The Challenges of Taking Antabuse

Taking Antabuse wasn’t without its challenges. The biggest daily hassle was how vigilant I had to become to insure I didn’t poison myself. It was a lot more complicated than I anticipated.

Failing at that effort early-on scared me nearly to death, which turned out to be completely positive and necessary. Poisoning myself wasn’t accidental: I snuck a taste of suds from a companion’s ale. Think that’s insane? It is, but that’s how an alcoholic thinks, and I didn’t realize it was insane at the time. Antabuse didn’t occur to me. It was an impulse, a tiny taste of forbidden fruit, an extension of my intermittent and imprudent practice of sniffing others’ drinks in nostalgia for my previous pursuits. But I sucked up more of the bubbles than I intended, which reminded me of my morning pill and got me worrying. Fortunately, nothing immediate happened. Several hours later, however, I got nauseous, eventually throwing up, mercifully mildly in retrospect, after which I felt better. It may have been from something I ate. Or nerves. Nevertheless, I was convinced that if a few suds could get me sick, I better not play with that fire again. And I stopped smelling others’ drinks too.

I went for a routine blood test. My mind was elsewhere as the phlebotomist put some alcohol on a swab to clean my arm, giving me the barest split second to recognize the odor, realize what it was, and stop her before she touched it to my skin.

I put a glass of seltzer down on a table at my niece’s Bat Mitzvah party and picked it up a few moments later only to smell gin as I lifted the glass and touched its contents to my lips. Immediately recoiling, I realized I’d picked up the wrong glass of clear liquid with a lime twist. I ran to the bathroom to wash my mouth out and dodged a bullet.

Other people’s drinks could be a problem even if I didn’t pick them up by accident. This was made clear at a Steve Winwood concert. I was waiting in line at a hot-dog stand when I noticed they were also selling beer — large frothy-cold gallons of it. I looked away, only to see the next-door concession, Margaritas by the pitcher.

I got a body-aching craving but had months of Antabuse in me so I bought my hot dog and a lousy Coke and went to my seat. As the lights dimmed a couple came down the row carrying two huge pitchers of margaritas and two glasses. They were in a hurry to get to their seats, zigging and zagging to keep from bumping bodies along the way. It quickly became apparent avoiding elbows wasn’t the only reason they were tottering. They were already loaded.

The guy realized too late he was in front of his seat, which naturally was next to mine, and as he skidded to a stop the pitcher tipped and almost all of it went flying. At that precise moment I realized that my biggest fear — I’d drink on antabuse — wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. This was worse. I’d wind up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, stinking of tequila. Who’d believe I hadn’t relapsed?

From sheer dumb luck, I was able to dodge the Margarita shower.

“Awwwww shiiiiiiit!” the guy shouted, momentarily dejected. “Good thing we have another pitcher! WOOOO WOOOO!”

The couple drank like I used to. Within a couple songs, while I kept an eye out for more scattered booze downpours, they went for more and never came back. I had a much better time after they left.

My lesson from these near-misses was to be acutely conscious of everything I ate, drank or touched. For example, I became very careful about which glass I picked up. And I started to ask waiters whether booze was among the ingredients before I ordered anything. Fortunately, I never had to experience a major Antabuse reaction.

For a related article, click on emotional acceptance.


For the next article in the Treatment series, click on Non-12-Step Programs.

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