Ativan (Lorazepam) Addiction Abuse Symptoms and Warning Signs

This Page was last reviewed and changed on May 21st 2022

Content Overview

While Ativan is an effective drug for the treatment of genuine medical problems, it is commonly abused by those who enjoy the sedative effects. Those who take it for the conditions such as insomnia or anxiety may also unwittingly abuse Ativan when it inevitably becomes less effective at treating their condition. However, doing so can lead to a physical dependence and addiction. It is important to recognise the signs of abuse and addiction so that you can take action before your use spirals out of control.

Ativan is a very effective prescription medication that can be used to treat a variety of maladies ranging from seizures to anxiety. Unfortunately, it is also highly addictive. Ativan’s relatively short half-life means that the effects of the drug are equally short-lived. The combination of a short half-life and the psychoactive effects of Ativan make it very easy to develop an addiction in a short amount of time.

It is been suggested by the Royal College of Psychiatrists that upwards of 40% of all Ativan users who take the drug for more than six weeks will go on to develop an addiction. If you or someone you love is using Ativan, whether recreationally or via a legitimate prescription, please be aware of the symptoms and warning signs that indicate abuse or addiction. They could be lifesaving.

How Does Ativan Work?

Ativan is part of a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. All benzodiazepines are, by design, sedatives. They work by influencing a brain neurotransmitter known as GABA.

Ativan enhances the availability of GABA in the brain. Simultaneously, it also reduces how well the GABA receptor responds to the neurotransmitter. The cumulative effect of both influences is that which causes the drug’s sedative effects. By influencing GABA and its receptor, Ativan causes muscle relaxation, a reduction of stress, drowsiness, and other symptoms.

The sedating nature of this drug makes it a good candidate for treating people suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. It is also helpful for treating seizures to some degree. As a result, it has been used in the past to help control alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, doctors are beginning to see that Ativan and other benzodiazepines may not necessarily be the best choice for alcohol withdrawal.

Ativan Abuse Warnings

It is possible to abuse Ativan without actually being addicted. But heed the warning offered by the Royal College of Psychiatrists: using this drug for 4 to 6 weeks can easily lead to addiction. The key to preventing it is learning to recognise the warning signs of Ativan abuse and seeking treatment accordingly.

Doctors, government agencies, charities, and addiction treatment centres all warn about the dangers of Ativan abuse. They’ve all seen how quickly and profoundly this drug affects both the mind and body to ultimately lead to addiction. As such, it is becoming more common for the medical community to warn doctors not to prescribe Ativan for more than four weeks in total.

If you have taken Ativan by way of prescription, you may have noticed a warning label on the bottle. That label was put there for your good. Pay attention to it. If you are using Ativan recreationally, this guide serves as a warning to you. Ativan is not a drug to be taken lightly. Long-term use could lead to permanent psychological or physical problems. It could even end your life prematurely.

Ativan Abuse Causes

Science is not entirely sure what causes some people to abuse Ativan while others seem to be fine using it on a prescription basis. We do know that Ativan produces feelings of euphoria due to the way it interacts with the brain. These euphoric feelings could have something to do with why some individuals abuse the drug.

It is believed that people with a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviour react differently to euphoric feelings than others without such a disposition. If this theory is proved true, it would explain why addiction tends to run in families. That notwithstanding, there are some individuals who seem to be more easily addicted because the euphoric feelings produced by drugs like Ativan are experienced more intensely.

Beyond genetic predisposition, there could be something to the mechanism behind benzodiazepines in general. The ability of these drugs to induce relaxation could play a role in abuse given that most of us live hectic and harried lifestyles with very little time to rest and relax.

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Ativan Warning Signs & Dangers

Ativan abuse produces certain warning signs that are recognised by professionals. You can learn to recognise them as well. Note that a person displaying any of the warning signs listed in the following two sections is probably someone who is abusing Ativan – at the very least. That person may be on the way to addiction if he or she is not already there.

The Signs of Ativan Dependence and Addiction

Ativan abuse and dependence both have profound impacts on how a person behaves. As such, many of the outward signs of abuse are behavioural. Look for the following warning signs if you suspect abuse or dependence:

  • Taking the drug in ways other than how it has been prescribed
  • Combining Ativan with alcohol or other substances
  • Exhibiting relative calm and relaxation for extended periods of time
  • Slow response times to normal stimuli
  • Loss of coordination and motor skills
  • Reduced concentration
  • An unusual and sustained sense of well-being.

Exhibiting just one or two of these warning signs may indicate Ativan abuse. Exhibiting most of them would indicate potential addiction.

Signs of Chronic Long-Term Abuse of Ativan

Long-term abuse of Ativan creates additional warning signs that you can learn to recognise. For example, gradually taking the drug in greater doses suggests a person has developed a measure of tolerance. Tolerance requires ever greater doses to achieve the same effect.

Other signs of chronic, long-term abuse include:

  • Memory loss and learning difficulties
  • Chronic insomnia despite the drug’s sedating nature
  • Family problems (divorce, violence, etc.)
  • Financial problems as a result of having to finance an addiction
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms between doses
  • Doctor-shopping to procure new prescriptions
  • Loss of employment or dropping out of school.

