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What is Ativan? Facts, Addiction & Withdrawal

by | Published on Jul 23, 2021 | Benzodiazepine Addiction

Ativan (lorazepam) belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. It’s used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and grand mal seizures. Benzos are central nervous system depressants that produce calming and sedating effects in the body. 

Unfortunately, Ativan carries a risk for tolerance and dependence that can lead to addiction. 

What’s Ativan?

Ativan is the brand name for the generic drug lorazepam, which is a benzodiazepine. These drugs act as sedatives or tranquilizers. Benzodiazepines bind to GABA receptors in the brain, producing a calming effect. However, these prescriptions should be only for short-term use.

How Does Ativan Look Like

 

Is Ativan a Benzo?

Yes. Ativan is one of the most popular benzodiazepine medications. Benzodiazepines, sometimes known as benzos, are essentially tranquilizers widely prescribed to treat anxiety, muscle tension, and insomnia. Benzos also help people relax before surgery or medical procedures. 

Benzos work on the central nervous systems and the neurotransmitter GABA to calm nerve impulses, which eventually helps calm anxiety. Generally, they produce a calming, well-being state that makes them addictive.

Other popular benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clobazam (Onfi)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Diazepam (Valium, Diastat)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin, Rivotril)

Is Ativan a Controlled Substance?

Yes, but not as high as other addictive drugs like heroin and opioids. Ativan is a Schedule IV drug, which means it technically has a lower potential for misuse and dependence. But despite this classification, Ativan can still be habit-forming.

What’s Ativan Used For?

Lorazepam has FDA approval to treat anxiety, insomnia, continuous seizures, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. Ativan is also used as a medication right before anesthesia. 

When taken under a doctor’s supervision, Ativan can help reduce many symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Symptoms of panic attacks, sleeplessness, agitation, and restlessness can all be controlled. 

In a users review for Ativan treatment for anxiety, 76% of users reported a positive effect, only 13% reported adverse effects. 

How Does Ativan Make You Feel?

Ativan has tranquilizing effects. Most users report feeling calm, serene, and relaxed. In some cases, it can cause sleepiness or drowsiness as side effects. By sowing brain and nerve activity, Ativan also affects your body’s functions and responses. 

Some side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Heartburn
  • Change in appetite 

Some infrequent side effects can occur, including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Vision changes
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Unusual weakness
  • Memory problems
  • Signs of infections
  • Trouble walking

If you notice any of these rare side effects in yourself or a loved one, call 911 immediately. These symptoms will often occur with yellowing eyes or skin, seizures, and shallow breathing. 

How Long Does Ativan Last?

Ativan (lorazepam) is available in tablets, liquid concentrates, or intravenous medication. The effects can kick in as little as 15 minutes and last for up to 24 hours.

Overall, lorazepam is fast-acting, but it has a long half-life. Lorazepam’s half-life is about 12 hours, which means it decreases concentration in the body by half every 12 hours.

Like many other substances, different factors affect how long Ativan stays in your system. Length of use, frequency, body mass, sex, and even hydration levels play a significant role. 

How Long Does Ativan Stay In Your System?

Ativan is metabolized by the liver and eliminated from the body through urine. However, tests for Ativan can track the substance even nine days later after the last dose.

Here’s how long Ativan stays in your system:

  • Blood: it appears in blood tests six hours after use. However, the detection window can go as long as three days after the last use, sometimes even longer.
  • Urine: because it is eliminated through urine, Ativan remains in the body for up to six weeks after last use. In this case, dosage and length of use play determining factors.
  • Saliva: it can be detected in saliva samples, most of the time up to eight hours after the last use. However, saliva tests are not commonly used to check for benzodiazepines.
  • Hair: lorazepam can be detected in hair samples for much longer than other methods. Overall, hair tests can detect Ativan up to 30 days after the last use.

Is Ativan Addictive?

As of 2017, Ativan was the fifth most widely prescribed benzodiazepine, with more than 27 million prescriptions written. One of the most severe side effects of Ativan use is addiction. People who misuse Ativan are at risk of developing a substance use disorder. 

By 2018, 5.4 million people over the age of 12 misused prescription benzodiazepines like Ativan.

Some people will mix Ativan and alcohol to enhance its effects; this will increase their chances of addiction. 

People with an underlying medical condition may take it for long periods of time. But, after taking the drug for more than three weeks, the nervous system becomes used to the effects of the drugs. 

When this happens, most patients will need a higher dose to relieve their symptoms. Tolerance to a drug can lead to addiction. At this point, someone will experience a compulsive need to seek and use the drug to function. 

