The author discusses the differences between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, and the pathophysiology, assessment tools, and the recommended management of these patients.

Patients are admitted to critical care with a myriad of problems. A problem easily overlooked is alcohol dependency and the potential development of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Fourteen million persons in the United States abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. Nearly 27% of persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 64 years meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependency, making it the most prevalent addictive disease in this country. According to estimates, 1 of every 5 patients admitted to a hospital is an alcohol abuser.1 

When patients are admitted for problems such as trauma, alcohol is often associated as a factor, and trauma patients are more likely than other patients to be assessed for AWS. Admissions to a critical care unit because...

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