To characterize physicians’ stated practices in the treatment of patients with severe acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome (sAAWS) and to use intravenous (IV) phenobarbital as an adjuvant treatment for sAAWS.
A multidisciplinary, cross-sectional, self-administered survey at 2 large academic centers specializing in inner-city healthcare.
We analyzed 105 of 195 questionnaires (53.8% response rate). On average, clinicians managed 32 cases of AAWS over a 6-month period, of which 7 (21.9%) were severe. Haloperidol (Haldol; 40 [39%]), clonidine (Catapres; 31 [30%]), phenobarbital (Luminal, Tedral; 29 [27%]) and propofol (Diprivan; 29 [28%]) were the most commonly used adjuvant medications for sAAWS. Sixty-three (60%) of respondents did not use phenobarbital in practice. Of phenobarbital users, 23 (55%) respondents used it early in patients who were refractory to symptom-triggered benzodiazepine treatment. Others waited until patients experienced seizures (5 [10%]) or required intensive care unit admission (8 [18%]). Respondents who used phenobarbital preferred to use the IV versus oral form (66% vs 29%, P < .001). Most respondents, however, were unfamiliar with the pharmacokinetics, side effects, contraindications, and evidence supporting phenobarbital use for sAAWS. Although many respondents (64 [61%]) expressed discomfort using phenobarbital, 87 (83%) expressed comfort or neutrality with enrolling patients in a trial to evaluate IV phenobarbital in sAAWS.
Considerable stated practice variation exists in how clinicians treat patients with sAAWS. Our findings support conduct of a pilot trial to evaluate IV phenobarbital as an adjuvant treatment to symptom-triggered benzodiazepines for sAAWS and have informed trial design.