Accidental Blockbusters: Disulfiram
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” Winston Churchill
Disulfiram is a drug used to support the treatment of chronic alcoholism. It came about after a strange occurrence in the 1920’s; men working in a rubber factory suddenly found that when hitting the pub after work, they had lost their tolerance to alcohol. This was largely ignored at the time until 20 years later Dr Erik Jacobsen investigated the use of disulfiram to treat intestinal worms. He ingested some of the drug before attending a dinner party, where he proceeded to become violently sick. This led to the connection between disulfiram and alcohol intolerance which further explained why the workers in rubber factories faced similar effects, as disulfiram is a product of chemicals used in their factory.
When you drink alcohol, it is normally degraded by the body into a substance called acetaldehyde. When you drink too much, acetaldehyde builds up in the body and this is what causes you to have a stonking hangover. An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase clears acetaldehyde out of the body but not necessarily as rapidly as you drink.
Disulfiram blocks this enzyme meaning that if you even have a sip of alcohol, you will immediately feel the same effects as if you had had a 3 day bender.
Disulfiram is sold in tablets where the effects last less than a week. However in Russia, where there is a long, destructive history with alcohol, you can have a procedure where a Disulfiram capsule is implanted into your buttocks and remains there for three years. In Moscow alone there are dozens of clinics where you can get this procedure done. In fact up to 80 % of alcohol addiction treatments in Russia are from this capsule procedure. Drinking alcohol with this tablet implanted in you is thought by Russians ‘to kill you’. Of course this would in fact be entirely unethical, but the symptoms may suggest as such to the patient. An antidote for these effects can be bought for $300 which renders the drinker back to full health.