Alcohol Withdrawal During Hospitalization

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Keys, V. A. (2011). Alcohol withdrawal during hospitalization. American Journal of Nursing, 111(1), 40-44.


The purpose of this article was to inform nurses about the possibility of patients’ unplanned alcohol withdrawal during hospitalization. When chronic drinkers are forced to abstain from consuming alcohol due to hospitalization, they may experience symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal. It is important for nurses to recognize the possible origin of these symptoms in order to monitor them accordingly.

For chronic drinkers, alcohol withdrawal quickly impacts the body—particularly during cycles of drinking followed by abstinence. These cycles lead to chemical imbalances in the brain which affect its regulation of the patient’s entire body. The more frequent the drinking-to-abstinence cycles, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms and the quicker the symptoms’ onset. A patient who is a chronic drinker withdrawing from alcohol may exhibit a variety of symptoms including: tremors, anxiety, hallucinations, and seizures. Nursing Implications

Because many of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal (such as anxiety) are common in patients in a hospital setting, it can be difficult to determine if they are a result of alcohol withdrawal. In order for nurses to identify chronic drinkers who may be suffering from withdrawal, they must assess the patient’s alcohol intake at admission to determine how much and how often the patient typically drinks. Nurses should also employ screening tools to aid in their identification of patients who may be at risk of alcohol withdrawal. Nurses may also play the role of educators when discussing rehabilitation possibilities with the patient upon discharge.
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