Medically Reviewed

Ativan Addiction: Short- and Long-Term Side Effects of Ativan

Ativan is the brand name for lorazepam, a benzodiazepine primarily prescribed for the short-term relief of anxiety.1 As with any medication, there are side effects that can occur when taking Ativan, even when taking it as prescribed. And like other benzodiazepines, there is potential for misuse, the development of physical dependence, and, in some cases, addiction.2

Keep reading to better understand lorazepam, the short- and long-term side effects and risks associated with its use, and how to get help if you’re concerned about your misuse or that of a loved one.

What Is Ativan?

Ativan (lorazepam) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that falls in the benzodiazepine class of medications.2 It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the management of anxiety disorders, anxiety symptoms, and anxiety associated with depressive symptoms.1 That’s because as a CNS depressant, or sedative-hypnotic, lorazepam works to calm an overexcited nervous system, resulting in a sedate, relaxed, calming effect.2,3

Ativan Side Effects

As with any prescription medication, lorazepam may cause side effects. As a fast-acting benzodiazepine, lorazepam’s effects—both desired and undesired—may be felt within minutes, depending on its route of administration.2 These effects vary from one individual to the next and range from mild to severe. More severe side effects are associated with higher doses of lorazepam or taking it in combination with opioids or alcohol, as well as other CNS depressing drugs.2 Chronic use over a prolonged period increases the risk of certain long-term consequences as well.2

Short-Term Side Effects of Ativan

Some of the most common lorazepam side effects include:1

  • Sedation.
  • Experiencing dizziness.
  • Feeling weak.
  • Feeling unsteady.

Several factors can impact the specific side effects an individual may experience and the severity with which they experience them. These factors include the amount of lorazepam taken, the frequency and duration of use, the person’s overall physical and mental health, and whether lorazepam was taken with other substances—such as alcohol, opioids, and other sedatives.1,2

Additionally, mixing lorazepam with opioids, alcohol, or other sedatives can lead to a drug overdose, which can produce serious, even life-threatening side effects, including slowed, shallow, or stopped breathing.1

What Are the Effects and Risks of Long-Term Ativan Use?

The use of benzodiazepines, including lorazepam, can lead some individuals to develop a physical dependence to the drug. Physical dependence refers to the body’s adaptation of having the drug present to function normally. Thus, when an individual abruptly stops taking the drug or drastically cuts back their dose, withdrawal symptoms can emerge.1

The risk of dependence increases with higher doses and longer-term use, which is why it’s advised that individuals only take lorazepam for 2 to 4 weeks, though signs of dependence can appear after even 1 week of using a benzodiazepine.1

Additionally, individuals with a history of substance use disorders or personality disorders may be more susceptible to developing a physical dependence to lorazepam.1

It’s important to note that just because an individual may have become physically dependent on lorazepam, it does not mean that they have developed an addiction to it.4 Physical dependence is a neurological adaptation. Addiction—or substance use disorder—is a treatable medical disease characterized by the compulsive use of a drug despite negative consequences.4

Ativan Overdose

Overdose from Ativan—without the presence of other substances—usually results in varying degrees of CNS depression, including drowsiness, mental confusion, and lethargy.1 However, as previously mentioned, life-threatening and even fatal overdoses involving lorazepam typically occur in conjunction with alcohol, opioids, or other CNS depressing drugs.1

In a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 92.7% of benzodiazepine-involved deaths also involved opioids in the first 6 months of 2020.5

Concurrent use of lorazepam and opioids may result in dangerous symptoms and can be fatal. Symptoms can include:2

  • Extreme sedation.
  • Dangerously slowed or stopped breathing.
  • Coma.

If you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Ativan Withdrawal

Individuals who develop a physical dependence to lorazepam will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug or drastically cut back on their use.1 Symptoms may surface in as quickly as 6 to 8 hours after the last dose and usually last between 4 and 5 days, peaking on day 2.4

Symptoms of withdrawal may include:1

  • Headache.
  • Anxiety.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Depressive symptoms.
  • Sleep difficulties.
  • Feeling restless.
  • Confusion.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Sweating.
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Tremors.
  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Seizures.

It is important to notify your doctor if you wish to stop taking lorazepam, as withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life-threatening. Severity of symptoms is typically increased when taken at higher doses for longer periods of time.1 While not every individual experiences each of these withdrawal symptoms, studies indicate that 20% to 30% of untreated patients with benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome experience seizures.4

Ativan Addiction and Polysubstance Use

Ativan misuse commonly occurs in conjunction with other substance use, also known as polysubstance use.6 Research indicates that misuse of benzodiazepines, like lorazepam, is most often associated with the misuse of opioids, stimulants, and alcohol.7

Individuals who engage in polysubstance use may take lorazepam to enhance the euphoric effects of opioids or alcohol or to temper the high from stimulants like cocaine.6 Others may mix substances unintentionally. For instance, those who buy lorazepam and other counterfeit prescription benzodiazepines on the street, risk unknowingly taking drugs that have been mixed or cut with other substances, like fentanyl.8

Whether intentional or not, mixing substances is never safe; the effects can be unpredictable, dangerous, even lethal.8

If you or a loved one misuse Ativan alone or in conjunction with other substances, seeking help to quit the use of lorazepam and other drugs can save your life. The most effective treatment plans are tailored to your specific needs, but most programs offer different interventions, which may include:9,10

  • Detoxification. Medically managed detox cleanses your body of the drug safely. In a treatment center, healthcare providers can prescribe a benzodiazepine taper, or other medications, to alleviate symptoms and keep you as safe and comfortable as possible.
  • Inpatient treatment. Inpatient rehab consists of 24/7 care in a hospital or residential setting. It can be long-term for up to 12 months or more, or short-term, depending on your treatment needs.
  • Outpatient treatment. Outpatient programs allow you to live at home or in a sober living environment during treatment and vary widely in intensity, depending on your needs. Some may require several hours of treatment each day, most days per week; others may mandate a couple of hours a day a few days each week.
  • Behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapies such as motivational interviewing or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may take place in individual or group settings. These interventions address the underlying issues of substance misuse, teach you coping skills to help prevent relapse, and provide you with psychoeducation about addiction and substance use.
  • Aftercare. Also known as continuing care, aftercare starts after formal treatment ends and assists you in your long-term recovery. Programs may include participation in a 12-step or other mutual-help group, ongoing counseling, or helping you secure sober living.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) has accredited treatment facilities across the United States with the ability to treat lorazepam addiction, polysubstance addiction, and other co-occurring mental health disorders. Let us create an individualized treatment plan that addresses all of your needs. Call today to speak with one of our Admissions Navigators. They can answer your questions and help you find the treatment center that might be right for you.

Last Updated on Dec 9, 2022
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