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Alcohol Alcohol. 1998 May-Jun;33(3):291-303.

The detoxification experience of alcoholic in-patients and predictors of outcome.

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  • 1Elmdene Research Unit, Bexley Hospital, Kent, UK.


This paper reports the detoxification experience and outcome at 6 months and 1 year following detoxification from alcohol in 160 patients admitted to a south-east London in-patient detoxification unit. Patients' socio-demographic characteristics are also described. The sample was predominantly middle-aged, mainly male, and highly dependent on alcohol. Subjects had been drinking heavily for many years and suffered physical and social complications in consequence. The rate of convulsions was 3.1% and of delirium tremens 1.25%. The details of the level of drug usage during detoxification and the assessment of severity of the withdrawal syndrome are also reported. The severity of the withdrawal syndrome and the incidence of significant complications of withdrawal were higher in those with a previous history of four or more episodes of detoxification, a previous history of withdrawal fits or evidence of high levels of tolerance and dependence assessed either by the Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire (SADQ) or by drinking on a typical heavy drinking day in excess of 24 U of alcohol. It is suggested that subjects with one or more of these attributes should be treated on an in-patient, rather than an out-patient, basis unless adequate support and monitoring systems are in place. Overall, patients made improvements on a wide range of social and psychological variables, but the 'abstinent' and 'controlled drinking' groups made significantly higher improvements on all variables in both follow-up periods. When patients improved their drinking status and reduced the levels of drink-related physical and social complications, in both time periods, their use of social and health resources decreased significantly. Living circumstances at intake were predictive of drinking status at both follow-up stages. The amount drunk on a heavy drinking day, at both follow-up stages, was predicted by severity of withdrawal, SADQ and living circumstances at intake in that order of importance.

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