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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jul 20;(3):CD005063.

Benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal.

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  • 1Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, University of Ioannina School of Medicine, 14 Ch. Zoidi Str., Ioannina, Greece, GR45444.

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Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that occurs in alcohol-dependent people after cessation or reduction in alcohol use. This systematic review focuses on the evidence of benzodiazepines' use in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.


To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of benzodiazepines in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal.


We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library Issue 4, 2004), MEDLINE (1966 to October 2004) and EU-PSI PSI-Tri database with no language and publication restrictions. We also screened references of retrieved articles.


All randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness and safety of a benzodiazepine in comparison with a placebo or other pharmacological intervention or other benzodiazepine were considered.


Two reviewers independently assessed trial quality and extracted data.


Fifty-seven trials, with a total of 4,051 people were included. Despite the considerable number of randomized controlled trials, there was a very large variety of outcomes and of different rating scales and relatively limited quantitative synthesis of data was feasible. Benzodiazepines offered a large benefit against alcohol withdrawal seizures compared to placebo (relative risk [RR] 0.16; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.04 to 0.69; p = 0.01). Benzodiazepines had similar success rates as other drugs (RR 1.02; 95% CI 0.92 to 1.12) or anticonvulsants in particular (RR 1.00; 95% CI 0.87 to 1.16) and offered a significant benefit for seizure control against non-anticonvulsants (RR 0.23; 95% CI 0.07 to 0.75; p = 0.02), but not against anticonvulsants (RR 1.99; 95% CI 0.46 to 8.65). Changes in Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA-Ar) scores at the end of treatment were similar with benzodiazepines versus other drugs, although some small studies showed isolated significant differences for other, less commonly, used scales. Data on other comparisons were very limited, thus making quantitative synthesis for various outcomes not very informative.


Benzodiazepines are effective against alcohol withdrawal symptoms, in particular seizures, when compared to placebo. It is not possible to draw definite conclusions about the relative effectiveness and safety of benzodiazepines against other drugs in alcohol withdrawal, because of the large heterogeneity of the trials both in interventions and assessment of outcomes but the available data do not show prominent differences between benzodiazepines and other drugs in success rates.

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