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Alcohol Alcohol. 2012 May-Jun;47(3):288-90. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agr170. Epub 2012 Jan 25.

Catatonia and alcohol withdrawal: a complex and underestimated syndrome.

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  • 1Univ Lille Nord de France, France.



Catatonia is a neuropsychiatric syndrome characterized by alterations in motor behavior, vigilance, thought and mood. Catatonia syndrome occurs in many neuropsychiatric and medical conditions, but it is very rarely mentioned as occurring during alcohol withdrawal. We think that this co-occurrence could be underestimated in clinics because alcohol withdrawal symptoms may distract from its identification.


We report the case of a patient presenting with catatonia during the benzodiazepine reduction period of alcohol detoxification.


A 65-year-old woman presented with a 15-year history of alcohol dependence and developed catatonic episodes several times during alcohol withdrawal treatment. Misdiagnosis delayed specific treatment. Symptoms of episodes dramatically improved 48 h after treatment with diazepam and revealed an anxiety disorder.


This report confirms that catatonia is a non-specific response to psychological, physical and psychosocial stress factors. Recent alcohol withdrawal may sensitize the patient to benzodiazepine withdrawal catatonia, and this phenomenon is probably underestimated. Catatonia Rating Scales can be useful when diagnosis is complicated as in alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal. In that situation, misdiagnosis is common and may delay specific treatment.

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