January 10, 2019

Background: The mainstay of treatment for alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a symptom-triggered approach using benzodiazepines. Phenobarbital, however, is an interesting agent in this scenario for several reasons. It is famous for  it is long duration of action. IV Phenobarbital has an onset of action of over 15 – 20 minutes, a duration of action of 10 – 12 hours and a half-life of 53 – 118 hours in adults [5]. But phenobarbital has several other characteristics that make it attractive in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. Importantly, it works on the GABA receptor differently than benzodiazepines. First, it increases the duration (not frequency) the chloride channel is open. Also, chronic alcohol abuse can alter the GABA receptor making it less sensitive to benzodiazepines not barbiturates. And finally, at very high doses, phenobarbital can open the chloride channel independent of the presence of GABA. The authors of this paper sought to compare a phenobarbital-adjunct versus benzodiazepine-only approach for the management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome in the ED.