Signs of addiction:

  • Irritability, restlessness, or depression when they can’t use the drug. 
  • Obsession over getting and using more of the drug despite consequences.
  • A loss of control over how much Ativan they’re using at any given time. 
  • Isolation from friends and family members due to drug use. 
  • A deterioration in the quality of their work or school performance. 
  • A decline in physical appearance, hygiene, and grooming habits. 
  • Physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.

Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms

You don’t need to be an addict to experience these symptoms. People taking Ativan daily for a few weeks can experience some withdrawal symptoms

Ativan withdrawal is uncomfortable. People taking Ativan under their doctor’s supervision for years don’t realize they’re dependent on the drug. When they want to lower their doses or quit Ativan altogether, they’ll experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Initially, benzodiazepines like Ativan were for short-term use. But, long-term use of Ativan for anxiety and insomnia became the norm. Taking Ativan for as little as three to six weeks, even at therapeutic doses, can cause physical dependence and mild withdrawal symptoms.

People feel on edge for several weeks. Initial symptoms of anxiety can return, making the process more difficult. About 40% of those who take benzodiazepines for over six months will experience moderate to severe symptoms. The rest, 60%, will experience mild symptoms. 

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Intense headaches
  • Hand tremors
  • Muscle aches 
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty to concentrate
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Seizures 
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms

In addition to these, anywhere from 10 to 25% of long-term Ativan users will experience protracted withdrawal. Also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), this involves milder symptoms that come and go for several months. Sometimes PAWS can occur for over a year. 

The most common symptoms include:

  • Intense and persistent anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty performing complex tasks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Depression

Can You Overdose On Ativan?

While Ativan overdose is possible, it’s not a fatal overdose. Toxic levels of lorazepam usually don’t cause a deadly overdose. However, not addressing overdose symptoms like respiratory depression can cause death. 

Most people experience lethargy, uncoordinated behavior, and profuse sweating. 

Unfortunately, some people may combine Ativan with other substances. Taking lorazepam while you drink alcohol increases the risk of respiratory depression. This could lead to coma and death.  If any of these symptoms develop, call 911. The overdosing person must get treatment immediately.

In addition, drug interactions may change how your medications work or increase your risk for serious side effects. Some products that interact with lorazepam include:

  • Clozapine
  • Kava
  • Sodium oxybate or GHB
  • Opioid medications
  • Marijuana
  • Other prescription drugs for sleep
  • Muscle relaxants

Check the labels of all your medicines to verify any ingredients that cause drowsiness. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about how to use these products safely.

Warning

Quitting lorazepam cold turkey can be dangerous. Even though Ativan is not a very serious drug, it can have substantial effects on your brain. Benzodiazepines are not safe to quit alone.

If you want to stop taking Ativan, consult with your doctor or therapist. Many people can choose an outpatient rehab program to discontinue this drug. 

An inpatient setting might be best if you have a history of mental illness, seizures, or severe withdrawal symptoms. Discuss with your doctor or an addiction specialist to find the best way to withdraw from Ativan. Even people without addiction can benefit from the different levels of care available at addiction centers. 

In addition, withdrawal from lorazepam can coincide with the rebound of psychiatric disorders. This includes severe anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and depression symptoms. In this case, an inpatient rehab program may be the best way to treat withdrawal. 

Talk to your primary care provider or psychiatrist about helping you work with your insurance company to get treatment. If you do not have insurance, reach out to our admissions center to learn about our financing options. 

Treatment Options

While Ativan misuse can lead to addiction, treatment is available. Because cutting cold turkey can be dangerous, it’s best to start with a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and a benzo detox process to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures.

Other treatment options include:

  • Benzo Medical Detox: A clinically supervised detox process ensures the patient’s safety and makes the withdrawal phase as comfortable as possible.
  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Most people start taking Ativan for a mental health illness, such as depression or addiction. A dual diagnosis program helps address addiction and mental health disorders simultaneously to ensure a higher chance of recovery. 
  • Inpatient Program: The most intensive level of drug rehab. Patients remain living at the rehab facility and get the most hours of treatment throughout the week. 
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs: A form of drug rehab that offers more flexibility to patients seeking addiction treatment while maintaining daily obligations like work, school, or caregiving.
  • Outpatient Program: An excellent choice for patients with a dependence on the drug but not an addiction. At this level of care, patients visit the center to receive about nine hours of therapy per week. 

Find an Addiction Treatment Near You

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse, please know there’s treatment available. Remember, quitting potent drugs like benzos alone can be life-threatening. It’s essential to have the support and supervision of drug addiction specialists by your side.

Contact Lighthouse Recovery Institute at 866-308-2090 today and speak with our addiction specialists to learn more about our comprehensive and personalized addiction treatment programs.

We look at each program on a case-by-case basis to cater to your needs to get better and walk towards recovery.

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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