Is it prime time for alpha2-adrenocepter agonists in the treatment of withdrawal syndromes?

J Med Toxicol. 2014 Dec;10(4):369-81. doi: 10.1007/s13181-014-0430-3.


The need to treat withdrawal syndromes is a common occurrence in outpatient, inpatient ward, and intensive care unit (ICU) settings. A PubMed and Google Scholar search using alpha2-adrenoreceptor agonist (A2AA), specific A2AA agents, withdrawal syndrome and nicotine, and alcohol and opioid withdrawal terms was performed. A2AA agents appear to be able to modulate many of the signs and symptoms of significant withdrawal syndromes but are also capable of significant side effects, which can limit clinical use. Non-opioid oral A2AA agent use for opioid withdrawal has been well established. Pharmacologic combination therapy that utilizes A2AA agents for withdrawal syndromes appears promising but requires further formal testing to better define which other agents, under what condition(s), and at what A2AA doses are needed. The A2AA dexmedetomidine may be useful as an adjunctive agent in treating severe alcohol withdrawal syndromes in the ICU. In general, the current data does not support the routine use of A2AA as the primary or sole agent to treat ethanol/alcohol or nicotine withdrawal syndromes. Specific A2AA agents such as lofexidine has been shown to have a primary role in non-opioid-based treatment of opioid withdrawal syndrome and dexmedetomidine in combination with benzodiazepines has been shown to have potential in the treatment of severe ICU-based alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Alcoholism / drug therapy*
  • Clonidine / therapeutic use
  • Dexmedetomidine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / drug therapy*


  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Dexmedetomidine
  • Clonidine