Development and implementation of an alcohol withdrawal protocol using a 5-item scale, the Brief Alcohol Withdrawal Scale (BAWS)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: The standard of care for management of alcohol withdrawal is symptom-triggered treatment using the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA-Ar). Many items of this 10-question scale rely on subjective assessments of withdrawal symptoms, making it time-consuming and cumbersome to use. Therefore, there is interest in shorter and more objective methods to assess alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Methods: A 6-item withdrawal scale developed at another institution was piloted. Based on comparison with the CIWA-Ar, this was adapted into a 5-item scale named the Brief Alcohol Withdrawal Scale (BAWS). The BAWS was compared with the CIWA-Ar and a withdrawal protocol utilizing the BAWS was developed. The new protocol was implemented on an inpatient unit dedicated to treating substance withdrawal. Data was collected on the first 3 months of implementation and compared with the 3 months prior to that. Results: A BAWS score of 3 or more predicted CIWA-Ar score ≥8 with a sensitivity of 85.3% and specificity of 65.8%. The demographics of the patients in the 2 time periods were similar: the mean age was 45.9; 70.6% were male; 30.9% received concurrent treatment for opioid withdrawal; and 14.2% were receiving methadone maintenance. During the BAWS phase, patients received significantly less diazepam (mean dose 81.4 vs. 60.3 mg, P <.001). There was no significant difference in length of stay. No patients experienced a seizure, delirium, or required transfer to a higher level of care during any of the 664 admissions in either phase. Conclusions: This simple protocol utilizing a 5-item withdrawal scale performed well in this setting. Its use in other settings, particularly with patients with concurrent medical illnesses or more severe withdrawal, needs to be explored further.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)394-400
Number of pages7
JournalSubstance Abuse
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2017


  • Alcohol-related disorders
  • alcohol withdrawal
  • benzodiazepines
  • substance withdrawal syndrome
  • symptom-triggered therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Development and implementation of an alcohol withdrawal protocol using a 5-item scale, the Brief Alcohol Withdrawal Scale (BAWS)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this