Comparison of clinical outcomes in nonintubated patients with severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome treated with continuous-infusion sedatives: Dexmedetomidine versus benzodiazepines

Angela L. Crispo, Mitchell J. Daley, Jodie L. Pepin, Paul H. Harford, Carlos V R Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations


Study Objective To compare efficacy and safety outcomes in nonintubated patients with severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) who required a continuous infusion of a benzodiazepine or dexmedetomidine in addition to standard medical therapy for AWS. Design Retrospective cohort study. Setting Two hospitals within the same network that used different treatment strategies for AWS. Patients A total of 61 nonintubated adults who received a continuous infusion of either a benzodiazepine (BZD) (lorazepam or midazolam; 33 patients) or dexmedetomidine (DEX) (28 patients) for severe AWS between April 1, 2011, and October 31, 2012, as well as standard medical therapy for AWS. Measurements and Main Results The primary outcome was a composite end point including rates of respiratory distress requiring endotracheal intubation or occurrence of alcohol withdrawal seizures. No significant differences in the composite end point were noted between the BZD and DEX groups (9.1% and 7.1%, respectively, p>0.99) or its individual components of respiratory distress (9.1% and 7.1%, respectively, p>0.99) or alcohol withdrawal seizures (0% and 3.6%, respectively, p=0.46). The DEX group received a lower median total dose of lorazepam equivalents after initiation of the study drug (median [interquartile range] 105 [60-199.5] mg in the BZD group vs 3.5 [0-12] mg in the DEX group), but this did not translate into a reduced requirement for endotracheal intubation or decreased length of stay. DEX was associated with more adverse drug events including hypotension and bradycardia. Of concern, DEX may impair the ability to assess symptoms appropriately and administer BZDs in a symptom-triggered fashion. Although the total cost of hospitalization was similar between groups, DEX was associated with a higher study drug cost per patient. Conclusion DEX demonstrated a BZD-sparing effect in the treatment of AWS; however, this surrogate end point should be interpreted with caution. Although this study cannot disprove the possibility of a protective effect of DEX in preventing the requirement for endotracheal intubation in patients with AWS, an increased rate of adverse drug events and increased study drug costs were observed. If DEX is used in clinical practice, it should only be used as adjunctive therapy with BZDs that have a proven benefit in AWS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)910-917
Number of pages8
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014



  • alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • benzodiazepines
  • critical care
  • dexmedetomidine
  • lorazepam
  • midazolam

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)

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