Disulfiram - Ethanol induced delirium

C. W. Park, S. Riggio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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OBJECTIVE: To report a case of delirium, without major autonomic symptoms, as the primary manifestation of concomitant use of alcohol while taking disulfiram. CASE SUMMARY: A 50-year-old white woman with a history of bipolar disorder, type I, and alcohol dependence being treated with disulfiram was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit with a three- to four-day history of a change in mental status, including deficits in orientation, concentration, and visual hallucinations. Significant finding on review of systems included the spurious report of a 9.1-kg weight loss. Tachycardia and nonfocal neurologic signs on physical examination were also noted. Extensive metabolic, infectious, and neurologic work-up revealed no abnormalities that alone could explain the patient's acute confusional state. It was subsequently discovered that the patient had imbibed alcohol on at least two separate occasions while taking disulfiram prior to her change in mental status and that a similar, although shorter, experience had occurred previously. DISCUSSION: This is the first case, to the authors' knowledge, that describes an acute confusional state as the primary manifestation of a patient taking alcohol while being prescribed disulfiram as aversive therapy for alcohol abuse. Possible pathophysiologic mechanisms for delirium as a complication of alcohol ingestion while taking disulfiram include disturbances in various neuroendocrine axes, neurotransmitter systems, and metabolic derangements. Other reports of possible neuropsychiatric complications of disulfiram therapy are also reviewed. CONCLUSIONS: The differential diagnosis for the presentation of delirium in a patient known to be undergoing aversive therapy for alcohol dependence with disulfiram should include nonadherence to alcohol abstinence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-35
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of Pharmacotherapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • Delirium
  • Disulfiram
  • Ethanol


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