Fixed-Dose Phenobarbital Versus As-Needed Benzodiazepines for the Management of Alcohol Withdrawal in Acute Care General Internal Medicine

Link to article at PubMed

South Med J. 2024 Jan;117(1):25-30. doi: 10.14423/SMJ.0000000000001640.


OBJECTIVES: The management of patients at risk of severe alcohol withdrawal is challenging because conventional treatment with as-needed benzodiazepines may be ineffective. We created a fixed-dose phenobarbital protocol and compared patient outcomes using this protocol with an as-needed benzodiazepine protocol.

METHODS: Patients admitted from the emergency department (ED) to General Medicine from January 1 to June 30, 2022 and treated for alcohol withdrawal with a novel phenobarbital protocol were compared with all of the patients admitted from the ED to General Medicine from January 1 to June 30, 2018, and treated with as-needed benzodiazepines. The primary outcome was a composite of intensive care unit (ICU) transfer or mortality. Secondary outcomes included mortality, ICU transfer, seizure, length of stay, excess sedation, delirium, against medical advice discharge, 30-day re-admission, 30-day ED reevaluation, and antipsychotic use.

RESULTS: There were 54 patients in the phenobarbital group and 197 in the benzodiazepine group. The phenobarbital group was less medically complex but had more risk factors for severe withdrawal. There was no difference in the primary outcome, although there was a trend toward benefit in the phenobarbital group (3.7 vs 8.1%, P = 0.26), and there was a lower incidence of delirium in the phenobarbital cohort (0 vs 8.6%, P = 0.03). Secondary outcome trends favored phenobarbital, with lower mortality, ICU transfer, seizure, oversedation, against medical advice discharge, and 30-day re-admissions. A subgroup analysis accounting for differences in patient populations in the primary analysis found similar results.

CONCLUSIONS: Phenobarbital is as safe and effective as benzodiazepine-based protocols for the treatment of high-risk alcohol withdrawal, with lower rates of delirium.

PMID:38151248 | DOI:10.14423/SMJ.0000000000001640

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