Ativan is the brand name of lorazepam, an anxiety medication. While Ativan can be taken safely by those who need it, it also has a high potential for abuse. Many of the people who do misuse the drug can also become addicted, so if you or someone you love is struggling with Ativan abuse, now is the time to seek help.
Understanding Ativan Abuse
Individuals who suffer from intense anxiety disorders sometimes need medications to slow activity in the brain and allow them to relax. This is the purpose of many drugs in the benzodiazepine class, including Ativan. According to the National Library of Medicine, the drug is usually taken two or three times a day by those to whom it is prescribed, and it is safe for use as long as it is taken as recommended by a doctor.
Unfortunately, many individuals abuse Ativan because, when taken in larger doses than those typically prescribed, it can produce significant euphoria and other desirable effects. This type of behavior is extremely dangerous, however, and can lead to addiction among other severe consequences.
Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Abuse
Ativan, like other benzodiazepines, slows down brain activity and makes users feel relaxed and drowsy. These are common side effects for those who are taking the drug as prescribed, but individuals who abuse Ativan often experience other effects, including:
- Dry mouth
- Problems urinating or frequent urination
- Changes in appetite
- Mood swings
- Blurry vision or other vision problems
- Slowed reflexes
People on regular doses of Ativan can often experience problems with memory, thinking, and judgment, which is why it is dangerous for them to drive or participate in other activities requiring immense concentration. This becomes even more severe when an individual takes large doses of the drug, which can cause
- Mood swings that range from depression to hostility
- Unpredictable behavior
- Severe confusion
- Coordination problems and trouble walking
- Slurred speech
Ativan slows down everything, which feels good, but can cause severe side effects that are easy to recognize. The larger the dose, the more intense the effects will become.
Dangers of Ativan Abuse
Benzodiazepine drugs can cause similar effects to alcohol, barbiturates, and sleeping pills, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. As a result, these drugs can cause intense effects, especially in those who are frequently taking large doses of them. Some of the most dangerous consequences of Ativan abuse include
Respiratory depression is one of the effects of benzodiazepine use, but when drugs like Ativan are taken in large doses, a person is likely to experience this effect intensely, causing them to potentially stop breathing altogether. This can be deadly if the person is not treated immediately, and even if the individual lives, brain damage can potentially occur.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, because some benzodiazepines leave the body very slowly, “ingesting multiple doses over long periods of time can lead to significant accumulation in fatty tissues.” This can cause over-sedation and lingering effects such as
- Impaired thinking and memory
- Impaired judgment
- Muscle weakness
Severe withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines are particularly dangerous. In fact, the syndrome is one of the only prescription drug withdrawal syndromes that is potentially deadly. According to the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, individuals can experience
- Severe paranoia
Worsening anxiety and depression
Some individuals struggle with severe anxiety and depression issues as a result of abusing Ativan. Though the drug is meant to treat issues with anxiety, too much of it can make these issues resurface stronger during withdrawal.
Alcohol and Ativan
Unfortunately, many people abuse alcohol along with benzodiazepines, which can lead to a stronger likelihood of respiratory depression and overdose.
Though this can develop as a result of long-term licit use, when a person becomes tolerant to Ativan after abusing it, they are likely to take more and more of the drug in order to experience the same effects, making it extremely dangerous.
Ativan can be taken safely, but there are certain risks associated with any type of drug. However, when a person begins abusing it, Ativan’s risks become more severe and a person is more likely to experience the dangerous consequences the drug can potentially cause.
Who Abuses Ativan?
As stated by the DEA, “There were… 27.6 million lorazepam” prescriptions dispensed in 2011. The drug is one of the most commonly prescribed and abused benzodiazepines on the market. Unfortunately, many people who start taking it as a treatment medication turn to abuse, while others misuse it even when they were never prescribed it in the first place. In this case, users often obtain it from friends, family members, and the Internet.
- Women are more likely than men to become addicted to prescription sedatives, but individuals of all ages experience issues with this substance use disorder.
- Of the 345,691 emergency department visits attributed to benzodiazepines in 2010, 26,675 were lorazepam-based drugs like Ativan, which was the third highest behind alprazolam and clonazepam, respectively.
- Ativan abusers often take the drug with other substances, the most frequent combination being Ativan and alcohol.
A person who becomes addicted to Ativan will not be able to stop taking the drug on their own. Substance abuse starts out as a voluntary decision but then becomes involuntary over time because of the way consistent drug abuse changes the brain (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Eventually, it becomes nearly impossible for a person to stop abusing drugs without help.
Some Ativan addicts are polydrug users and will use the drug in combination with other substances while others may turn to illicit drugs in order to combat issues with tolerance. The things that once mattered to the individual will not be as important, as all of their time, energy, and effort will go toward obtaining and using more of the drug.
Am I an Ativan Addict?
If you have been misusing Ativan in order to get high and are concerned that you may be addicted, it is time to ask yourself the difficult questions.
- Do I abuse Ativan every day?
- Do I make excuses for myself to take Ativan or to take more than I should?
- Do I get high on the drug even when I’m alone?
- Have I considered switching to a stronger or more intense drug in order to combat tolerance?
- Have my loved ones expressed concern about my substance abuse or am I worried that they will?
- Have I ever experienced severe physical or psychological side effects of my substance abuse?
- Have I experienced personal or professional problems because of my substance abuse?
- Am I constantly trying to hide my Ativan use from others?
- Have I tried to cut back or stop using Ativan and been unable to?
- Have I ever experienced severe withdrawal symptoms after stopping my Ativan use?
- In spite of all the problems the drug has caused me, do I feel I won’t be able to stop taking it on my own?
If you answered yes to these questions, it is time to seek help. Prescription drug abuse is just as dangerous as the use of illicit substances, and without professional treatment, the consequences will only worsen.
Ativan Addiction Treatment
Patients in Ativan addiction treatment must first be weaned off the drug or another, similar medication slowly in order to avoid the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines. Without proper detox treatment, the symptoms can be unpredictable, dangerous, and even deadly.
After detox ends, patients will usually begin a treatment regimen involving behavioral therapy. Different options may include
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: teaches patients to retrain their brains, recognize and avoid triggers, cope with stress and cravings, and practice better life skills (NIDA)
- Contingency management: helps patients reroute the reward pathways of the brain by providing them with vouchers and prizes every time they pass a drug test
- Family therapy: highlights and changes negative family dynamics that can enable substance abuse
- 12-step facilitation therapy: prepares patients for participation in 12-step groups and emphasizes beneficial lifestyle goals like abstinence
In addition, any co-occurring mental disorders (including those for which Ativan may have been prescribed in the first place) must be addressed and treated as part of rehab in order for patients to have a safe, well-rounded recovery. Addiction can be devastating to all aspects of a person’s life, but treatment can help you make a change for the better.