’t get cravings or have moments where you really want a drink, and being in communion with other addicts is still one of the best ways I’ve found to keep my sobriety intact.
Q: So would you recommend it?
I have recommended it to two people in my life who know I’ve stopped drinking and wanted to stop themselves. In their cases, it didn’t work. From the outside, Antabuse can seem like the way to stop drinking that doesn’t require any willpower, but you still have to choose to take a pill that will make you sick if you drink. In about 1 in 30,000 cases, Antabuse can also cause liver damage in people with nickel sensitivity being particularly prone. So you should be checking in with your doctor while taking it, and get blood work done at specified intervals to make sure your liver is functioning okay. It’s long odds, but I know someone who had to get a liver transplant after being prescribed Antabuse. Still, sustained heavy drinking hurts the liver of pretty much everyone, nickel sensitivity or not.So, yeah, I recommend it. I admire anyone who is able to get sober through willpower or prayer or meditation or all of the other ways people find their way out of active use, but for me it took the help of medication. I think relatively few people are aware of or consider Antabuse. I know my alcoholism isn’t unique, which means there are more people like me out there. It seems a shame they should keep on suffering when there may be a chance they don’t have to anymore.
“Tell Me What It’s Like” is a new q-and-a feature for people in the recovery orbit who have an interesting story. Sometimes they will be anonymous to protect the living. If you’ve got a suggestion for an upcoming topic, please email us here.
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