Ann Emerg Med. 2020 Jul 28:S0196-0644(20)30400-5. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2020.05.029. Online ahead of print.
STUDY OBJECTIVE: Alcohol withdrawal is a common emergency department (ED) presentation. Although benzodiazepines reduce symptoms of withdrawal, there is little ED-based evidence to assist clinicians in selecting appropriate pharmacotherapy. We compare lorazepam with diazepam for the management of alcohol withdrawal to assess 1-week ED and hospital-related outcomes.
METHODS: From January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2018, at 3 urban EDs in Vancouver, Canada, we studied patients with a discharge diagnosis of alcohol withdrawal. We excluded individuals presenting with a seizure or an acute concurrent illness. We performed a structured chart review to ascertain demographics, ED treatments, and outcomes. Patients were stratified according to initial management with lorazepam versus diazepam. The primary outcome was hospital admission, and secondary outcomes included in-ED seizures and 1-week return visits for discharged patients.
RESULTS: Of 1,055 patients who presented with acute alcohol withdrawal, 898 were treated with benzodiazepines. Median age was 47 years (interquartile range 37 to 56 years) and 73% were men. Baseline characteristics were similar in the 2 groups. Overall, 69 of 394 patients (17.5%) receiving lorazepam were admitted to the hospital compared with 94 of 504 patients receiving diazepam (18.7%), a difference of 1.2% (95% confidence interval -4.2% to 6.3%). Seven patients (0.7%; 95% confidence interval 0.3% to 1.4%) had an in-ED seizure, but all seizures occurred before receipt of benzodiazepines. Among patients discharged home, 1-week return visits occurred for 78 of 325 (24.0%) who received lorazepam and 94 of 410 (23.2%) who received diazepam, a difference of 0.8% (95% confidence interval -5.3% to 7.1%).
CONCLUSION: In our sample of ED patients with acute alcohol withdrawal, patients receiving lorazepam had an admission rate similar to that of those receiving diazepam. The few in-ED seizures occurred before medication administration. For discharged patients, the 1-week ED return visit rate of nearly 25% could warrant enhanced follow-up and community support.