Effect of early and focused benzodiazepine therapy on length of stay in severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Jin A. Lee, Jeremiah J. Duby, Christine S. Cocanour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: Current evidence supports symptom-triggered therapy for alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Early, escalating therapy with benzodiazepines (BZD) appears to decrease ICU length of stay (LOS); however, the effect on hospital LOS remains unknown. The hypothesis of this study is that focused BZD treatment in the first 24 h will decrease hospital LOS. Design: Pre–post cohort study. Setting: Academic medical center. Patients: This study included patients with severe AWS. The pre-intervention cohort (PRE) was admitted between January and November 2015. The post-intervention cohort (POST) was admitted between April 2016 and March 2017. Severe AWS was defined as patients requiring diazepam doses of >30 mg. Focused treatment was defined as >50% of total diazepam usage within the first 24 h of recognition of AWS. Intervention: In the PRE group, patients received symptom-triggered, escalating doses of diazepam and phenobarbital based on their Richmond Agitation-Sedation Scale (RASS). In the POST group, patients received a revised, time-limited course of therapy: escalating doses of BZD and phenobarbital were given during a 24-h loading phase, and all therapy was discontinued after a 72-h tapering phase. The SHOT scale was used as an adjunct to RASS to assess non-agitation symptoms of AWS and guide additional diazepam doses. Measurements and main results: The primary outcome was hospital LOS; secondary outcomes included ICU LOS, BZD use, and ventilator-free days. Five hundred thirty-two patients were treated using the AWS protocol; 113 experienced severe AWS. The PRE (n = 75) and POST (n = 38) groups were evenly matched in age, sex, history of AWS, and severity of illness. There was a substantial difference in POST patients who received focused treatment (51.3% vs. 73.7%, p =.03). The POST group had a significant decrease in hospital LOS (14.0 vs. 9.8 days, p =.03) and ICU LOS (7.4 vs. 4.4 days, p =.03). Conclusion: Early, focused management of severe AWS was associated with a decrease in ICU and hospital LOS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalClinical Toxicology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • alcohol
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • benzodiazepine
  • critical care
  • delirium
  • phenobarbital

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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