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Management of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome in Critically Ill Patients.

Pharmacotherapy 2016 July
Approximately 16-31% of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) have an alcohol use disorder and are at risk for developing alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Patients admitted to the ICU with AWS have an increased hospital and ICU length of stay, longer duration of mechanical ventilation, higher costs, and increased mortality compared with those admitted without an alcohol-related disorder. Despite the high prevalence of AWS among ICU patients, no guidelines for the recognition or management of AWS or delirium tremens in the critically ill currently exist, leading to tremendous variability in clinical practice. Goals of care should include immediate management of dehydration, nutritional deficits, and electrolyte derangements; relief of withdrawal symptoms; prevention of progression of symptoms; and treatment of comorbid illnesses. Symptom-triggered treatment of AWS with γ-aminobutyric acid receptor agonists is the cornerstone of therapy. Benzodiazepines (BZDs) are most studied and are often the preferred first-line agents due to their efficacy and safety profile. However, controversy still exists as to who should receive treatment, how to administer BZDs, and which BZD to use. Although most patients with AWS respond to usual doses of BZDs, ICU clinicians are challenged with managing BZD-resistant patients. Recent literature has shown that using an early multimodal approach to managing BZD-resistant patients appears beneficial in rapidly improving symptoms. This review highlights the results of recent promising studies published between 2011 and 2015 evaluating adjunctive therapies for BZD-resistant alcohol withdrawal such as antiepileptics, baclofen, dexmedetomidine, ethanol, ketamine, phenobarbital, propofol, and ketamine. We provide guidance on the places in therapy for select agents for management of critically ill patients in the presence of AWS.

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