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Can J Hosp Pharm. 2011 Nov;64(6):436-45.

Evaluation of an alcohol withdrawal protocol and a preprinted order set at a tertiary care hospital.

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, BSc(Pharm), ACPR, was, at the time this study was performed, a Clinical Pharmacist, Richmond Hospital, Richmond, British Columbia. She is now a PharmD student in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia.



Alcohol withdrawal protocols involving symptom-triggered administration of benzodiazepine have been established to reduce the duration of treatment and the cumulative benzodiazepine dose (relative to usual care). However, the effects of a protocol combining fixed-schedule and symptom-triggered benzodiazepine dosing are less clear.


To assess the efficacy and safety of a combination fixed-scheduled and symptom-triggered benzodiazepine dosing protocol for alcohol withdrawal, relative to usual care, for medical inpatients at a tertiary care hospital.


A chart review of admissions to the internal medicine service for alcohol withdrawal was conducted to compare treatment outcomes before (October 2005 to April 2007) and after (October 2007 to April 2009) implementation of the combination protocol. The primary outcome was duration of benzodiazepine treatment for alcohol withdrawal. The secondary outcomes were cumulative benzodiazepine dose administered, safety implications, and use of adjunctive medications.


A total of 159 patients met the inclusion criteria. Assessable data were available for 71 charts from the pre-implementation period and 72 charts from the post-implementation period. The median duration of benzodiazepine treatment was 91 h before implementation and 57 h after implementation (p < 0.001). Use of the protocol was also associated with a significant reduction in severe complications of alcohol withdrawal (50% versus 33%, p = 0.019), median cumulative benzodiazepine dose (in lorazepam equivalents) (20.0 mg versus 15.5 mg, p = 0.026), and use of adjunctive medications (65% versus 38%, p = 0.001). The incidence of serious adverse outcomes of treatment with benzodiazepines was not significantly different between the 2 groups.


Implementation of an alcohol withdrawal protocol with a combination of fixed-schedule and symptom-triggered benzodiazepine dosing in a medical ward was associated with a shorter duration of benzodiazepine use and a lower incidence of severe complications of alcohol withdrawal.


Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol; alcohol withdrawal protocol; benzodiazepine; fixed-schedule therapy; revised; symptom-triggered therapy


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