Repeated use of Ativan is associated with many negative long-term side effects. Ativan use disorders can affect people of all ages and the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable or fatal in some cases.
As deaths related to benzodiazepines have more than quadrupled since 1996, drugs like Ativan have come under increased scrutiny due to the dangers of misuse, particularly when these medications are combined with alcohol, with which it has a strong synergistic effect.
In this article, we’ll discuss Ativan’s effects, the signs of long-term misuse and withdrawal, as well as treatment options for Ativan use disorders.
A Brief History of Ativan
Lorazepam, the drug commonly referred to by the brand name “Ativan” was first brought to market by Wyeth pharmaceuticals in 1977. It received FDA approval by 1985. It is considered today to be one of the “classic benzodiazepines” along with diazepam, clonazepam, oxazepam, nitrazepam, flurazepam, bromazepam, and clorazepate.
Lorazepam was developed for similar purposes as the other classic benzodiazepines, that is, to control anxiety and muscle spasms, replacing comparatively more dangerous barbiturate drugs for that application. While comparatively safer than barbiturates, individuals can develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines like Ativan in a matter of weeks. Withdrawal from Ativan, as with other benzodiazepines, can be uncomfortable and unpredictable as well.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Ativan and other benzodiazepines started to receive more scrutiny from drug enforcement officials, due to their prevalence. Benzodiazepines have been implicated in a growing number of emergency room deaths since the 1990s, quadrupling over the next two decades. There has also been an increase in benzodiazepines being involved in opioid and alcohol-related emergency room visits and deaths. While comparatively safe, Ativan has a synergistic effect with other sedative drugs, with the overall effect being much more powerful than just either drug.
Today, Ativan and other benzodiazepines are considered to be a Schedule IV drug by the FDA. While Ativan and other drugs in its class continue to be widely prescribed for controlling anxiety symptoms, alternatives to benzodiazepines are now being more often being used for this application.
Signs of Ativan Use Disorder
Ativan is a potent benzodiazepine with a higher risk of causing tolerance in users than other similar sedative drugs. Taking Ativan for longer than prescribed increases the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. Those with a history of substance misuse or a personality disorder are also at a higher risk for substance use disorders related to Ativan misuse.
It can be difficult to recognize the signs because misuse can occur in secret and with a prescription. Physical signs of a disorder can occur quickly and even happen while a person is taking the recommended dosage. These signs might include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Cravings can indicate a substance use disorder and will lead to social and emotional effects. Because of the obsessive nature of cravings, those with a use disorder may notice related issues arising with loved ones and finances. A person with an Ativan use disorder may lose interest in what was once important to them, socially isolate themselves, fail to follow through with obligations, and get into dangerous situations.
More advanced Ativan use disorder signs include:
- Inability to stop taking the substance
- Daily intake over the prescribed amount
- Needing the drug to function normally
- Mixing Ativan with other drugs
These signs may not always point to a substance use disorder, but if you recognize these signs in yourself or a loved one, it is important to seek help.
The risks are high: Ativan is often used for suicide attempts, so if an Ativan user seems depressed, they should get prompt medical attention. The longer the problem lasts, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms and side effects on the brain and bodily functions will be. Ativan can have long-term detrimental consequences for the brain and its functions, so if you or someone you know is hooked on Ativan, it’s important to get help immediately.
Ativan Side Effects
The medication lorazepam (brand name Ativan) is a prescription drug associated with a high risk of tolerance and severe side effects. Ativan is often prescribed to treat anxiety and seizures. Because Ativan is habit-forming, it is only intended to be used on a short-term basis.
Reactions will vary based on the person and the dosage. Some common side effects of Ativan in low doses include:
- Impaired coordination
- Slurred speech
- Reduced sense of tension
- Feelings of euphoria
As time passes, these effects decrease and an individual develops a tolerance to the medication. But if a substance use disorder develops, the individual is at risk of long-term side effects. Ativan can cause memory loss and chronic headaches and has also been linked to kidney disease. This medication is a depressant and also can cause long-term mood changes.
The symptoms the medication was prescribed to treat can return intensified when an individual develops a tolerance. These side effects of Ativan include depression, hostility, hyperactivity, anxiety, and, in some instances, suicidal thoughts. Some studies have indicated that those misusing Ativan had experienced brain shrinkage.
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Overall, Ativan is meant to have a calming and relaxing effect, with some side effects to be expected. However, when a person finds that they need more of the drug to achieve the same effects, they use the drug longer than the prescribed time, or they experience more severe side effects, they may have a substance use disorder and should seek help for this problem.
When left unchecked, these side effects and symptoms can be dangerous or even life-threatening. Drug-seeking behavior and the side effects of Ativan can impact every aspect of life, from physical symptoms to emotional and social problems.
Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms
When the body becomes tolerant to Ativan and relies on the drug to function normally, a person will experience Ativan withdrawal in the absence of the substance. You can experience withdrawal even when following the prescription directions, and some have reported symptoms after only a week of use. Acute withdrawal from Ativan includes the following signs and symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle pains
- Abdominal pain
Withdrawal symptoms of long-term use are usually psychological. These can include:
- Memory loss
- Reduced interest in what was once important
- Trouble concentrating
If you attempt withdrawal from Ativan abruptly, the symptoms are more severe and can be dangerous. These can include fever, hallucinations, and seizures. Use of Ativan should be tapered off under medical supervision. It is not recommended to wean oneself off of Ativan or other benzodiazepines alone, as the symptoms can be unpredictable and extremely uncomfortable.
How Are Ativan Use Disorders Treated?
Individuals who suspect that they have an Ativan use disorder should first check with a psychiatrist for diagnostics and to find if they have any other co-occurring psychiatric disorders. The psychiatrist can then make a recommendation on the type of treatment needed. In severe cases, treatment may have to be done at an inpatient facility to ensure that the individual can receive immediate medical attention if needed.
A person with Ativan use disorder may be prescribed a medication called flumazenil, which blocks Ativan’s activity at the brain’s GABA receptors. A standard rehab schedule is four to 12 weeks long and can be undergone at inpatient or outpatient treatment centers, depending on the severity of the case. The most severe symptoms of Ativan withdrawal normally pass within ten days, and then, counseling can begin.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used to help recovering individuals control cravings and other mental and emotional symptoms. To have a successful recovery, a person should seek help from a medical professional to get safe withdrawal management and receive any necessary mental health counseling. Withdrawal and detoxification can be painful, scary, and dangerous, but by seeking help, an individual has access to a comfortable and supportive setting to begin recovery.
Get Help for Your Ativan Problem
If you or someone you know has a problem with Ativan, the situation can feel hopeless, and you may not know where to turn. Trust Better Addiction Care to meet your needs in a comfortable, confidential setting. We can help you find the counseling you need for a successful recovery.
Support and connections are vital aspects of the recovery process. Connect with Better Addiction Care to find the help you need at a recovery center near you. Our client care specialists can help you find alternative rehab programs that accept private insurance and offer customized, cost-effective treatment. We offer personal pre-screenings and after-treatment support services.
You are not alone in your journey to recovery from compulsive Ativan misuse. Call today or fill out our contact form to start healing.