Ativan Addiction Symptoms

Content Overview


Ativan addiction symptoms typically emerge after regular abuse or during withdrawal. The following are some of the reported psychological, biological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of Ativan misuse:

  • Drowsiness
  • Labored breathing
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle pain or stiffness
  • Constipation
  • Searching the Internet for Ativan
  • Confusion
  • Asking friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers for their Ativan tablets
  • In the worst cases, coma, seizures, or a fatal overdose if combined with alcohol or other drugs

For individuals who abuse benzodiazepines exclusively, or as part of polydrug abuse, Ativan may be a preferred drug. However, individuals may also swap out one benzodiazepine for another, as necessary.

For this reason, understanding benzodiazepine abuse in general can be helpful as well as knowing the signs and symptoms of Ativan abuse in specific.

Ativan is a short-acting prescription sedative that belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. Benzodiazepines are referred to as sedatives, tranquilizers, and anxiolytics. While Ativan is the trade name, the generic of this drug is lorazepam. This medication is medically indicated for the treatment of anxiety disorder (with or without depression) as well as episodic anxiety, among other health and mental health conditions.

Ativan is a potentially addiction-forming drug; however, a person who uses Ativan in strict accordance with the prescribing doctor’s orders is unlikely to develop an addiction. But there is the possibility that a person with a legitimate prescription of Ativan will develop what clinicians call a sedative use disorder. Among individuals who abuse Ativan, some may have started using this drug without ever having a legitimate prescription for it. In short, there are numerous paths to Ativan abuse.

The reason for the widespread Ativan abuse in the US owes to several major causes, including but not limited to:

  • Benzodiazepines are widely available (e.g., in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and medicine cabinets).
  • The calming effect of these drugs makes them particularly attractive given the daily stresses of life.
  • Many people perceive Ativan and other benzodiazepines to be benign, since they’re doctor prescribed and severe illness or death due to their abuse is rare, unless Ativan is combined with alcohol or other drugs.
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research supports that benzodiazepines work in the brain to cause addiction in a way that is similar to other drugs, such as cannabinoids, opioids, and the designer/club drug GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate).

treatmentAlthough the terms symptoms and signs  appear to sometimes be used interchangeably in addiction-related literature, there is an important distinction between them. A symptom is experienced by the individual who is feeling it. For instance, when individuals don’t feel well, they can describe their symptoms or feelings to a doctor. A sign is a symptom that has a physical manifestation. A doctor, for instance, will be able to detect signs of a patient’s symptoms. There is usually no great leap between having a symptom and a person recognizing a sign. Individuals who are nauseous, for example, may be pale, sweaty, and look dizzy. An onlooker won’t personally feel the nausea, but they’ll be alerted to a problem.

It is helpful for individuals who abuse Ativan to understand the symptoms of addiction.

The same holds for concerned individuals who, if they know the signs, can then intervene as necessary (to address an emergency or open up a discussion on the need for drug abuse treatment).

drug abuseThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) uses the term substance use disorder in place of the terms physical dependence and addiction. The DSM-5 has sub-classifications within the substance use disorder category, which includes sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder (hereinafter shortened to sedative use disorder). Per the DSM-5, in order for a person to receive a diagnosis of a sedative use disorder, at least two of 11 symptoms must emerge within the same 12-month period. The criteria represent the physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms of addiction.

The following are the 11 DSM-5 elements (paraphrased) as they would be applied to Ativan use:

  • Despite initial intentions, the person takes too much Ativan or takes it for a longer period of time than expected.
  • The person senses that there is a need to stop using or to cut down on Ativan use but is not able to do so.
  • The person spends a disproportionate amount of time using Ativan, getting Ativan, or recovering after using Ativan.
  • The person has cravings to use Ativan (or other benzodiazepine drugs).
  • Due to Ativan abuse, the person is not able to perform to the necessary standard at work, school, or home.
  • The person continues to use the drug even though doing so is causing interpersonal problems.
  • The person doesn’t partake in important work activities, hobbies, or social events due to the Ativan abuse.
  • The person repeatedly uses Ativan even when doing so puts them in danger or at risk for a host of troubles (e.g., drugged driving).
  • The person continues to use of Ativan even though it is causing or exacerbating an existing psychological or physical problem.
  • The person develops a tolerance for Ativan. Tolerance is a natural process that requires a person to take more of a drug as time passes.
  • The person goes into withdrawal when without Ativan. Withdrawal is a natural process that occurs when a person stops using the drug or reduces the familiar amount of the drug used.

Understanding the symptoms of a clinical diagnosis of a sedative use disorder is helpful, but it’s also necessary to know about the short-term side effects of Ativan or other benzodiazepine abuse. Side effects are essentially symptoms of Ativan use or abuse. As WebMD points out, the following are symptoms that may be experienced if a person takes too much Ativan in a short time period or experiences an overdose:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Having a hard time breathing
  • Coma

Over time, as people use an addiction-forming drug, the body habituates to it. This process of acclimation involves the biological processes known as tolerance and withdrawal. As people use a drug of abuse over time, they will need to consume a greater amount of the drug to achieve the familiar high. If or when a person stops using the drug of abuse, or significantly reduces the familiar amount, the body will go into withdrawal and different symptoms can emerge.

