August 29, 2006

Alcohol Shots Cut Withdrawal in Alcoholic Patients

NEW YORK -- For people who are alcohol dependent and need to undergo surgery, injections of alcohol can reduce the withdrawal symptoms, researchers report in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a group of symptoms, including shakiness, hallucinations, and confusion, that occur when a chronic alcohol user abruptly stops drinking.

Dr. Ari Halldorsson of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock and colleagues note that the rate of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is about 16 percent among patients undergoing non-emergency surgery. The syndrome can complicate surgery and lead to prolonged hospital stays.

The researchers also point out that the use of alcohol to prevent this syndrome is "highly controversial" and its practice is limited "almost exclusively to surgeons and surgical subspecialists."

The team notes that their institution had no set guidelines for using alcohol as a preventative agent or dealing with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Not only were duration of treatment and dosage variable, but more than one quarter of all patients were started on alcohol withdrawal prevention "despite no history of alcoholism or withdrawal symptoms."

The researchers developed a protocol for patients at risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, based on blood alcohol levels and clinical assessment of withdrawal symptoms. The protocol involved the use of alcohol given intravenously "in a controlled and monitored fashion."

Sixty-eight patients were treated with this protocol in the following year. The results were compared with those of 92 patients who had alcohol preventative therapy before initiation of the protocol.

Compared to the earlier group, the duration of treatment fell from an average of 7 days to an average of 3 days. The failure rate was reduced from 20 to 7 percent.

The researchers conclude that "intravenous (alcohol), when administered in a controlled and monitored fashion, is an effective and safe way to prevent alcohol withdrawal syndrome."

SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Surgeons, August 2006.