Alcohol prescription by surgeons in the prevention and treatment of delirium tremens: historic and current practice

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. Jul-Aug 2002;24(4):257-9. doi: 10.1016/s0163-8343(02)00188-3.


Beer, other alcohol beverages, and IV alcohol are still used to prevent or treat alcohol withdrawal delirium on surgical services. The history of the use of alcohol by surgeons may play a role in its continued use for withdrawal. In this policy survey 32 inpatient hospital pharmacies were called and asked if alcohol was available, if it was used to treat alcohol withdrawal, and the medical specialties that requested it. Recommendations about the use of alcohol were examined in recent textbooks and from those published early in the twentieth century. One half of the 32 hospitals surveyed had alcoholic beverages available for patient use and eleven hospitals used either package alcohol or IV alcohol in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. Surgeons used alcohol before anesthesia to help patients tolerate procedures, and the use of alcohol for treatment of alcohol withdrawal still appears in the surgical literature. This preliminary survey indicates that some hospitals still provide beverage alcohol for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal and that surgeons are the specialty ordering alcohol for their patients.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium / drug therapy
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium / history
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium / prevention & control*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / history
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / therapeutic use*
  • Ethanol / history
  • Ethanol / therapeutic use*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • United States


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol