What is Accutane? The Dangers and Benefits of the Medication

Last Updated: July 2, 2021

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Accutane is a brand of acne-treating medication. It contains a potent and highly active chemical called Isotretinoin. It is available as oral capsules. Because of how powerful it is, it tends to be prescribed for severe forms of acne if they don’t respond to antibiotics and other medical treatments. This kind of acne is cystic or nodular acne.

Isotretinoin is a substance that can be found naturally in the body, belonging to the same group of chemicals as Vitamin A. These are known as retinoids.

This article will provide information and answer your questions on the medication. What is Accutane? What are its benefits and side effects? Can it be taken with alcohol? And is it addictive?

What is Accutane?

Accutane is the brand name of the chemical Isotretinoin. It belongs to a group of chemicals known as retinoids, many of which have efficacy in the medical treatment of skin conditions.

What is Accutane used for? Isotretinoin can be used not only to treat severe acne that isn’t responding to other forms of treatment but in treating ichthyosis seen after birth and in the prevention and medical treatment of some kinds of skin cancer.

With proper precautions, Isotretinoin is mostly a safe substance to use, but when care is not taken, there can be severe side effects. As a result, female patients must be abstinent or on effective contraception from the start of using Accutane medication to at least a month after. If used during pregnancy, it can cause congenital disabilities. It cannot be used in pregnant women.

Woman reading Accutane warnings and indications.

Besides that, before using this drug, patients must sign an agreement through a program known as iPLEDGE to prove that they understand the information and accept the risks that may occur. Safety, of course, is a major concern in light of this extensive iPLEDGE process. There are many potential side effects, and some are severe, but with proper usage, it is mostly safe.

Other Brand Names for Isotretinoin Include:

  • Roaccutane
  • Absorica
  • Claravis
  • Zenatane
  • Amnesteem
  • Myorisan
  • Sotret

Accutane for Acne Effectiveness

Accutane is one of the most powerful acne medications. The exact Accutane mechanism by which it treats severe acne is still unknown, but it is known how long Accutane medication stays in one’s system.

However, Information From a Lot of Studies Have Concluded That It Works by Four Mechanisms:

  • It helps to reduce the production of oil. It does this by taking control over the death of the cells that secrete oils in the skin. They call this process apoptosis.
  • Moreover, it exhibits some degree of activity against the acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes.
  • It hastens the cell renewal process. That way, it helps to clear even the most severe acne.
  • Finally, it causes a reduction in the size of the outbreaks. It does it by using its anti-inflammatory properties.

This mechanism is what allows Isotretinoin to be the most effective treatment for severe acne. Improvement with Accutane for acne is clinically evident in those who use it. One study found that 90% of 50 patients who used this chemical had very good results seen by the end of the treatment period.

Woman with healthy skin treated with Accutane.

However, while there is an evident success with the use of Accutane for acne, in many cases, it can cause a lot of harm when not used with proper precautions. As effective as it is, though, there are several cases where the side effects have caused more impact than the positive aspects of the medication, particularly regarding use in pregnancy and birth defects.

Accutane Relapse

Accutane relapse refers to a condition where the severe acne, once clear, comes back. It may occur once one completes the course of the therapy. With standard use of this medication, relapse should not be a common occurrence. However, it does happen.

It was found that relatively low doses of the drug increase the chance of relapse occurring. It was also found that increased duration of treatment, particularly after acne has already cleared up, was associated with a lower relapse rate.

Is Accutane Safe? What Are The Risks?

There is a lot of concern regarding the safety of Isotretinoin. It is a drug that can have severe side effects when it is not used correctly, especially in pregnant women. However, for those wondering is Accutane safe, when this drug is used with the proper precautions, it can be very safe, with only minor side effects occurring. Very commonly, cheilitis and dry skin occur with the use of this. The balance between its medical usefulness and its health effects brings about a dilemma regarding its control.

Woman with acne looking in the mirror.

A review of previous studies found that Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which can be thought of as a severe allergic reaction, can occur with the use of Isotretinoin.

People have also observed some Accutane-induced congenital disabilities or congenital disabilities from when the drug is taken during pregnancy. They include abnormalities of the skull, face, ears, eyes seen after birth by one of these pregnant women. The risks are so severe that the drug is only given to certain patients who have registered with the iPLEDGE program. It includes counseling, the use of two methods of contraception, and pregnancy testing.

Can You Drink on Accutane?

Considering Accutane and alcohol, it is not absolutely contraindicated to be drinking on Accutane, but it is recommended that it shouldn’t be consumed when on the medication. There is a possibility of reduced efficacy of Isotretinoin when an alcoholic beverage is consumed.

If Accutane and alcohol have to be consumed at the same time, individuals should control the amount they drink. Drinking on Accutane is not advised, so as little as possible is best.

Is Accutane Addictive?

There is no evidence that it has any addictive potential, whether using Accutane for acne or any other condition. As a drug with its main effect away from the central nervous system, its mechanism of action is far removed from the CNS. As a result, there is no proven health risk of dependence on the drug.

Necessary Precautions

The concerns regarding the health safety of this drug are well-founded, but as long as the proper precautions are taken, the risk of them occurring will drop significantly. These precautions enable this drug to be used in professional settings as it drastically increases its safety.

Follow a Doctor’s Instructions and Never Use It in Ways Other Than Recommended:

  • Swallow the entire capsule with a tall glass of water. Avoid using Accutane and alcohol.
  • Take it with very fatty foods. That way, one may enhance its absorption in the digestive tract.
  • Never break, open, or chew the capsule.
  • Has one discovered that they have a pregnancy during the therapy? In this case, stop taking it immediately and consult a doctor.
  • Do not take double doses to compensate for the missed dose.
  • Avoid taking Vitamin A supplements while taking it.

Be Cautious with Isotretinoin

Every medication comes with its share of good and bad health effects. FDA approves a medicine for marketing only after it has demonstrated specific criteria. This is when significant benefits outweigh the risks. It still requires a degree of control and restriction, which is why the iPLEDGE program exists.

Nevertheless, each case might be different from others. It is because everyone’s body is unique. As a result, one’s response to a particular medication might be different.

In any case, talk to the doctor immediately if anything abnormal happens. It is not only during but shortly after the therapy as well. Also, take care of all these things if the loved one is taking Isotretinoin.

 

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Published on: April 18th, 2017

Updated on: July 2nd, 2021

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.