Ativan Addiction

Ativan is the brand name for a benzodiazepine drug also called lorazepam. The drug can be used to treat moderate to severe anxiety issues as a part of a greater treatment regimen. Because of the possibility for abuse and addiction, Ativan is a controlled substance and a Schedule IV drug.

Also called candy, downers, and tranks by those who abuse the drug, Ativan and other benzodiazepines can be extremely dangerous when taken in a way other than exactly how they were prescribed by a doctor (NIDA). Over time, those who abuse the drug can become addicted to it.

What are the Side Effects of Ativan?

Ativan side effects can be harmful even when a person is not addicted to the drug.

According to the NLM, some of the more common side effects include:

Ativan Addiction

Abusing Ativan can quickly lead to dependence and addiction.

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Restlessness or excitement
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in sex drive or ability

These effects are likely to be more intense when an individual is abusing the drug often and in high doses. However, there are certain side effects that, if exhibited by an Ativan patient, are extremely dangerous, including:

  • Fever
  • Shuffling walk
  • Persistent, fine tremor
  • Inability to sit still
  • Severe rash
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vertigo
  • Difficulty breathing

Any of these issues are more likely to occur or to be persistent when someone abuses Ativan.

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How Does Someone Become Addicted to Ativan?

A person will become addicted to Ativan if they take the drug in high doses for an extended period of time. Taking your own medication at the wrong doses, taking someone else’s medication, buying it illegally and using it, or crushing the drug to snort or inject are all forms of abuse.

Benzodiazepine drugs, in high doses, can cause drowsiness and dizziness as well as euphoria. This feeling is why many people abuse the drugs and why they become addicted to them. The euphoric feeling that results from Ativan abuse becomes something that regular users begin to crave. They will also become dependent on these effects, “which is when the body gets used to the drug and a person can’t stop taking it without feeling discomfort or even worse symptoms (withdrawal)” (NIDA Teen).

The individual will also experience tolerance, a condition that can occur even in nonabusers. If the individual decides to take higher doses of the drug in order to feel its effects more strongly, there becomes a possibility for addiction.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Addiction?

When someone becomes addicted to this drug, they will exhibit certain symptoms that separate them from a regular user. If you believe someone you care about might be abusing Ativan, look for these signs:

  • Slow reflexes
  • Mood swings
  • Hostile behavior
  • Erratic behavior
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech or stuttering
  • Confusion
  • Issues with memory

An individual who abuses Ativan constantly will show the signs of intoxication frequently and, eventually, those of substance addiction as well. The individual will likely:

  • Become extremely secretive and likely to lie about where they’ve been
  • Hide Ativan around the house as well as empty pill bottles
  • Become apathetic toward activities that they used to care about
  • Show signs of depression
  • Be more likely to do reckless or dangerous things, especially when these actions involve obtaining more Ativan
  • Refuse or be unable to reduce doses of the drug or stop taking it
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The Dangers of an Addiction to Ativan

There are many harmful consequences of Ativan addiction. For example, CESAR states, “A fair amount of cross-tolerance exists between benzodiazepines and other depressants such as alcohol and barbiturates, thus users may not feel the effects of these drugs as potently as they would otherwise.” This often leads to abuse of both Ativan and alcohol (or other depressants) together which can very easily lead to respiratory depression. Ativan alone, when taken in large doses, can also cause this problem.

Other dangers include:

  • Depression
    • People who abuse Ativan commonly become extremely depressed, especially if they abuse the drug for a long time. This can lead to suicidal thoughts and the need for inpatient treatment.
  • Strange behavior
    • It is likely for the individual to exhibit strange behavior as a result of abusing the drug. According to the FDA, “Paradoxical reactions, including anxiety, excitation, agitation, hostility, aggression, rage, sleep disturbances/insomnia, sexual arousal, and hallucinations may occur.”
    • Issues like hallucinations and aggression can be extremely dangerous to the individual and others around them. While these reactions are rare, they are more likely to be experienced by someone who consistently abuses Ativan in large doses.
  • Amnesia
    • Addiction to this drug makes the likelihood of experiencing amnesia much higher. The individual might wake up somewhere they do not remember going or will black out and not know what happened to them.
  • Withdrawal symptoms 
    • Benzodiazepines can cause physical tremors, anxiety, depression, depersonalization, hallucinations, delirium, seizures, panic attacks, muscle pain, and heart palpitations when a person who is addicted and dependent suddenly stops taking them. That is why the cold turkey approach to withdrawal is not recommended for these drugs.

Ativan is among one of the most commonly prescribed and commonly abused drug classes in the United States, and therefore, can be extremely dangerous to those who do not realize the possible harm these drugs can do.

Can Someone Die from Ativan Addiction?

Yes. Many Ativan addicts overdose on the drug because they are so used to taking extremely high doses. Because it is common for those individuals to also drink alcohol or take barbiturates (or other depressants) along with Ativan, addiction to the drug is even more likely to lead to an overdose.

When a person overdoses on Ativan, their breathing becomes extremely slowed and they may even stop altogether. Because the drug makes them drowsy, they do not realize it and often fall asleep which is why it is so dangerous for an individual to abuse the drug when alone. According to the NIDA Teen, “Of the 22,810 deaths related to prescription drug overdose in 2011, more than 6,800 (30%) involved benzodiazepines.”

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How Common Is Ativan Addiction?

While it is not incredibly common that a person on a careful Ativan regimen will become addicted, there is still a chance of the individual abusing this drug. Those who do take it recreationally are much more likely to become addicted. According to the University of Texas, the non-medical use of Ativan and other benzodiazepines has risen from 3.5% to 4.2% between the years of 2002 and 2005.

As for overdose statistics, ED visits involving nonmedical use of benzodiazepines in the year 2004 was 144,385, accounting for 29.1% of the visits associated with nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals overall. Ativan abuse and addiction are more common than most people realize because the drug is prescription-based and, therefore, not understood to be as dangerous as it actually is.

Treatments Options for Ativan Addicts

The best treatments for Ativan addiction exist either in an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility. The need for either can be determined by the intensity of the individual’s addiction and whether they

  • Need to be in a controlled environment
  • Are without a strong support system of friends and family members
  • Suffer from an anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or other mental illnesses

Because Ativan is prescribed to treat anxiety, a person who starts taking the drug for this reason and becomes addicted might need to attend treatment in an inpatient facility so that their multiple disorders can be properly addressed. However, if the individual has a mild addiction and many loved ones to support them during their recovery, outpatient treatment can be perfectly beneficial.

Treatment usually starts with detox, “eventually weaning a person away from the effects of the drug while attempting to decrease the severity of the symptoms of withdrawal” (UCLA Semel Institute). However, it is extremely important to remember that detox itself is not a treatment for addiction, and just because a person has successfully overcome withdrawal does not mean that their addiction to the drug has been eradicated.

The UCLA Semel Institute goes on to add, “As a follow-up to the detoxification program, recovering addicts are encouraged to pursue psychological therapy, group therapy, and other programs to prevent the possibility of relapse.” Some of the best therapies used to treat addiction are

Support groups can also be very beneficial after formal treatment has ended. Individuals can go to a location near them (often a church, library, or outreach center) where the group meets at a convenient time in order to keep working on their recovery. While there are no medications that have been found to successfully treat benzodiazepine addiction, many individuals are able to find the help they need through these therapeutic programs.

It is possible for someone to become addicted to Ativan after abusing it for several months or longer. While many individuals who become addicted try to deny that they have a problem, it is extremely important that they receive the right kind of treatment and are able to stop abusing the drug in a safe and effective way.

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