Symptoms of Protracted Alcohol Withdrawal in Patients with Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Systematic Review

Curr Neuropharmacol. 2023;21(2):409-416. doi: 10.2174/1570159X20666220706105253.


Background: Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is characterized by different phases (acute, early and protracted). Protracted alcohol withdrawal (PAW) presents some symptoms, which may persist for several weeks, months or even years after drinking cessation.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of the literature in major scientific databases on selected AWS symptoms (craving, sleep disorders, and anhedonia) in patients with alcohol use disorder.

Results: Of the 102 eligible publications (70 RCTs and 32 cohort studies), 88 provided data on craving, 21 on sleep disorders, and 1 on anhedonia. Overall, 37 studies assessed craving using the Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale (OCDS). Pooled OCDS decreased from 24.2 at baseline to 18.8 at 1 week, 10.3 at 1 month and 9.7 at 3 months. The corresponding estimates for treated individuals were 23.9, 18.8, 8.7, and 8.8, and for non-treated subjects, they were 25.3, 13.9, 13.2, and 11.4, respectively. In 4 studies assessing sleep disorders using the Epworth Sleeping Scale (ESS), the scale remained stable in time, i.e., 7.3 at baseline, 7.3 at 1 week, 7.2 at 1 month, and 7.1 at 3 months.

Conclusion: This study confirms the presence of PAW after the resolution of the acute phase of AWS. The pharmacological approach to managing PAW may ensure a more rapid reduction of symptoms in three weeks. We highlight the importance of studying PAW and the ability of pharmacological treatment to reduce its symptoms. This review protocol is registered in Prospero (registration number: CRD42020211265).

Summary: This systematic review summarizes literature on major symptoms of protracted alcohol withdrawal in patients with alcohol use disorder. The pharmacological approach to manage protracted alcohol withdrawal ensures a more rapid reduction of symptoms (craving in particular), achieving in three weeks similar results obtained only after almost 6 months without treatment.

Keywords: Alcohol withdrawal syndrome; anhedonia; craving; early alcohol withdrawal; protracted alcohol withdrawal; sleep disorder.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism*
  • Anhedonia
  • Humans
  • Sleep Wake Disorders*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome* / drug therapy