There are limited data on anticonvulsants versus placebo for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, while comparisons with other drugs show no clear differences.
This Cochrane review summarizes evidence from forty-eight randomised controlled trials evaluating the effectiveness and safety of anticonvulsants in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. There are limited data comparing anticonvulsants versus placebo and no clear differences between anticonvulsants and other drugs in the rates of therapeutic success. Data on safety outcomes are sparse and fragmented. There is a need for larger, well-designed studies in this field.
Results of this review do not provide sufficient evidence in favour of anticonvulsants for the treatment of AWS. There are some suggestions that carbamazepine may actually be more effective in treating some aspects of alcohol withdrawal when compared to benzodiazepines, the current first-line regimen for alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Anticonvulsants seem to have limited side effects, although adverse effects are not rigorously reported in the analysed trials.
Alcohol abuse and dependence represents a most serious health problem worldwide with major social, interpersonal and legal interpolations. Besides benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants are often used for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Anticonvulsants drugs are indicated for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, alone or in combination with benzodiazepine treatments. In spite of the wide use, the exact role of the anticonvulsants for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal has not yet bee adequately assessed.
To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of anticonvulsants in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal.
We searched Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group' Register of Trials (December 2009), PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL (1966 to December 2009), EconLIT (1969 to December 2009). Parallel searches on web sites of health technology assessment and related agencies, and their databases.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining the effectiveness, safety and overall risk-benefit of anticonvulsants in comparison with a placebo or other pharmacological treatment. All patients were included regardless of age, gender, nationality, and outpatient or inpatient therapy.
Two authors independently screened and extracted data from studies.
Fifty-six studies, with a total of 4076 participants, met the inclusion criteria. Comparing anticonvulsants with placebo, no statistically significant differences for the six outcomes considered.
Comparing anticonvulsant versus other drug, 19 outcomes considered, results favour anticonvulsants only in the comparison carbamazepine versus benzodiazepine (oxazepam and lorazepam) for alcohol withdrawal symptoms (CIWA-Ar score): 3 studies, 262 participants, MD -1.04 (-1.89 to -0.20), none of the other comparisons reached statistical significance.
Comparing different anticonvulsants no statistically significant differences in the two outcomes considered.
Comparing anticonvulsants plus other drugs versus other drugs (3 outcomes considered), results from one study, 72 participants, favour paraldehyde plus chloral hydrate versus chlordiazepoxide, for the severe-life threatening side effects, RR 0.12 (0.03 to 0.44).