BACKGROUND:
Acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AAWS) is encountered in patients presenting acutely to the Emergency Department (ED) and often requires pharmacologic management.

OBJECTIVE:
We investigated whether a single dose of intravenous (i.v.) phenobarbital combined with a standardized lorazepam-based alcohol withdrawal protocol decreases intensive care unit (ICU) admission in ED patients with acute alcohol withdrawal.

METHODS:
This was a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Patients were randomized to receive either a single dose of i.v. phenobarbital (10 mg/kg in 100 mL normal saline) or placebo (100 mL normal saline). All patients were placed on the institutional symptom-guided lorazepam-based alcohol withdrawal protocol. The primary outcome was initial level of hospital admission (ICU vs. telemetry vs. floor ward).

RESULTS:
There were 198 patients enrolled in the study, and 102 met inclusion criteria for analysis. Fifty-one patients received phenobarbital and 51 received placebo. Baseline characteristics and severity were similar in both groups. Patients that received phenobarbital had fewer ICU admissions (8% vs. 25%, 95% confidence interval 4-32). There were no differences in adverse events.

CONCLUSIONS:
A single dose of i.v. phenobarbital combined with a symptom-guided lorazepam-based alcohol withdrawal protocol resulted in decreased ICU admission and did not cause increased adverse outcomes.





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