Can a court sentence you to Antabuse?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on February 13th, 2011 - Last updated: April 13th, 2023
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Dear Stanton,

A dear friend of mine was just convicted of his second DUI in the state of Colorado.

I realize that this friend is an adult and must pay for his mistakes, which he is; however when he told me the stipulations of his court case, I was infuriated!

Beyond the jail-time and fines he endured, the court instated a prescription of Antabuse. I’ve recently done some homework on this drug and find it to be somewhat dangerous. My question to you is: What right does a court of law have in prescribing drugs? There was no doctor involved in this particular decision, only the court had taken the liberty to prescribe, holding an extra 60 days in jail over my friends’ head if he refused to ingest the drug.

This seems to be extremely unconstitutional, and makes me very angry. If you can shed any light on the court’s privileges I would be grateful!


Dear Chad:

It’s a new one on me, but consistent with other trends.

That is, if they can “sentence” you to not drink (confirmed by urine tests), then the next step is to give you a drug that makes you not drink. It is no light thing to digest Antabuse (do you know Keith Moon of the Who died of a reported overdose of Antabuse). Of course, your friend can fight it legally — it could be a big cause celebra.

He might also consult a seasoned pharmacologist who could lay out potential problems with this “prescription,” and petition the court on the basis of the health dangers Antabuse presents and suggest an alternative on his own — like therapy or urine tests, assuming these are for a time-limited period.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Stop whining says:

    Everyone complaining that a convicted drunk driver has to take a drug to avoid more jail time needs to grow up. I’m tired of drunk drivers getting caught and put on a program that stops them from continuing committing their s*** life decisions and possibly killing people. If you don’t want to take the drug, choose to go to jail so everyone (including yourself) doesn’t get killed or maimed from their selfish, stupid, and totally preventable choice. Grow up babies.

    • Zach Rhoads says:

      Ethically speaking, we’re tempted to agree — why does a drunk driver need a “break?” Driving drunk is illegal. That’s the “sin.”
      On the other hand, drinking is not illegal, and coerced treatment rarely helpful for improving the conditions that led to the crime in the first place. It is perhaps better, overall, to help a person consider ways to drink (if he’s going to keep at it) in ways that keep others safe. Or perhaps lead the person down a road to further resources that open up a life beyond careless and reckless behavior.

  • Chris Wilson says:

    I got a DUI in Colorado around 2000. They made me take Antabuse in the program I was in. It started to hurt me immediately……
    I had to go to the hospital one day and my house monitor probation lady was there also to see wtf was wrong with me……. the doctor comes back in and starts telling the lady hes not gonna say its ok that I keep taking that because of my liver count….. antabuse was killing me, word for word what he told her……. she told him he better, or i would have to go back to jail and sit out my time which would have been 7 years……. now I have constant kidney and liver problems and I stopped drinking around the same time as when all that happened.

  • MannyHM says:

    I suggested to a patient of mine who had been on Antabuse for more than 10 years. I said “Why not try being Antabuse-free ?” My suggestion totally frightened him and he said – “Doc, I’m naturally pleasant when sober but I become a monster when I’m drunk, nobody likes me. Please don’t even think of stopping my Antabuse, please …”

    • Zach Rhoads says:

      Well, fair enough. People want what they want, and we ought to give them the right to continue thriving — whether that’s with a helpful medication or even a superstition that one works.

      The crucial point — as you know from your time as a physician — is that coerced treatment (medication in this case) does not engage the problem-solving or ameliorative part of a person’s mind.

  • Candi says:

    If your a true Alcoholic then it could help but to court order you to take it shouldn’t be allowed. I lived in Florida and got a DUI and was court ordered by the judge (who was a known party person himself) to take Antiabuse. I was just an occasional drinker at the time. I did not drink while taking the drug. It’s really hard to find rides when your license has been taken away too. I had to have a pharmacist watch me take the pill at local Walmart and he would sign off on the sheet and I’d take it to my probation officer once a week. Dumbest idea ever. I eventually broke out in a blister rash on my arms that was very painful and ended up in ER. I was careful about everything except apparently my hand lotion had Alcohol in it that I didn’t think about. The doctor said it looked like I had bad burns. I didn’t take the pill anymore for the last 6 months of probation and I signed the sheet of paper daily just like my pharmacist would do. Plus how would my
    Probation officer know who signed the sheet. Walmart had like 3 pharmacists that worked there. On any given day it could be a tech giving me the pill. I had Decided not to hurt myself anymore.

  • John doe says:

    It does not work I would drink and flush it out. Yeah I would get a rash but then I beat the drug . I wasn’t even an alcoholic but
    the legal system made me out to be.

  • Milo says:

    I got prescribe antabuse in the state of Colorado, and first I was pissed at the judge but after my time was done I wanted to give thank the Judge for if it wasnt for that I would not be where I am today. Yes it’s a risky drug but if you follow the guide lines nothing will happen

  • Jen says:

    Hi. I am doing research on Antabuse and came across this post. Yes, Colorado is one of the few states left that partakes in the use of this drug as a form of treatment and supervision guided by a court of law/probation department. I think it is la violation of a person’s rights, even if they have been found guilty of a crime, to not be able to choose to take a known drug that has seriously harmful side effects. I am trying to find out how many states partake in this drug currently. Last I knew, it had dwindled down to something like 7, with Colorado being one of them. I had a friend in Indiana that was convicted of a DUI and was court ordered to take Antabuse. She ended up with Jaundice and the beginning of stages of kidney failure. She was hospitalized and “excused” from taking the drug and ordered to do day reporting instead. If you ask me, this drug and anyone forced to take it is the next largest class action law suit.

  • Manny says:

    An alcoholic on Antabuse who drinks gets quite sick to the point that he can’t drive and kill a busload of people !
    The danger of Antabuse to a sober person is highly exaggerated; lots of alcoholics beg to remain on it.

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