Alcohol withdrawal: what is the benzodiazepine of choice?

R D Bird, E H Makela
Annals of Pharmacotherapy 1994, 28 (1): 67-71

OBJECTIVE: To review the literature concerning the use of benzodiazepines for treatment of alcohol withdrawal and to determine if the current literature assessment justifies the use of lorazepam as first-line therapy.

DATA SOURCES: A thorough review of the literature was performed with an online database (BRS Colleague). Articles directed at the targeted issue were chosen and additional references were obtained from the bibliographies of these articles.

STUDY SELECTION: Clinical trials and case reports concerning the use of chlordiazepoxide, diazepam, and lorazepam in alcohol withdrawal treatment were reviewed.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Lorazepam is considered by many to be the drug of choice for alcohol withdrawal because it undergoes glucuronidation and has an intermediate half-life. These characteristics have suggested its superiority when treating elderly patients or patients with liver disease. However, some studies suggest that a drug with a longer half-life would provide smoother withdrawal. In addition, the number of patients with liver disease treated for alcohol withdrawal is unknown. These and other factors question the recommendation of lorazepam as the drug of choice.

CONCLUSIONS: Well-controlled comparison studies should be performed before recommending the routine use of lorazepam for treating alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

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