The status of disulfiram: a half of a century later

J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006 Jun;26(3):290-302. doi: 10.1097/


For more than 55 years, disulfiram has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of alcohol dependence. It is a unique medication that relies on "psychological threat" to avoid disulfiram-ethanol reactions. This paper reviews the history of disulfiram treatment, the current status of disulfiram treatment, the ensuing developments in disulfiram use in treating various addictions, and future directions. Clinical trials using disulfiram for the treatment of alcohol, cocaine, or co-occurring alcohol + cocaine dependence were included in this review. Disulfiram efficacy studies focusing on supervised, implant, and combination pharmacotherapies were also examined. In clinical trials, disulfiram has demonstrated inconsistent results in helping patients to abstain from alcohol, and patients poorly adhere to a disulfiram-treatment regimen. This has raised questions about disulfiram's practicality in the treatment of alcohol dependence. Recently, however, disulfiram has gained attention as a complementary agent to newer pharmacological medications, such as an opiate antagonist that specifically reduces alcohol craving. One hypothesis is that disulfiram would assist patients in gaining psychological control over drinking when given in conjunction with an opiate antagonist that would act directly on reducing alcohol craving. Preliminary evidence also suggests that disulfiram treatment could be a viable treatment for cocaine dependence because it was shown to reduce cocaine use among nonalcoholic, cocaine-dependent patients.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Deterrents / administration & dosage
  • Alcohol Deterrents / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Deterrents / history
  • Alcohol Deterrents / therapeutic use*
  • Alcoholism / drug therapy
  • Alcoholism / history
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Disulfiram / administration & dosage
  • Disulfiram / adverse effects
  • Disulfiram / history
  • Disulfiram / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Implants
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Patient Compliance


  • Alcohol Deterrents
  • Drug Implants
  • Disulfiram