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What Is Ativan?
Ativan is the brand name for lorazepam, a prescription medication commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, insomnia, and sometimes alcohol withdrawal.
Ativan is part of a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, sometimes referred to as tranquilizers. Benzos are also classified as central nervous system (CNS) depressants due to how they affect the brain. By targeting the brain’s GABA receptors, Ativan and similar benzos cause sedation.
Ativan is commonly prescribed to treat mental health concerns, such as anxiety or panic attacks, but it can also be prescribed for insomnia or withdrawal from alcohol abuse. However, these Schedule IV drugs have a high potential for leading to addiction or physical dependence.
If you have a prescription for Ativan, you should only take this medication as directed by your doctor. Additionally, DO NOT share your Ativan prescription with anyone.
Prescriptions for Ativan may appear under one of two names:
- Ativan (brand name)
- Lorazepam (generic name)
Besides Ativan, the other most common benzodiazepine brand names are:
Side Effects of Ativan Use
The side effects of Ativan are considered largely dose-dependent, which means a higher dose will be more likely to cause adverse side effects than a lower dose.
Like all benzos, Ativan can cause impairment due to its sedative effects. In addition, Ativan may cause some short-term side effects, including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in appetite
- Vivid or disturbing dreams
- Dizziness, loss of balance
- Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness
Over time, Ativan use may also cause the following long-term side effects:
- Change in appetite.
- Change in libido.
- Irregularities in menstrual cycle.
- Difficulty with memory or concentration.
- Development of substance use disorder (specific to the use of Ativan).
Ativan Abuse and Addiction
Ativan abuse occurs when the user is not taking the medication as prescribed or using Ativan without a prescription. General drug abuse has the potential to lead to addiction, but because Ativan can be so addictive, it is especially important to avoid abusing this drug.
Ativan abuse may appear as:
- Taking more than the prescribed dosage.
- Taking Ativan in a way that is different than intended (i.e. crushing and snorting pills).
- Taking Ativan without a prescription.
Signs of Ativan Addiction
Ativan addiction may also be referred to as Ativan substance use disorder. When abuse of Ativan leads to addiction, the user may present the following signs:
- Taking Ativan to feel high.
- Taking more Ativan to feel the same effects (developing a tolerance).
- Doctor shopping (i.e. visiting multiple doctors to receive several scripts).
- Taking Ativan in very high doses.
- Spending significant time trying to acquire, use, or recover from Ativan.
- Experiencing withdrawals when not taking Ativan.
Withdrawal from Ativan (and other benzodiazepines) can result in life-threatening side effects. If you want to decrease your Ativan intake or stop taking this drug altogether, it is best to do so under medical supervision.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), most benzodiazepine users will experience withdrawal symptoms after only about 3-4 weeks of use.
Ativan withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Cravings (for Ativan)
- Tremors or convulsions
- Suicidal thoughts
- Rapid heart rate
- Sudden confusion
The last five symptoms on this list are the same dangerous side effects that can occur during alcohol withdrawals because alcohol and benzodiazepines (such as Ativan) affect the brain in similar ways. When either of these chemicals is suddenly unavailable, the brain becomes agitated and can create some of these dangerous effects.
The safest way to stop Ativan use is with medical advice and guidance.
An Ativan overdose will have similar symptoms to most other benzodiazepine overdoses. Note that the chance of overdose increases if Ativan is mixed with any other drugs—especially alcohol, opiates, or other benzodiazepines.
Ativan overdose symptoms may include:
- Slowed heart rate
- Extreme drowsiness
- Breathing problems
- Slow heartbeat
If you are concerned that someone is experiencing an Ativan overdose, call 911 immediately and stay with the victim until help arrives. Ativan overdose can be treated in many cases, but it is important to act quickly.
Ativan Addiction Treatment
Many treatment options are available for seeking help for drug addiction, and Ativan is no exception.
Due to the addictive nature of benzodiazepines—Ativan included—treatment centers are well equipped to help you tackle this addiction and work towards a healthier life.
Ativan withdrawals can have serious side effects, which is why medical detox is recommended rather than going “cold turkey” on your own. During the detox process, medical staff will monitor your vital organ function and ensure your comfort and safety.
Sometimes during this process, you will be tapered off Ativan under medical guidance, to help you avoid more severe side effects.
Ativan Treatment Programs
There are a few different choices of treatment centers that you can select to help you recover from an Ativan addiction.
Some of these options offer inpatient services, where you will live at a treatment center for some time and receive medical and mental healthcare. There are also many outpatient treatment programs to assist you.
Depending on your level of addiction, you may start at an inpatient facility and gradually move to an outpatient format. For more minor addiction concerns, your doctor or healthcare provider might suggest only an outpatient setting for your treatment.
Whichever you choose, it’s important to discuss all your options with your doctor or a healthcare provider. They will help you select the best choice for your unique needs based on your current health condition and level of addiction.
In 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported the following data about benzodiazepine use:
- 43% of users in 2018 reported misusing benzos to relax
- 22.4% of users misused benzos for sleep
- 11.8% reported misusing benzos to “get high” or due to a substance abuse problem
- Only 5.7% reported misusing benzos for “experimentation”
This study also indicated that most people who misused benzodiazepines (about 80%) got the benzo from family or friends. Only about 20% misused their own prescriptions.
Support for Friends and Family Members
Watching a friend or loved one battle addiction is incredibly hard, but you don’t have to experience this alone. Whether your loved one is actively in treatment or is still using, there are various support groups available to the friends and family members of addicts.
Local, in-person groups such as AlAnon provide a face-to-face setting where people dealing with a loved one’s addiction can meet and provide each other with understanding, empathy, and support. There are also several online options, from Zoom calls to message boards and forums.
Even though this may be a challenging, emotional time for you, it is helpful to feel supported by peers and individuals who understand what you are going through.
Frequently Asked Questions about Ativan
Can you take Ativan every day?
Yes, if taken under medical guidance. Ativan is habit-forming, meaning daily consumption will lead to physical dependence. Research indicates that it only takes about 3-4 weeks to become physically dependent on Ativan.
What is a normal dose of Ativan?
The average prescription for Ativan is 2-6mg, divided into 2-3 doses per day.
What are the side effects of taking Ativan?
The most common side effects of Ativan include drowsiness, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. However, more severe side effects can include headache, skin rash, nausea, vomiting, constipation, changes in menstrual cycle, and even developing a dependence on the drug.