An article published in Addiction Journal, highlights the many symptoms associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal. As the article notes, research shows that withdrawal from benzodiazepines tends to be more severe among people who either abuse high doses or short-acting variants. As Ativan is a short-acting benzodiazepine, it is especially important to understand the possible symptoms that can emerge during withdrawal as well as the relevant timeline along which these symptoms may appear. In some instances, it may be challenging to differentiate between withdrawal symptoms and the symptoms associated with anxiety (the very condition for which people take Ativan).

When a benzodiazepine is short-acting, symptoms can appear quickly. The following are the most commonly reported symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal:

  • Panic attacks
  • Palpitations
  • Hand tremors
  • Dry retching
  • Nausea
  • Changes in perception
  • Headache
  • Muscle stiffness or pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Problems concentrating
  • Moderate weight loss

Typically, these symptoms emerge within 1-4 days of stopping benzodiazepine abuse. However, in some instances, a person may have a more prolonged withdrawal experience, which can last 10 – 14 days. In yet other instances, a person may experience such acute anxiety that this condition needs to be medically treated. Of those individuals who have a history of abuse of high doses of benzodiazepines, some many develop seizures or psychosis.

Behavioral Symptoms of Ativan Addiction

When a person develops an Ativan addiction, there are going to be concurrent behaviors that are uncharacteristic for this person. In short, as abuse takes hold over a person, they are going to have resultantly less time and energy, and fewer resources, for even the most important spheres of life, such as family, work, and school.

Since Ativan is a prescription drug, doctor shopping may be a main behavioral symptom. A person who doctor shops will go to one or more doctor (even driving or traveling great distances as needed) to get more than one prescription within the same timeframe. The person will then have to fill the resulting prescriptions at different pharmacies. In the past, there was no surefire prescription monitoring system in states. However, many states are working on implementing these systems, and some have already done so.

Additional behavioral signs include uncharacteristic run-ins with the law. Individuals who abuse Ativan and drive, if detected, will face drugged driving (DUI) charges in the state in which they are arrested. Drugged driving, of course, risks the possibility of harming oneself or others, and fatal crashes are all too common. In some individuals, Ativan may cause aggressive behavior, and this risk is amplified if alcohol or other drugs are simultaneously abused. Assaults, fights, or altercations can lead to legal troubles as well.

Individuals who become addicted to Ativan may begin to steal items in order to pay for the abuse, as well as to cover their essentials and bills. Ativan addiction, or polydrug addiction that includes Ativan abuse, is not only costly, but it can cost a person their job. Individuals who turn to stealing may have already exhausted all of their personal financial assets, which can include paychecks, disability checks, government assistance, money in checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and pension plans, such as a 401K. Even if these assets took years of careful planning to accumulate, an Ativan addiction can wipe them all away. Another behavioral sign related to finances is a person uncharacteristically borrowing money from friends, family, and coworkers.

Across many drugs of abuse, individuals become secretive about their drug use. The person may lie about their whereabouts, friends, and activities in general. This secretiveness protects the drug abuse but also helps maintain a high level of denial, which may be in command of the person’s mind.

There may also be new friends on the scene, and they themselves may appear to show signs of addiction. Drug abuse is often a social activity, even though it is also true that drug use can cause a person to withdraw from all company. When individuals who use drugs hang out together, they may use slang terms for drug use.

Street names for benzodiazepine drugs include tranks, downers, goofballs, stupefy, roofies, and benzos

According to anecdotal reports culled from a topic thread in a drug user online forum, it does not appear that Ativan is used as an injectable drug. The drug is not readily water-soluble. For this reason, there is likely to be little to no paraphernalia surrounding Ativan addiction. For a concerned person, a collection of prescription pill bottles from different doctors, filled by different pharmacies, in overlapping timeframes would be a strong indication of a problem.  Ativan can be purchased on the street, and then would likely be distributed in baggies, envelopes, or folded paper. According to StreetRx, Ativan pills range in cost from $1 (0.5 mg pill/Chicago, Illinois) to $10 (0.5 mg pill/Vancouver, Washington).

treatmentWithin the field of addiction treatment, there is a general advisement against withdrawing from benzodiazepines without professional help. A medical detoxification process, which is overseen by medical staff, helps to ensure that any withdrawal symptoms that emerge, especially the most severe ones, are safely managed. As Ativan withdrawal is at best uncomfortable and at worst deadly, the person in recovery can feel an urge to reuse to stave off the symptoms. Medical detox can provide safeguards that help a person to remain in treatment, and achieve and maintain abstinence.

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