Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Outpatient Management

He is also professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and helped establish its clinical psychopharmacology unit. Dr. Sellers has received several awards for his research in pharmacology and drug dependence, including the Rawls-Palmer Award given by the ASCPT. Our original paper still accurately outlines the reasons for using the CIWA-Ar and how to use it. We did not emphasize the importance of standardized training of all staff and the usefulness of the assessment of within and between rater reliability in the paper. Patients or standardized trained patients can be used to ensure good staff agreements on ratings. Alcoholics tend to have nutritional deficiencies and thus should be provided with folic and thiamine supplements.

Other special populations in need of further research include the elderly and criminal justice populations. For patients planning to take medication to treat withdrawal, the World Health Organization 170 suggests clinicians use the CIWA-Ar to facilitate alcohol withdrawal management. Patients presenting with a new onset seizure should be provided a full neurologic examination including brain imaging with possible lumbar puncture and electroencephalogram . A thorough neurological examination and EEG should also be provided to patients with a new pattern of alcohol withdrawal related seizures.2,42 However, if a patient has a known history of alcohol-withdrawal related seizures that are clearly attributed to alcohol withdrawal, it may not be necessary to do additional neurological testing. If a patient’s alcohol use history and time course of the seizure are inconsistent with an alcohol withdrawal seizure or if the neurological examination identifies focal neurological deficits, meningitis, fever, status epilepticus, recent head trauma, or other possible causes of seizure, further testing should be completed to determine etiology.

Benzodiazepines may be given but should be used with caution and only in facilities with close monitoring. Patients receiving opioid agonist therapy with concomitant alcohol withdrawal should be admitted and managed in a hospital setting or other setting with the resources to manage increased risk of respiratory depression sober house boston and other complications. Patients receiving pharmacotherapy should be monitored for signs of response to medication. If the patient does not respond as expected, a number of actions can be considered. The amount of medication required to control symptoms is variable and ultimately determined by clinical judgment.

  • At a minimum, the Guideline Committee recommended clinicians conduct and/or arrange for a comprehensive metabolic profile or basic metabolic profile , a hepatic panel, and a complete blood count with differential to assess a patient’s electrolytes, liver functioning, renal functioning, and immune functioning.
  • The appropriateness of treating patients with these difficulties will depend on staff capabilities and available accommodation services.
  • Gross et al. explained the low level of reliability by the inherent fluctuation in symptom severity in what is an acute organic brain syndrome.
  • At the end of the review period, ASAM aggregated the feedback, identified key issues raised, and tracked proposed changes.

The first is an ambulatory level of care, which encompasses Level 1-WM and Level 2-WM. The second is an inpatient level of care, which encompasses Level 3-WM and Level 4-WM. Inpatient care also includes hospital settings. There is considerable variation in the staffing and resource availability within these two broad categories, which clinicians should consider when applying this guideline to their specific treatment setting. While the current clinical guideline focuses primarily on alcohol withdrawal management, it is important to underscore that alcohol withdrawal management alone is not an effective treatment for alcohol use disorder.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Doctors use an alcohol withdrawal scale chart to determine how serious the symptoms are getting and whether medical intervention is needed. It also helps predict the likelihood that the person will develop delirium tremens , a common complication of alcohol withdrawal. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, it’s important to seek professional help. Withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous, and the CIWA protocol is an effective way to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Be sure to work with a trained healthcare professional and follow the treatment guidelines to ensure the best possible outcome.

alcohol withdrawal scale

Chronic exposure to alcohol results in a compensatory decrease of GABA-A neuroreceptor response to GABA, evidenced by increasing tolerance of the effects of alcohol. PAWSS Scores ≥4 were 93.1% sensitive and 99.5% specific for development of complicated AWS in prospective validation . Patients ≥18 years old admitted to general floor, with or without history of alcohol abuse.

Also, patients with a prior episode of severe alcohol withdrawal which occurred more than one year ago can be managed in Level 2-WM settings. After a face-to-face meeting of the Guideline Committee, feedback indicated that settings and levels of care had not been adequately delineated in the initial set of draft statements. This was largely due to the sparse literature specific to ambulatory settings and the focus of our Clinical Champions on the more moderate-severe end of the spectrum of alcohol withdrawal. Therefore, after the initial Guideline Committee Meeting, the project was expanded to place additional focus on considerations specific to alcohol withdrawal management in ambulatory settings.

