The aim of the study was to evaluate a novel simplified tool for symptom-triggered treatment of alcohol withdrawal.
This retrospective cohort study involved inpatients in a county hospital with an International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification discharge diagnosis of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) or delirium tremens between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008. The study used the Highland Alcohol Withdrawal Protocol (HAWP)—a simplified derivative of the Revised Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol. Multivariable regression analysis was performed to compare severity of withdrawal to hospital length of stay, total dose of sedative given, and risk of complications.
The study identified 442 patients with a primary diagnosis of AWS or delirium tremens, and those with another primary medical diagnosis complicated by alcohol withdrawal. After adjusting for demographic variables, each one-point increase in the initial and maximum HAWP scores correlated with an increase in the hospital length of stay of 0.3 days [95% confidence interval (95% CI), 0.17 to 0.43 days] and 0.45 days (95% CI, 0.32–0.57 days), and a 15.8 mg (95% CI, 6.6–25.1 mg) and 19.8 mg (95% CI, 11.1–28.5 mg) increase in the total dose of lorazepam given, respectively. The complication rate of seizures, intubations, pneumonia, and death was 13.1%, 12.9%, 6.1% and 0.9%, respectively; a composite endpoint of these outcomes also correlated with initial and maximum HAWP scores (odds ratio 1.09, 95% CI, 1.03%–1.14%).
The HAWP correlates with medication received and complications, and as such appears to give an indication of AWS severity. It is feasible and shorter than prior scales, and merits further study to confirm its effectiveness as part of symptom-triggered protocols to manage alcohol withdrawal in the hospital.