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Ativan Addiction

Ativan is a benzodiazepine medication often used to treat anxiety and convulsions. It’s safe for short-term use. But taking large doses or abusing the drug for long periods can lead to addiction.

Struggling with Ativan Addiction? Get Help Now

Quitting on your own is difficult. But treatment programs can help.Many people participate in 12-step groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, but there are also many non-12-step alternatives that can also offer support and ongoing encouragement.

What Is Ativan?

Quick Answer

Ativan (lorazepam) is a benzodiazepine medication. The FDA says most people take 2 mg to 6 mg per day in divided doses, with the biggest amount right before bedtime.[1]

Ativan is a benzodiazepine medication that is FDA-approved to treat anxiety. It’s also considered a muscle relaxer

Doctors should prescribe the drug for short periods to address the symptoms of these conditions. Continued use can lead to significant problems, including addiction.

Key Facts About Ativan Addiction

Key Facts

  • About 52 million Americans abuse benzodiazepine drugs like Ativan.[2]
  • Using benzodiazepines for longer than three to four weeks can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, if you quit suddenly.[3]
  • The total number of Ativan prescriptions in 2020 in the United States was 10,559,374.[4]
  • Lorazepam can remain active in your body for up to 48 hours after your last dose.[1]

Ativan Statistics 

  • A 60-tablet prescription for Ativan costs about $15 with a prescription. 
  • People abuse drugs like Ativan because it starts acting within one to three minutes after it’s used intravenously.[5]
  • While Ativan is helpful in the short term, researchers haven’t assessed how well it works when used for longer than four months.[1]
  • Ativan is the third most commonly prescribed medication in its drug class, behind alprazolam and clonazepam.[4]

Why Is Ativan Prescribed?

Ativan is used to treat conditions that result in hyperactivity, anxiety, convulsions, and generally heightened central nervous system activity.

The following conditions may be treated with Ativan:[5]

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Anxiety-associated insomnia 
  • Anxiety before surgical procedures
  • Status epilepticus

Some doctors use Ativan in non-FDA-approved ways (off-label). These conditions are treated in this manner:[5]

  • Alcohol withdrawal 
  • Insomnia
  • Panic disorders
  • Delirium
  • Chemotherapy nausea 
  • Vertigo 

Potential for Abuse: How Addictive Is Ativan?

Ativan, like all other benzodiazepines, is a very addictive drug. Each dose causes chemical changes deep within the brain that can lead to an addiction in time. 

Ativan consumption triggers the release of endorphins, which can mute or stifle perceptions of pain and enhance well-being. When the dosage wears off, you may want to reproduce those good feelings. 

Over time, the brain adjusts. Neurotransmitter and endorphin production in the brain is altered to account for the drug’s presence. More Ativan is required to produce euphoria. Altered neurochemical production is also insufficient to regulate your mood without Ativan. 

Eventually, you may need Ativan to feel normal. Many individuals who become addicted to prescription drugs like Ativan eventually turn to stronger, often illicit, and potentially dangerous drugs like heroin.

The number of people who are addicted to Ativan in the United States is unknown. But Ativan is one of the main drugs mentioned in discussions of the prescription drug addiction crisis.

“Data suggest that highly lipophilic benzodiazepines (for example, those that cross the blood-brain barrier more rapidly), such as diazepam, and agents with a short half-life and high potency, such as lorazepam or alprazolam, are the most reinforcing benzodiazepines and, therefore, the ones most likely to be associated with abuse.”[6]

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction: What to Look Out For 

People with an Ativan addiction may display physical, mental, or behavioral symptoms. Spotting the signs of Ativan abuse can mean offering your help and support before the drug abuse worsens. 


Ativan is a central nervous system depressant. People who abuse the drug may seem drowsy, stiff, or unresponsive. If they try to stop taking the drug abruptly, they may develop seizures. 


People who abuse Ativan may seem confused or irritable. They may display a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed. And they may have memory gaps or losses, particularly if they regularly binge on the drug. 


Neglecting home or work responsibilities is common among people who abuse Ativan. People may also isolate themselves from friends and family. They may ask for money or drugs. 

Comparing Signs & Symptoms of Ativan Addiction 

Physical MentalBehavioral
DrowsinessConfusionNeglecting family responsibilities 
Pain or stiffness in musclesIrritabilityShowing up late to work or missing days of work
Blurred visionAnxietyIsolating from family and friends
Difficulty breathing or abdominal respiratory patternsLoss of interest in previously enjoyable activitiesExperiencing financial difficulties due to the use of Ativan
ConstipationSearching the internet for access to Ativan
Seizures and coma in the event of a severe overdoseAsking friends, family, and coworkers for their Ativan medication

Side Effects: How Ativan Affects Your Body 

Ativan is powerful. Even people who use the drug as prescribed can experience side effects. But they’re more pronounced in people who abuse the drug or take it for a long time. 

Short-Term Effects

Ativan causes short-term side effects with each dose, including the following:

  • Sedation 
  • Weakness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Slowed reaction times 
  • Depression 

Long-Term Effects

People who keep abusing Ativan can develop a physical dependence. They need doses just to feel normal. They must take a lot of Ativan to get high.

