UMEM Educational Pearls

The management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) includes supportive care focusing on the ABC’s and administration of benzodiazepines (BDZ). 

While BDZ are effective in the treatment of AWS, some patients may require very high doses of BDZ to control symptoms (tachycardia, hypertension, diaphoresis, etc.); unfortunately, high-doses of BDZ may lead to suppression of the respiratory drive and endotracheal intubation.

Dexmedetomidine (DEX) is a sedative agent that is an intravenous alpha2-agonist (it's like clonidine); it reduces sympathetic outflow from the central nervous system and it may help treat withdrawal syndromes. The major benefit of DEX is that it does not suppress the respiratory drive, thus intubation is not required.

Smaller trials and case series have shown that patients with AWS who were treated with BDZ in addition to DEX had better symptom control, lower overall BDZ doses, and less respiratory depression/intubation.

Bottom-line: While more trials are needed, consider adding DEX for patients with AWS who require high-doses of BDZ.