Cureus. 2021 Feb 11;13(2):e13282. doi: 10.7759/cureus.13282.
Introduction Annually, 500,000 episodes of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) are severe enough to require clinical attention. A symptom-triggered lorazepam regimen remains the standard of care for the management of hospitalized AWS patients. However, phenobarbital has also been shown to be an effective adjunctive therapy for severe AWS, reducing benzodiazepine use in the emergency department (ED) and the intensive care unit (ICU). The purpose of this study is to compare hospital length of stay (LOS) for AWS patients using phenobarbital-based versus lorazepam-based treatment protocols as monotherapy for management of AWS on general medical units. Methods This is a retrospective cohort study over a two-year period (March, 2016 to March, 2018), conducted at three hospitals within the St. Joseph Mercy Health System. We included 606 patients with a primary diagnosis of AWS or alcohol intoxication who met our inclusion criteria (543 in the lorazepam cohort and 63 in the phenobarbital cohort). Adjusted comparisons were done using propensity scoring methods. Hospital LOS was set as the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes included all-cause 30-day readmission, alcohol-related 30-day readmission, 30-day ED visits after discharge, and need for ICU transfer during hospital stay. Results Patients who received phenobarbital had a statistically significant shorter hospital LOS as compared to patients who received lorazepam (2.8 versus 3.6 days, P < 0.001). Furthermore, the phenobarbital treatment group had statistically significant lower rates of all-cause 30-day readmission (11.11% versus 14.18%, P = 0.020) and 30-day ED visits after discharge (11.11% versus 18.6%, P = 0.015). No statistical significance was detected for alcohol-related 30-day readmission and the need for ICU transfer between the treatment groups. Conclusion This study suggests that phenobarbital may be a reasonable alternative to lorazepam in the management of AWS patients admitted to general medical units. Larger scale, well-executed, and adequately powered prospective studies and randomized controlled trials are needed to corroborate these findings.