Signs of Short-Term Abuse of Ativan

Every long-term case of Ativan abuse starts with short-term abuse. The most frequently observed warning signs of short-term abuse include:

  • Taking the drug just to get high
  • Trying to enhance the effects of Ativan with other substances
  • Using Ativan to escape the pressures of life
  • Regular mood swings
  • Unexplained nausea, vomiting, or constipation.

If you notice any of the short- or long-term warning signs of Ativan abuse, do not ignore them. These warning signs are an indication that the user needs professional help immediately.

Ativan Overdose

Despite the safety of Ativan when used according to a doctor’s prescription, it is possible to overdose on this drug by taking too much in too short a time. Since Ativan acts as a central nervous system depressant, it slows down both brain activity and nervous system response. Overdosing can slow the central nervous system to the point of inducing coma or causing death.

Ativan Overdose Symptoms

Learning to recognise the symptoms of Ativan overdose could literally save a life. Those symptoms include:

Overdose symptoms are representative of a serious situation requiring immediate help. If you were to ever to observe them in a loved one using Ativan, calling emergency services would be the best course of action.

Ativan Overdose Treatment

The treatment for Ativan overdose varies from one patient to the next. Doctors have to consider the patient’s overall health, any other substances or medications that may have been taken, and the severity of the symptoms presented. Treatment methods include pumping the stomach, dialysis, and IVs to reduce the chances of dehydration or cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Patients who show continued respiratory problems are normally admitted to the hospital until they can go at least six hours without such problems. If an underlying condition was the original impetus for using Ativan, the hospital admission may be extended in order to treat that condition.

How to Reverse Ativan Overdose

Doctors have two options for reversing the effects of the Ativan overdose. First is using activated charcoal to absorb whatever Ativan remains in the system. This is a common treatment when poison has been ingested, and it is easy to administer. Activated charcoal is taken orally.

The second option is a drug known as flumazenil. This drug is capable of reversing the consequences of Ativan overdose in many cases. Its action as a benzodiazepine receptor antagonist works as an antidote to the properties of Ativan.

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Ativan Withdrawal

Ativan withdrawal can be an unpleasant experience with potentially serious symptoms. As such, it is becoming less common for users to quit cold turkey. Professional treatments are based on a gradual withdrawal model that reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms for a safer, less stressful detox. Users who seek treatment at an outpatient or inpatient rehab clinic will be medically monitored during the entire withdrawal period.

Symptoms of Withdrawal from Ativan

The symptoms of Ativan withdrawal range in intensity from mild to very serious. Early onset symptoms include feelings of anxiety and panic. They are followed by physical symptoms that include headaches, increased heart rate and respiration, sweating, nausea, and vomiting.

Symptoms gradually increased in intensity until they peak somewhere between the 5th and 10th day. They begin to subside after that. In some cases, protracted withdrawal can include more serious symptoms including tremors, memory loss, hallucinations, and even depression. Seizures, coma, and death are always a risk in the most severe cases of protracted withdrawal.

Ativan Withdrawal and Detox

Ativan withdrawal and detox are both necessary to conquer addiction. It is best to undergo withdrawal and detox at a facility staffed by trained doctors and nurses. The average Ativan user can complete detox in 5 to 10 days; others can take as long as 15 days, especially if they must taper more slowly.

Clinics make use of prescription medications and psychotherapeutic treatments to help patients get through safely.

Ativan Treatment and Rehab

Following withdrawal and detox, Ativan treatment transitions into rehab. In the rehab setting, patients are exposed to a range of psychotherapeutic treatments that prepare them to reintegrate into society. Many of the treatments involve counselling therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT). Group therapy and 12-step work are a normal part of treatment as well. Rehab is followed by aftercare as a means of preventing relapse.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much Ativan causes addiction?

As with any drug, it is not so much the amount of Ativan used that leads to addiction. It is the length of time the drug is taken in relation to how readily a person’s body develops tolerance. Even small amounts of the drug can lead to addiction if taken for a long enough period.

How do I recognise Ativan abuse?

Learning and remembering the warning signs listed in this guide will equip you to recognise Ativan abuse in a friend or family member. Note that some of the warning signs are common to all sorts of addictive substances.

When should I seek medical care?

Medical care is appropriate whenever you or someone you know continues to use Ativan for longer than 4 to 6 weeks. You should also seek medical care if you or someone else begins exhibiting any of the warning signs listed in this guide.

How do I get help for Ativan addiction?

Help is available through the NHS by way of your GP. However, a better means of getting help is to contact us so that we can help you locate and enrol in a residential treatment programme. You can contact treatment centres on your own if you wish.

When do Ativan withdrawal symptoms start?

People react to Ativan withdrawal differently. As a general rule, initial onset symptoms begin within 6 to 12 hours of a user’s last dose.

How long does Ativan withdrawal last?

The average Ativan user completes withdrawal within 5 to 10 days. In cases of protracted withdrawal, the process could last from 10 to 15 days. Regardless of how long it takes, note that some patients report lingering symptoms for weeks afterwards.

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