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?
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.
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
- About 52 million Americans abuse benzodiazepine drugs like Ativan.
- Using benzodiazepines for longer than three to four weeks can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, if you quit suddenly.
- The total number of Ativan prescriptions in 2020 in the United States was 10,559,374.
- Lorazepam can remain active in your body for up to 48 hours after your last dose.
- 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.
- While Ativan is helpful in the short term, researchers haven’t assessed how well it works when used for longer than four months.
- Ativan is the third most commonly prescribed medication in its drug class, behind alprazolam and clonazepam.
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:
- 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:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Panic disorders
- Chemotherapy nausea
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.”
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
|Drowsiness||Confusion||Neglecting family responsibilities|
|Pain or stiffness in muscles||Irritability||Showing up late to work or missing days of work|
|Blurred vision||Anxiety||Isolating from family and friends|
|Difficulty breathing or abdominal respiratory patterns||Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities||Experiencing financial difficulties due to the use of Ativan|
|Constipation||Searching the internet for access to Ativan|
|Seizures and coma in the event of a severe overdose||Asking 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.
Ativan causes short-term side effects with each dose, including the following:
- Slowed reaction times
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 Effects||Long-Term Effects|
|Lack of coordination||Dependence|
|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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ativan stays in your system for several days, long after you no longer feel its effects.
Ask your doctor. There’s some evidence that Ativan can cause problems like preterm labor and low birth weight.
Yes. Depression can be an Ativan side effect.
No. You should never quit Ativan cold turkey, as it can lead to seizures.
- Ativan. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published February 2021. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- Maust DT, Lin LA, Blow FC. Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States. Psychiatr Serv. 2019;70(2):97-106.
- Brett J, Murnion B. Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence. Aust Prescr. 2015;38(5):152-155.
- Lorazepam. ClinCalc. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- Lorazepam. StatPearls. Published January 21, 2023. Accessed June 29, 2023.
- Longo L, Johnson B. Addiction: Part 1. Benzodiazepines—Side effects, abuse risk, and alternatives. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(7):2121-2128