, Volume 29, Issue 12, pp 2230-2238
Date: 14 Oct 2003

Alcohol withdrawal severity is decreased by symptom-orientated adjusted bolus therapy in the ICU

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To examine the effect of bolus vs. continuous infusion adjustment on severity and duration of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), the medication requirements for AWS treatment, and the effect on ICU stay in surgical intensive care unit (ICU) patients.

Design and setting

Prospective randomized, double-blind controlled trial in a surgical ICU.


44 patients who developed AWS after admission to the ICU.


Patients were randomized to either (a) a continuous infusion course of intravenous flunitrazepam (agitation), intravenous clonidine (sympathetic hyperactivity), and intravenous haloperidol (productive psychotic symptoms) if needed (infusion-titrated group), or (b) the same medication (flunitrazepam, clonidine, or haloperidol) bolus adjusted in response to the development of the signs and symptoms of AWS (bolus-titrated group).

Measurements and results

The administration of “as-needed” medication was determined using a validated measure of the severity of AWS (Clinical Institute of Withdrawal Assessment). Although the severity of AWS did not differ between groups initially, it significantly worsened over time in the infusion-titrated group. This required a higher amount of flunitrazepam, clonidine, and haloperidol. ICU treatment was significantly shorter in the bolus-titrated group (median difference 6 days) due to a lower incidence of pneumonia (26% vs. 43%).


We conclude that symptom-orientated bolus-titrated therapy decreases the severity and duration of AWS and of medication requirements, with clinically relevant benefits such as fewer days of ventilation, lower incidence of pneumonia, and shorter ICU stay.

This study was sponsored in part by the German Research Society (DFG-SP 432/1-1 and 1-2)