Ativan is a benzodiazepine prescription drug used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Even though it can be taken legally, Ativan can be abused and lead to a substance use disorder. According to a 2020 survey, 4.8 million Americans reported misusing benzodiazepines in the last year. In 2020, approximately 12,290 people died from an overdose involving benzodiazepines.
Because Ativan is a particularly short-acting benzodiazepine, it has a higher chance of causing dependence than most benzodiazepines. Dependence is where your body and mind think that they cannot function without the drug and you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop. For this reason, once dependence has developed, it is very difficult to quit.
If you or a loved one has developed an Ativan dependence, accepting that you have a problem or getting help can be very difficult since there is a lot of stigma surrounding drug use and addiction. Read on to find out more about Ativan dependence, withdrawal, and how to seek treatment if you are ready.
What is Ativan?
Ativan is a brand name for lorazepam which is a benzodiazepine drug. Benzodiazepines work by increasing the activity of the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This leads to reduced neuronal activity, having calming and sedative effects.
Ativan is a prescription medication used for the short-term treatment of severe anxiety, sleep disorders, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Ativan is short-acting so is particularly good for treating fast onset anxiety such as panic attacks. It does this by reducing agitation and inducing sleep which is why it is also helpful for treating sleep disorders.
Ativan is a first-line treatment for status epilepticus and can be used to treat potentially fatal seizures experienced by some who withdraw from alcohol.
Ativan Abuse and Dependence
Prescription drug abuse is when you take the drug:
- in a different way than prescribed e.g., snorting, injecting
- in larger doses than prescribed
- in more frequent doses
- with someone else’s prescription
- by street-buying prescription drugs
Ativan is taken recreationally for its euphoric, relaxant, and sedative effects. It is sometimes combined with other drugs, for example, to enhance the depressant effects of another drug, to ease the comedown from a stimulant high, or alleviate a bad psychedelic trip. However, mixing drugs can be very dangerous. Mixing two depressants can lead to dangerous slowing down of the nervous system, and mixing with stimulants can cause unpredictable outcomes.
There are five categories of controlled substances in the United States. Ativan is a Schedule IV controlled substance, making it one of the safest scheduled drugs. However, it still has the potential for causing both psychological and physical dependence. Dependence occurs in about one-third of people who use benzodiazepines for four weeks. This could be higher for Ativan since it has a short half-life compared to most other benzodiazepines and therefore a higher risk for dependence. The higher the dose, the more frequently, and the longer you take Ativan, the more likely you are to develop a dependence.
Dependence is when the body and mind think they cannot function normally without the drug and you experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit. Dependence is usually closely followed by addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic disease that is characterized by compulsive seeking out and taking of the substance to which you are addicted. Like most diseases, there are risk factors that increase your chances of developing an addiction.
Risk Factors for Addiction
- Mental health disorders
- Childhood neglect or abuse
- Exposure to substances in the environment
- Previous substance abuse
- Age and gender also affect risk: young people and men are more likely to develop an addiction
Symptoms of Ativan Abuse
Understanding symptoms of Ativan abuse can help you to understand if you or a loved one need support and treatment. These symptoms include side effects of normal Ativan use as this may help you recognize if someone is using Ativan which they have not been prescribed.
- Low blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of coordination
- Change of appetite
Severe physical symptoms:
- Respiratory depression
- Excessive sedation
- Loss of consciousness
Severe psychological symptoms:
- Memory impairment including a lack of new memory formation
- No longer doing activities you used to enjoy
- Using Ativan as a coping mechanism
- Legal problems
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Going to multiple doctors for prescriptions
Paradoxical effects can occur which is when you experience the symptoms that you are treating, for example, increased anxiety and aggression, and worsening seizures. This is more likely in elderly people, children, people with a history of alcohol abuse, and those with a history of anger problems.
It is common that anxiety and depression are experienced together. However, Ativan only treats symptoms of anxiety. Since it depresses the central nervous system, you may experience more severe symptoms of depression including a higher risk of suicide.
Detoxing is the first step towards sobriety if you have developed a dependence. It is the process by which you stop taking the substance, the drug toxins leave your body, and you experience and manage withdrawal symptoms.
There are two main types of detox process: cold turkey, and tapering. Cold turkey is when you stop taking the substance on which you are dependent altogether with no substitute or gradual decrease in dose. Tapering is where you stop taking the substance gradually until you are free from it. This may also include using a substitute drug.
For Ativan a common substitute drug is diazepam; this is also a benzodiazepine but longer acting than lorazepam. Diazepam has a lower risk for dependence, and withdrawal symptoms are easier to manage. When using diazepam you are less likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
When you quit Ativan, it is not recommended to do so cold turkey and without medical support. Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines can be unpleasant and even fatal in some cases. We will discuss withdrawal symptoms, their timeline, and how and where to seek support when you are quitting.
Lorazepam withdrawal symptoms are similar to some other depressants such as alcohol and barbiturates. You can experience both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle pain
- Increased heart rate
- Numbing or tingling of extremities
- Elevated body temperature
- Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and smell
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
- Panic attacks
- Short-term memory loss
- Rebound symptoms: symptoms that resemble the condition being treated such as anxiety or seizures
Factors affecting Ativan withdrawal include how heavily or long you have been using, your physical and mental health, weight, and age. You are more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms if you have been taken off of it too quickly, have used it for a long time, or have underlying mental or physical health problems.
Even if you have been taking Ativan as prescribed for short-term use, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. This can be after as little as one week of taking. However, you are more likely to experience mild withdrawal symptoms in this case.
Withdrawal symptoms usually start quickly with Ativan compared with other benzodiazepine withdrawal. Ativan has a half-life of only ten to twelve hours so symptoms can start within twenty-four hours of your last dose.
You will first experience acute withdrawal symptoms which may include those mentioned above. These symptoms will peak by days three to four and elapse by about a week. Following this, you may experience protracted withdrawal syndrome which could include anxiety, drug cravings, headache, and nausea. This typically lasts for ten days to two weeks. Some people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome which includes depression, mood swings, and lack of motivation. These can last for months or years after quitting; for example, there is evidence that the cognitive effects of Ativan can last for at least six months.
At Cirque Lodge, we understand that accepting you have a substance use problem and reaching out for addiction treatment can be very difficult. There is a lot of stigma which surrounds drug abuse and addiction. We understand that addiction is a disease and should be treated as any other disease is.
Each person has a different addiction story and different needs in order to achieve long-term sobriety. We are a private and exclusive treatment center offering a wide range of treatment options which include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Experiential therapy
- Equine therapy
- Art therapy
- Outdoor activities
- 12-step recovery program
- Family healing program