Patients with a history of even mild adverse events with benzodiazepine use should not be prescribed benzodiazepines for ambulatory withdrawal because of the lack of continuous monitoring. Patients with a physiological dependence on opioids or a concurrent opioid use disorder can be managed in a Level 2-WM setting and are not excluded from management in a Level 1-WM setting. Clinicians should have experience with co-managing opioid use disorder and/or physiological dependence including initiating evidence-based medications for opioid use disorder74 and with identifying emergent opioid withdrawal syndrome in addition to alcohol withdrawal. Throughout this document, we provide examples for withdrawal severity using the CIWA-Ar, although other scales can be used. Regardless of the instrument used, there is a wide variety in the literature and in practice as to which scores best delineate mild, moderate and severe withdrawal.

History of the CIWA Protocol for Alcohol Withdrawal

Patients with severe cognitive impairment should be managed in inpatient settings.21,58 The appropriateness of managing patients with moderate or mild cognitive impairment in any setting depends on the availability of support services and experience of the treating clinicians. A systematic literature review including the indicators identified by the Clinical Champions was conducted. The literature review included all levels of published research literature, including studies with non-random assignment and case studies. A targeted internet search of gray literature was also conducted, including published and unpublished clinical guidelines on alcohol withdrawal management. The ASAM Standards of Care provides a list of principles for Addiction Specialist Physicians to follow in order to support quality improvement activities and improve patient outcomes. In using the CIWA-Ar, the clinical picture should be considered because medical and psychiatric conditions may mimic alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

The CIWA protocol is a widely used tool for the assessment and treatment of alcohol withdrawal. It is simple to use and has been shown to be an effective way to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Further research on the role of The ASAM Criteria Risk Matrix in determining appropriate level of care for individuals with alcohol withdrawal would be welcome. In particular, evidence-based improvements in the assessment of the recovery environment and available social support networks would be helpful to determine appropriateness for ambulatory management. Further research is warranted on evidence-based strategies to identify alcohol withdrawal in various settings including primary care, Emergency Departments, and medical/surgical units in hospitals.

They noted that these considerations are relevant primarily for benzodiazepine prescriptions due to the risk involved and that they would be comfortable giving several days’ worth of carbamazepine or gabapentin due to lower risk for diversion and/or drug-drug interactions. Patients with more severe withdrawal may require larger doses than are typically seen in other patient populations, particularly during early withdrawal. Finally, it is important to explain to patients and caregivers the circumstances under which a transfer to a more intensive level of care may be necessary, for example if signs and symptoms continue to increase in severity despite taking medication as prescribed. See Recommendation IV.5 for indications for transfer to a more intensive level of care. Explaining this at the beginning of the withdrawal management process is optimal to ensure a smooth transition if necessary.

alcohol withdrawal scale

Any contraindication to naltrexone or gabapentin, including known allergy, renal failure, acute hepatitis, hepatic failure, or severe lung disease or other chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease . The goal of the CIWA protocol is to minimize the risk of complications and optimize the patient’s recovery. It is also known as the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol scale. The signs or symptoms in Criterion B cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Propofol may be considered as an adjunct to benzodiazepines but does not appear to offer advantage over benzodiazepines or DEX.Studies report higher incidence of cardiovascular effects, mechanical ventilation, pneumonia. Use a CIWA protocol to administer benzodiazepines with or without adjunctive haloperidol.

If certain medications decrease the kindling effect, they may become preferred agents. Additionally, it’s possible for the medications themselves to be addictive or cause dependence. The majority of patients included in the studies were on general medical floors.

