Dexmedetomidine Infusion as Adjunctive Therapy to Benzodiazepines for Acute Alcohol Withdrawal

Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Division, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ, USA.
Annals of Pharmacotherapy (Impact Factor: 2.92). 10/2008; 42(11):1703-5. DOI: 10.1345/aph.1K678
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT To report a case of alcohol withdrawal and delirium tremens successfully treated with adjunctive dexmedetomidine.
A 30-year-old man with a history of alcohol abuse was admitted to the general medical unit because of altered mental status and agitation. He was initially treated for alcohol withdrawal with benzodiazepines; his condition then deteriorated and he was transferred to the intensive care unit. Because of the patient's poor response to benzodiazepines (oxazepam and lorazepam, with midazolam the last one used), intravenous dexmedetomidine was started at an initial dose of 0.2 microg/kg/h and titrated to 0.7 microg/kg/h to the patient's comfort. Midazolam was subsequently tapered to discontinuation due to excessive sedation. In the intensive care unit, the patient's symptoms remained controlled with use of dexmedetomidine alone. He remained in the intensive care unit for 40 hours; dexmedetomidine was then tapered to discontinuation and the patient was transferred back to the general medical unit on oral oxazepam and thiamine, which had been started in the emergency department. He was discharged after 5 days.
A review of the PubMed database (1989-2007) failed to identify any other instances of dexmedetomidine having been used as the principal agent to treat alcohol withdrawal. The use of sedative to treat delirium tremens is well documented, with benzodiazepines being the agents of choice. The clinical utility of benzodiazepines is limited by their stimulation of the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors, an effect not shared by dexmedetomidine, a central alpha(2)-receptor agonist that induces a state of cooperative sedation and does not suppress respiratory drive.
In patients with delirium tremens, dexmedetomidine should be considered as an option for primary treatment. This case illustrates the need for further studies to investigate other potential uses for dexmedetomidine.

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