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Inpatient Management of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

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Alcohol withdrawal is a common condition encountered in the hospital setting after abrupt discontinuation of alcohol in an alcohol-dependent individual. Patients may present with mild symptoms of tremulousness and agitation or more severe symptoms including withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens. Management revolves around early identification of at-risk individuals and symptom assessment using a validated tool such as the revised Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol score. Benzodiazepines remain the mainstay of treatment and can be administered using a front-loading, fixed-dose, or symptom-triggered approach. Long-acting benzodiazepines such as chlordiazepoxide or diazepam are commonly used and may provide a smoother withdrawal than shorter-acting benzodiazepines, but there are no data to support superiority of one benzodiazepine over another. Elderly patients or those with significant liver disease may have increased accumulation and decreased clearance of the long-acting benzodiazepines, and lorazepam or oxazepam may be preferred in these patients. Patients with symptoms refractory to high doses of benzodiazepines may require addition of a rescue medication such as phenobarbital, propofol or dexmedetomidine. Anticonvulsants (carbamazepine, valproate, gabapentin) may have a role in the management of mild to moderate withdrawal. Other medications such as β-antagonists or neuroleptics may offer additional benefit in select patients but should not be used a monotherapy.

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The author has no financial or ethical interests to disclose relevant to this submission. No financial support was received for this article from any source.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth C. Perry.

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Perry, E.C. Inpatient Management of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. CNS Drugs 28, 401–410 (2014).

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