Ativan (Lorazepam) Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, and Treatment Options
Ativan is a commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Read on to learn more about the drug’s side effects, its potential for misuse and addiction, and how to get help if you or someone you know has lost control of their Ativan use.
What Is Ativan (Lorazepam)?
Ativan is a type of benzodiazepine, a widely prescribed class of sedative-hypnotic drugs. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that work by calming down an otherwise over-excited nervous system, producing drowsiness, sedation, and a calming effect. These effects make them helpful in treating insomnia, anxiety, and other conditions.1
Ativan is one of the most prescribed benzodiazepines, along with:2
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
In 2019, pharmacists filled an estimated 92 million benzodiazepine prescriptions, prompting heightened scrutiny on their safety and addiction liability.3
Since 2019, there has also been an increase in the supply of illicit benzodiazepines sold and found on the street.4 Street names for Ativan and other benzodiazepines include benzos, downers, and tranks.2,5
In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was requiring updates to the boxed warnings on drug labels for Ativan and other benzodiazepines, spelling out the risks of misuse, addiction, physical dependence, and withdrawal reactions.3
This updated safety measure highlights the fact that, while these medicines have important therapeutic benefits for many people who use them, they also have a high potential for misuse and can be especially dangerous if mixed with other drugs.3,4
What Are the Uses of Ativan?
Ativan is used to treat anxiety disorders and for the short-term management of anxiety symptoms or anxiety associated with depression.6
Side Effects of Ativan
Ativan use may cause various side effects, ranging from mild sleepiness to serious side effects like coma and death. Side effects may worsen or intensify if Ativan is taken with other drugs or alcohol.6
What Are the Short-Term Side Effects of Ativan?
The most common, short-term side effects of Ativan use are:6
- Sedation (drowsiness, sleepiness).
Other possible, though incredibly rare, side effects of Ativan can include:6
- Breathing problems.
- Suicidal thoughts or actions.
What Are the Long-Term Health Risks of Ativan?
Little is known about the long-term health effects of benzodiazepines like Ativan, and the effectiveness of Ativan use beyond 4 months has not been studied by the medical community.6
Despite this, and even though their recommended use is for a period of weeks or months, many patients are prescribed and take benzodiazepines for 2 months or longer.3
One potential long-term side effect of Ativan use is depression. Pre-existing depression may appear or worsen with the use of Ativan.6
Long-term use—even as directed by a doctor—can also lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms if a person suddenly stops taking the drug.1,6
Can Ativan Be Addictive or Abused?
Yes, Ativan is addictive and can be misused. It’s possible for someone to develop a dependence on Ativan even if they take it exactly as prescribed by their doctor.6
When someone has developed dependence, it means they will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can increase the risk of continued use, which can lead to addiction.
Benzodiazepines like Ativan are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule IV drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.2
In the past few years, they have become increasingly recognized for their risk of misuse, addiction, physical dependence, and withdrawal.3
How to Identify Ativan Addiction
Only a medical professional can formally diagnose a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, the clinical term for an addiction to Ativan or benzodiazepines. However, criteria for the disorder can also describe how a person’s use of Ativan or other benzodiazepines may have become problematic.
It is possible to overdose on Ativan or other benzodiazepines, although pure benzodiazepine overdoses are rare. Most benzo-related fatalities occur due to polysubstance use, especially when they are combined with alcohol, opioids, or other drugs.4
People who purchase benzodiazepines illicitly on the streets may be taking opioids without knowing it. If you buy Ativan, Xanax, or other prescription benzos on the street, these pills may be counterfeit and contain harmful substances, such as the synthetic opioid fentanyl.8,9
In 2020, opioids were involved in 92.7% of benzodiazepine-related deaths; illicit fentanyl was involved in 66.7%.4 The reason these combinations are so dangerous is that both opioids and benzodiazepines can cause sedation and suppress breathing, which can be fatal.10
Taken alone, a benzo overdose typically presents as oversedation. Signs include:6,7
- Slurred speech.
- Mental confusion.
- Extreme drowsiness or lethargy.
When combined with opioids, alcohol, or other CNS depressants, an Ativan-involved overdose may cause life-threatening respiratory depression, similar to an opioid overdose. Symptoms not only include extreme sedation, but also signs of respiratory depression, such as:6,7
- Slowed, shallow, or stopped breathing.
- Choking or gurgling noises due to impaired gag reflex.
- Extreme sleepiness or loss of consciousness.
- Impaired coordination and poor or no muscle control.
Ativan Withdrawal and Detox
If someone has been using Ativan regularly for several weeks or months and developed a physical dependence on the drug, they will experience when they attempt to reduce or stop use.
Potential symptoms of Ativan withdrawal include:7
- Sweating and increased heart rate.
- Shaking hands.
- Psychomotor agitation (restlessness, pacing, handwringing).
Withdrawal symptoms may start 6–8 hours after last use, peak around day 2, and begin to resolve around days 4 or 5. Some persistent, less-intense post-acute withdrawal symptoms (e.g., depression, insomnia) might linger for several months at varying levels of severity.7
Withdrawal symptoms, duration, and severity will vary and can be influenced by a number of factors, including how much of Ativan was used and for how long, as well as individual health factors and if a person was using or misusing other substances at the same time.7
Withdrawal from Ativan and other benzodiazepines can be severe and even life-threatening. It is one of the withdrawal syndromes (along with opioids and alcohol) for which a supervised medical detox may be needed to keep a person safe and limit the risk of medical complications such as seizures.11
Getting Help for Ativan Addiction
If you or someone you love has lost control of their Ativan or other drug use, there is hope, and professional addiction treatment can help begin the path to recovery.
For many people, medical detox is the first step. Medical detox ensures patient safety and comfort, as the body rids itself of toxins like drugs and alcohol. It also paves the way for more comprehensive inpatient or outpatient rehab, which can help address the thoughts and behaviors that drive addiction, and teach patients new ways to cope without the use of drugs or alcohol.11
If you are looking for addiction treatment facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, AdCare has multiple treatment facilities available. We offer a variety of services and levels of addiction treatment, such as:
- Medical detox for drugs and alcohol.
- Inpatient addiction treatment.
- Outpatient treatment programs, including intensive outpatient rehab.
Our staff will work with you to customize a treatment plan that meets your individual needs.
There are many ways to pay for rehab for an Ativan addiction, including using health insurance to pay for rehab. At AdCare, we also offer financing options and payment plans for clients without insurance or who lack sufficient coverage.
To get started, fill out this simple and secure . We’ll email you right back with important details about your insurance benefits and next steps in the rehab admissions process.
The decision to seek treatment can be difficult and overwhelming. But you are not alone. Call us today at .