Large doses of Ativan can lead to an overdose. Symptoms include profound sedation, often accompanied by slow breathing. Medical attention is required to help the person recover. 

Some people develop Ativan addictions. They keep using the drug even when they don’t want to do so. People with an addiction can develop life-threatening symptoms (like seizures) when they try to quit suddenly. 

Short-Term EffectsLong-Term Effects
Lack of coordinationDependence 
Sedation Substance use disorder
Confusion Higher overdose risk 

Mixing Ativan With Other Substances

Ativan depresses the central nervous system. When paired with other depressants, such as alcohol or sedatives, a potentially dangerous interaction can occur.

Fatal overdoses involving benzodiazepines often involve alcohol.[6] Both drugs slow breathing rates. Combining them makes each more powerful, so the sedating effect becomes overwhelming. Mixing Ativan and other benzos with alcohol is incredibly dangerous. 

People addicted to opioids (like Vicodin or OxyContin) sometimes abuse benzodiazepines too. The benzos smooth anxiety caused by their drugs and can make the experience more pleasant. But since opioids slow breathing, mixing them with benzodiazepines can lead to life-threatening sedation. 

Ativan Overdose: Is It Possible?

Yes, you can overdose on Ativan. However, toxic levels of Ativan are not necessarily responsible for a fatal overdose. 

The main cause of death from Ativan toxicity is a failure to receive treatment. An overdose can occur if you take more than 10 mg of Ativan per day, or any dose and/or schedule that differs from what has been prescribed by your doctor. 

These are two of the most common symptoms of an Ativan overdose:

  • Depression of the respiratory system, often signified by  slow and heavy breathing
  • Hypoxia (insufficient oxygen delivery to the brain), which can result in brain damage

Combining Ativan with other substances of abuse, such as alcohol or opioids, makes overdose much more likely.

Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms 

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be dangerous. High doses or long abuse time frames make significant symptoms more likely. 

An Ativan withdrawal timeline can vary, but most people experience two phases. The first (acute withdrawal) involves hallucinations and seizure-like activity. The second (protracted withdrawal) involves depression and other mental health challenges.

Treatment Options for Ativan Addiction 

An Ativan addiction treatment program can help you stop abusing drugs and learn how to build a sober life. Several treatment options are available. 

Supervised Taper 

Medical supervision is needed for safe benzodiazepine withdrawal. A doctor will design and oversee a tapering schedule, so your dosage of Ativan will be gradually reduced over time.

If you quit Ativan cold turkey, you can develop serious health problems. Some, including seizures, can be life-threatening. A taper can help. 

Medical Detox 

While a supervised taper is helpful for some people, others need more supervision to quit using the drug. A benzo detox program can help.

Medical detox usually involves the tapering schedule described above. You may be prescribed certain medications to address specific symptoms of withdrawal or any co-occurring mental health issues, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.


Following medically managed detox, a comprehensive addiction treatment plan is optimal. In therapy, you’ll address the reasons that led to your Ativan abuse, and you’ll begin to build a healthier life in recovery. 

Depending on the intensity of your addiction, inpatient or outpatient treatment may be appropriate.

Inpatient care requires that you live in a treatment facility, where you will receive medical attention and support around the clock.

Outpatient rehabilitation involves a continuation of care within your home environment. It also typically consists of individual and group counseling sessions to provide psychological and social support. 

Behavioral Therapy 

These therapy approaches might be used in your program:

  • Relapse prevention skills: Treatment professionals help you identify relapse triggers and teach you how to cope with them and avoid them when possible.
  • Motivational interviewing: This therapy is designed to resolve ambivalence to engage in recovery. 
  • Contingency management: This form of therapy offers rewards for meeting recovery goals.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This psychological and behavioral intervention teaches you to identify how thoughts underpin behaviors and how to think in more productive and realistic ways.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy: Learn new skills to help you solve the problems that cause your Ativan abuse.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ativan Addiction & Abuse

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about Ativan addiction and abuse.

What is Ativan prescribed for?

Anxiety disorders and epilepsy are the two conditions often treated with Ativan. Some doctors use the medication to treat other conditions, such as alcohol withdrawal.

How long does Ativan stay in your system?

Ativan stays in your system for several days, long after you no longer feel its effects.

Is Ativan safe for pregnant women?

Ask your doctor. There’s some evidence that Ativan can cause problems like preterm labor and low birth weight.

Can Ativan cause depression?

Yes. Depression can be an Ativan side effect.

Can you quit Ativan cold turkey?

No. You should never quit Ativan cold turkey, as it can lead to seizures.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 21, 2024
  1. Ativan. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published February 2021. Accessed June 29, 2023.
  2. Maust DT, Lin LA, Blow FC. Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States. Psychiatr Serv. 2019;70(2):97-106.
  3. Brett J, Murnion B. Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence. Aust Prescr. 2015;38(5):152-155.
  4. Lorazepam. ClinCalc. Accessed June 29, 2023.
  5. Lorazepam. StatPearls. Published January 21, 2023. Accessed June 29, 2023.
  6. Longo L, Johnson B. Addiction: Part 1. Benzodiazepines—Side effects, abuse risk, and alternatives. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(7):2121-2128
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