UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: New Data - Dexmedetomidine as Adjunctive Therapy for Ethanol Withdrawal: An RCT

Keywords: dexmedetomidine, alcohol, ethanol, withdrawal (PubMed Search)

Posted: 4/28/2014 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 5/3/2014) (Updated: 5/3/2014)
Click here to contact Bryan Hayes, PharmD

Four small case series (one prospective, 3 retrospective) have concluded that dexmedetomidine (Precedex) may be a useful adjunct therapy to benzodiazepines for ethanol withdrawal in the ED or ICU. They are summarized on the Academic Life in EM blog.

A new randomized, double-blind trial evaluated 24 ICU patients with severe ethanol withdrawal.

Group 1: Lorazepam + placebo

Group 2: Lorazepam + dexmedetomidine (doses of 0.4 mcg/kg/hr and 1.2 mcg/kg/hr).

  • 24-hour lorazepam requirements were reduced from 56 mg to 8 mg in the dexmedetomidine group (p=0.037).
  • 7-day cumulative lorazepam requirements were similar.
  • Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment or Riker sedation-agitation scale scores were similar within 24 hours.
  • Bradycardia occurred more frequently in the dexmedetomidine group.

Take Home Points

  1. Dexmedetomidine reduced short-term benzodiazepine requirements, but not long-term when using symptom-triggered approach.
  2. Monitor for bradycardia when using dexmedetomidine.


Mueller SW, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, dose range study of dexmedetomidine as adjunctive therapy for alcohol withdrawal. Crit Care Med 2014;42(5):1131-9. [PMID 24351375]

Follow me on Twitter (@PharmERToxGuy) and Google Plus (+bryanhayes13)