Ativan Abuse and Addiction
Ativan (lorazepam) is a type of benzodiazepine. Ativan, like most benzodiazepines, can be used to treat anxiety. Ativan is a central nervous system depressant; it increases inhibitory brain signaling, which can lead to feelings of sedation and reduced anxiety.1Ativan can also be used for pre-procedural sedation and, to manage certain types of seizures and, as an off label use, to manage alcohol withdrawal and acute agitation.2, 6
Ativan is a Schedule IV controlled substance in the United States. Though it has several therapeutic uses, Ativan has a known potential for abuse and dependence. It can only be obtained legally with a prescription and should be taken under the guidance of a medical professional.
What are the side effects of Ativan?
In the short term, Ativan can be effective for safely managing the above-mentioned issues but, as with many prescription medications, Ativan has side effects.3 Longer-term use and/or nonmedical misuse of Ativan can increase the likelihood of adverse effects, including the development of physiological dependence and addiction.
Short-term side effects of Ativan/lorazepam
Over time, benzodiazepines like Ativan have the potential for misuse or abuse because of their reinforcing effects in the brain. In the short term, some immediate side effects of Ativan may include:1, 3, 7
- Amnesia/memory impairment.
- Unsteadiness/loss of coordination.
The risk of experiencing the above as well as more severe adverse effects, such as respiratory depression, may be increased if Ativan is misused in combination with opioids or other central nervous system depressant substances such as alcohol.2, 7
Long term side effects of Ativan
In the longer term, there can be both physical and mental health effects associated with Ativan use. Some of the more pronounced risks of long-term use of Ativan are the development of tolerance, physiological dependence, and an associated likelihood of an unpleasant withdrawal syndrome upon abrupt discontinuation of the drug. An individual with significant tolerance to Ativan may come to need increasingly large doses of the drug to obtain the same effects as usual, which can further drive the development of dependence.4
Some potential mental effects of long-term Ativan use include sustained changes in mood, affect, and cognitive functioning 3
Other potential physical and mental long-term side effects of Ativan include:5
- Chronic headache.
- Worsened depression.
- Chronic memory problems.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Worsening of chronic respiratory issues (e.g., sleep apnea, COPD).
- Disinhibited behaviors.
- Paradoxical reactions (e.g., anxiety, agitation, hostility/aggression, hallucinations).
Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Addiction
Some of the potential signs and symptoms to arise in association with Ativan misuse and/or addiction take both physical and behavioral forms. Signs of addiction may manifest outwardly as changes in physical appearance and declines in physical health. Other physical changes may not be so obvious, such as changes in your respiration or heart rate.
Other signs and symptoms of addiction may develop as somewhat characteristic changes in behaviors. While not all behavioral elements of addiction are as apparent as some of the more immediate physical manifestations, they may still be significant. In many cases, the telltale signs and symptoms of an active addiction involve a mix of behavioral, emotional, and physical elements.
Physical Symptoms of Ativan (Lorazepam) Addiction
People may develop some degree of physical dependence with Ativan even when it’s taken as prescribed. Although physical dependence can develop in as little as 2 weeks 5, it may become more significant after a couple of months of daily use.3 Although dependence isn’t entirely synonymous with addiction, it is commonly one of its defining features (and one of several diagnostic criteria on which a diagnosis of an Ativan addiction—or a sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic use disorder—is made). When significant Ativan dependence develops, the risk of an increasingly severe withdrawal syndrome goes up if the drug is abruptly discontinued or use slows considerably.
Symptoms of Ativan withdrawal can include:3,4,5
- Panic attacks.
- Racing heart.
- Changes in blood pressure.
- Muscle aches.
Due to the potential severity of acute Ativan withdrawal, medical professionals commonly advise against abruptly quitting Ativan on your own. A supervised medical detox can help ensure a safe and comfortable detox and minimize your risk for severe symptoms and withdrawal complications.
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Ativan (Lorazepam) Addiction
Some of the characteristic behavioral changes associated with Ativan addiction, as well as the potential consequences of compulsive Ativan misuse may be more obvious to friends and family than certain physical signs.
While not everyone will display or experience these issues, some potential signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes associated with Ativan addiction include:8
- Using larger amounts than prescribed.
- Using Ativan differently than prescribed.
- Using other people’s Ativan.
- Increasing amounts of time spent trying to obtain Ativan.
- Legal and/or financial issues related to Ativan misuse.
- Interpersonal relationship issues.
- Repeated Ativan use in potentially hazardous situations, such as driving a car.
- Repeated absences or poor work performance.
- Forgoing other responsibilities at home, work, and/or school.
- Decreasing contact with friends and family..
- Quitting previously enjoyed hobbies and activities.
Are You Struggling with Ativan (lorazepam) Addiction?
Do you recognize any of these adverse mental or physical health symptoms or changes in behavior as they relate to problematic Ativan use? Are you looking for help but are unsure where to start? If you answered yes to either of these questions, know that Ativan addiction treatment can be a tremendous help for those looking to recover from compulsive benzodiazepine misuse. Treatment is available throughout the country and can be tailored to suit your specific needs.
How to Help Someone Addicted to Ativan
If someone you love is struggling with addiction, there are things you can do to help. First and foremost, be compassionate and show them that you care. If you are struggling yourself, ask for help from a trusted loved one. There is no room for judgment in the path to recovery, only acceptance and compassion. Anyone can become addicted and it is important to not judge a person because they have an addiction.
American Addiction Centers Can Help
As the leading addiction treatment provider in the United States, American Addiction Centers focuses on not only treating the addiction itself, but the causes that led to its development. At American Addiction Centers, treatment is specialized to meet the needs of each person.
There are 8 treatment centers across the country, making it easier to access care. You can view all of our locations here
To learn more about how American Addiction Centers can help, you can call our free helpline 24/7 to speak to an admissions navigator.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides:
- U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of abuse.
- Griffin, C.E., Kaye, A.M., Bueno, F.R., & Kaye, A.D. (2013). Benzodiazepine pharmacology and central nervous system-mediated effects. The Ochsner Journal. 13(2):214-223.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). Benzodiazepines (and alternatives).
- Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. (n.d.). Benzodiazepine addiction.
- National Alliance on Mental Health. (2019). Lorazepam (Ativan).
- Hamilton, RJ. (2019). Tarascon Pocket Pharmacopoeia, 2019 Deluxe Lab-Coat Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
- United States Department of Health
and Human Services—Food & Drug Administration. (2016). Labeling-Medication
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.