Goals of Treatment

Despite the clear and frequently stated importance of the transition between withdrawal management and long-term AUD treatment, research on optimal strategies is extremely sparse. More recently, studies are including follow-up measures such as entry into AUD treatment following withdrawal completion, but this is rarely a primary outcome of interest. One RCT conducted in the United States119 found that participants who received three Motivational Interviewing sessions during inpatient withdrawal treatment were more likely to attend self-help groups two months after discharge compared to control participants, but were not more likely to be abstinent or engage in formal AUD treatment. While making appropriate differential diagnosis is critical, it should be noted that alcohol withdrawal is often seen in conjunction with other health conditions, including mental health disorders, substance-related disorders, or simultaneous withdrawal from other substances besides alcohol. Therefore, clinicians should not discount the possibility of co-occurring conditions once a diagnosis of alcohol withdrawal has been made. In order to develop the draft statements, a meeting was held with the project team, Clinical Champions, and ASAM/QIC representatives.

alcohol withdrawal scale

In considering patient risk, clinicians should assess their risk of severe withdrawal, complicated withdrawal (used in this guideline to describe withdrawal-related seizures or alcohol withdrawal delirium), or complications of withdrawal, which refers to a potentially life-threatening exacerbation of existing medical or psychiatric conditions. The spectrum of alcohol withdrawal symptoms ranges from such minor symptoms as insomnia and tremulousness to severe complications such as withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens. Although the history and physical examination usually are sufficient to diagnose alcohol withdrawal syndrome, other conditions may present with similar symptoms. Most patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal can be treated safely and effectively as outpatients. Pharmacologic treatment involves the use of medications that are cross-tolerant with alcohol. Benzodiazepines, the agents of choice, may be administered on a fixed or symptom-triggered schedule.

Hence, large, well-controlled studies of specific medications would be helpful in expanding the options for individualization of alcohol withdrawal management. Some examples of useful comparative trials include phenobarbital vs. or as adjunct to benzodiazepines, ketamine as adjunct to other medications, carbamazepine vs. gabapentin. To the fullest extent possible, patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal management should be engaged, if not initiated, in treatment for alcohol use disorder as soon as cognitive status permits.

Because lack of patient understanding and adherence may adversely affect outcomes, clinicians should make every effort to promote the patient’s understanding of, and adherence to, prescribed and recommended treatments. Patients should be informed of the risks, benefits, and alternatives to a particular treatment, and should be an active party in shared decision making whenever feasible. Recommendations in this Practice Guideline do not supersede any federal or state regulations. Because lack of patient understanding and adherence may adversely affect outcomes, clinicians should make every effort to promote the patient’s understanding of and adherence to recommended treatments. Rarely, it is necessary to use extremely high dosages of benzodiazepines to control the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Clinical Guidelines

In addition, certain medications (e.g., beta blockers) may blunt the manifestation of these symptoms. Alcohol inhibits NMDA neuroreceptors, and chronic alcohol exposure results in up-regulation of these receptors. Abrupt cessation of alcohol exposure results in brain hyperexcitability, because receptors previously inhibited by alcohol are no longer inhibited. Brain hyperexcitability manifests eco sober house price clinically as anxiety, irritability, agitation, and tremors. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when patients stop drinking or significantly decrease their alcohol intake after long-term dependence. Withdrawal has a broad range of symptoms from mild tremors to a condition called delirium tremens, which results in seizures and could progress to death if not recognized and treated promptly.

A mental health condition is not thought to increase risk for severe, complicated, or complications of withdrawal. Providers should follow their setting/state rules on obtaining written or verbal consent or release of information prior to consultation. Although these scales have generally not been found to be superior to the CIWA-Ar at identifying the potential risk of developing severe or complicated withdrawal, they may be more feasible to administer than the CIWA-Ar in some inpatient settings. The Guideline Committee considered each scale to be an acceptable option for assessing hospitalized patients after diagnosis of alcohol withdrawal. The hallmark of management for severe symptoms is the administration of long-acting benzodiazepines. The most commonly used benzodiazepines are intravenous diazepam or intravenous lorazepam for management.

This assessment allows them to determine whether medications are needed to ease or alleviate symptoms. Patients need to understand that successful treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is only the initial step that must lead to long-term abstinence to be successful. Abstinence is not likely unless the patient enrolls in a long-term treatment program. These programs can include individual counseling, group meetings, and long-term medications to reduce the risk of relapse.

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