Ativan Addiction

Reading Time: 6 minutes

What is 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 of 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. Over time, those who abuse the drug can become addicted to it.

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 become something that regular users begin to crave.

What are the Risks of Ativan Addiction?

Ativan addiction can easily become fatal, and these kinds of fatalities are on the rise. It is estimated that 30% of all drug overdoses are linked to benzo abuse, with those overdose deaths quadrupling from 2002 to 2016.

There are many harmful consequences of Ativan addiction. As a tolerance to Ativan increases, so can a cross-tolerance to other depressants, like barbiturates or alcohol. This can lead users to increase their consumption of these substances in combination, seeking the more intense effects they experienced earlier in their addiction. Combining Ativan with other depressants can very easily lead to respiratory depression, coma, and death. 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. Paradoxical reactions can be caused by Ativan, including agitation, excitation, anxiety, sexual arousal, insomnia and other sleep disturbances, aggression, hostility, rage, and hallucinations.
    • 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.

What are the Symptoms of Ativan Addiction?

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

Some of the more common side effects include:

  • 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

What are the Signs of Ativan Addiction?

When someone becomes addicted to Ativan, 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

What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing 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. People addicted to Ativan may engage in “doctor shopping,” a phenomenon where patients visit many different clinics or doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions.

Over time, users become dependent on the effects of Ativan, meaning their body adapts to the regular presence of the drug in a way that will cause uncomfortable and at times dangerous withdrawal symptoms when the user attempts to quit or cut down and the body’s new, drug-dependent functioning is disrupted.

The individual will also experience tolerance, a condition that can occur even in those who are prescribed Ativan. 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.

If someone you love is abusing Ativan, it is important to do welfare checks to ensure they have not overdosed. When someone 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.

Which Treatment Options are Available for Ativan Addiction?

People suffering from Ativan addiction should receive treatment in an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility, depending on their level of need. Inpatient treatment is advised for anyone who:

  • Needs to be in a controlled environment
  • Does not have a strong support system of friends and family members
  • Suffers from a bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or any other mental disorder that requires co-occurring treatment

As Ativan is prescribed to treat anxiety, a person who starts taking the drug for this reason and becomes addicted should seriously consider checking into an inpatient facility so that their addiction and the underlying disorder can be simultaneously addressed. However, if the individual has a mild addiction, a stable home, and many loved ones to support them during their recovery, outpatient treatment can be perfectly beneficial.

Treatment usually starts with detox. Patients are gradually weaned off of Ativan under a doctor’s instructions, following a program designed to minimize withdrawal symptoms and safeguard health. 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.

After detoxification, patients recovering from Ativan addiction should work on the root causes of their addiction through counseling, while also learning new ways of coping that don’t involve drug use. 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.