Review of adjunctive dexmedetomidine in the management of severe acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2015;41(5):382-91. doi: 10.3109/00952990.2015.1058390.


Background: The primary management of alcohol withdrawal involves the administration of a γ-aminobutyric acid agonist, such as benzodiazepines, for management of symptoms and to prevent further progression to seizure or delirium tremens. Despite escalating doses of benzodiazepines, published literature indicates that some patient's alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms do not respond, and that the use of adjunctive agents may be beneficial in these patients. Dexmedetomidine, an α2-agonist, serves as a potential adjunctive agent through management of associated autonomic symptoms. Understanding of recent literature evaluating its use is necessary for appropriate selection.

Objective: To review available literature supporting the use of adjunctive dexmedetomidine for management of severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Methods: A total of 13 published articles evaluating the efficacy and safety of dexmedetomidine as an adjunctive agent for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal in adult patients were identified from a MEDLINE search using the key words alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens and dexmedetomidine.

Results: Evaluation of the literature indicates that dexmedetomidine is associated with a decrease in short-term benzodiazepine requirements after initiation, and improvement in hemodynamic parameters in relation to the adrenergic drive present in alcohol withdrawal.

Conclusion: The use of dexmedetomidine in the management of severe alcohol withdrawal should be considered as an adjunctive agent. Dexmedetomidine appears to be well tolerated, with an expected decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. Seizures have occurred in patients with alcohol withdrawal despite the use of dexmedetomidine, with and without benzodiazepines, due to lack of γ-aminobutyric acid agonist administration.

Keywords: Adjunctive agent; alcohol use disorder; alcohol withdrawal syndrome; alpha2 adrenergic; dexmedetomidine; review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium / drug therapy*
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium / prevention & control
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures / drug therapy*
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures / prevention & control
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use*
  • Dexmedetomidine / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy*


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Dexmedetomidine