Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Joshua M. Gleason, M.D.
SA Content Team
Table of Contents
Understanding Ativan Abuse
Lorazepam, commonly known as the brand name Ativan, is a benzodiazepine prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, seizures, and procedural sedation. While Ativan can be taken safely for legitimate medical needs, it also has a high potential for abuse. Many of the people who do misuse the drug can become addicted, so if you or someone you love is struggling with Ativan abuse, now is the time to seek help.
Ativan works by enhancing the relaxing effects of GABA in the brain, which slows down the central nervous system and thereby relieves anxiety and/or produces sedation. When taken in larger doses than typically prescribed, Ativan can produce intoxication and euphoria, making it a desirable drug to misuse. This type of misuse is extremely dangerous, however, and can lead to addiction and other severe consequences.
A person who becomes addicted to lorazepam will find that drug use has taken control of their life. Substance abuse starts out as a voluntary decision but then becomes involuntary over time because of the way chronic drug abuse changes the brain. 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. Eventually, they become unable to stop abusing drugs without help.
Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Abuse
There are many common side effects experienced by individuals taking Ativan as prescribed, and these effects increase when Ativan is misused and abused.
- 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 while taking the medication. These cognitive effects become 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
Dangers of Ativan Abuse
Withdrawal symptoms associated with Ativan abuse are particularly dangerous. Any chronic Ativan user will experience withdrawal when attempting to quit taking the drug. These symptoms may include:
- Low mood and energy
Ativan withdrawal symptoms can be minimized using alternate benzodiazepines with a longer half-life, such as chlordiazepoxide or diazepam, because their effects on the body fade more slowly. The dosages of these drugs will be gradually tapered over several months to prevent any extreme physical or psychological withdrawal reaction.
Alcohol and Ativan
Unfortunately, many people abuse alcohol along with benzodiazepines, which can lead to a stronger likelihood of respiratory depression and overdose, as well as increase the likelihood of potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms, like severe seizures
Signs of an Ativan Overdose
Although Ativan is prescribed for anxiety, sleep problems, and sedation, it is commonly part of multidrug overdoses. Effects of an Ativan overdose can include dizziness, confusion, agitation, muscle weakness and tremors, hallucinations, slow heartbeat and blood pressure, inadequate breathing, and unconsciousness. Symptoms of an Ativan overdose can vary due to inclusion of other drugs in the overdose.
Your first priority should be to call 911 to get emergency medical help. If the person is breathing normally, put them on their side to protect them from inhaling stomach contents if they vomit. Otherwise, follow the instructions from the 911 operator. There is no antidote for Ativan.
Am I Addicted to Ativan?
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 experienced 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 withdrawal symptoms after stopping my Ativan use?
- In spite of the problems Ativan has caused me, do I feel unable to quit on my own?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is time to seek professional addiction treatment. Prescription drug abuse is just as dangerous as the abuse of illicit substances, and without professional treatment, the consequences will only worsen over time.
Ativan Addiction Treatment
Patients in Ativan addiction treatment must be slowly weaned off the drug or another, similar medication in order to avoid the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines. Without proper detox treatment, the symptoms of withdrawal can be unpredictable, dangerous, and even deadly. No one should ever attempt to stop taking a drug like Ativan cold turkey.
During detox, as soon as they are stable enough to benefit from treatment, patients will start engaging in counseling and other forms of therapy. Different therapy 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
- 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 and improves communication to ensure a more supportive home environment
- 12-Step Meetings: attending peer support groups such as those that follow AA’s 12-steps can be a great asset to recovery, and one that can be continued even after the completion of a treatment program. An ongoing involvement in a recovery community supports long-term sobriety.
- Co-occurring disorder treatment: any mental disorders (including those for which Ativan may have been prescribed in the first place) must be addressed 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 give you the power to change it all for the better.