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Ativan Misuse and Addiction

Ativan is a widely prescribed drug for the treatment of anxiety and other psychiatric problems.1 However, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 18% of individuals exposed to benzodiazepines, a class of drug that includes Ativan, misuse them.1 With proper diagnosis and benzodiazepine addiction treatment, people can learn to overcome Ativan misuse and addiction.

In this article, we will delve further into what Ativan is and provide information about misuse, addiction, dependence, and Ativan withdrawal. We will also cover benzodiazepine overdose symptoms, as well as provide information about Ativan treatment and how to start your recovery journey today.

What Is Ativan?

Ativan is the brand name for lorazepam, a medication that belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines.2 Benzodiazepines are medications that slow down brain activity, which makes them effective in treating anxiety and sleep problems.3 Ativan is available in oral tablets or injection form at different doses.2

What Is Ativan Used For?

Ativan is typically prescribed to treat conditions like anxiety and insomnia, as well as sleep difficulty caused by anxiety or stress.2 In some cases, benzodiazepines like Ativan may also be prescribed to treat the symptoms of moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal, such as seizures.2 Other benzodiazepines commonly prescribed for similar issues include alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium), or triazolam (Helicon).3

An Overview of Ativan Misuse and Addiction

Approximately 2% of the U.S. population engages in misuse of benzodiazepines such as Ativan.1 Research indicates that most people take these medications as prescribed, but for those who are exposed to them, misuse of benzodiazepines such as Ativan is substantial, with a prevalence rate of about 18%.1

Examples of non-medical use of benzodiazepines might be to feel good or produce desired effects, to boost or enhance the effects of opioids or alcohol, or out of curiosity or social pressure.1,4

Researchers have found that people who misuse benzodiazepines also misuse other drugs at a higher rate, particularly opioids.1 The reinforcing effects of opioids are increased when combined with benzodiazepines.1 Simultaneous use, such as taking benzodiazepines with substances such as opioids or alcohol, is known as polysubstance use. Research also indicates that individuals with a history of alcohol use disorder are more likely to misuse benzodiazepines like Ativan.1

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder where a person seeks out and uses drugs or alcohol despite the negative effects they may have on a person’s life or well-being.4 Misuse can become an addiction when someone has been taking substances for recreational or non-medical use, and over time, repeated substance use has changed the function and structure of the brain, impairing the ability to exercise self-control.4

When someone is experiencing addiction, this typically means that misuse of the drug has resulted in behavioral changes, which may include compulsive drug-seeking and use despite the negative consequences it has had in their life.4 No single factor can determine if a person will become addicted to Ativan or any other drug. Rather, a person may be more vulnerable to developing addiction because of several increased risk factors, such as exposure to drugs at an early age.4 Addictions are diagnosed clinically as substance use disorders (SUDs), with signs and symptoms varying by person, drug of choice, and other factors.

Signs of Ativan Misuse and Addiction

The specific symptoms a person who has a SUD may experience can vary based on individual factors. In general, though, the number of presenting symptoms can indicate the level of severity, with more symptoms tending to mean a more severe addiction. Only a medical or mental health professional can diagnose a SUD. If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use problem, such as Ativan addiction, reaching out to your healthcare provider for more information is a good first step.

The clinical term for Ativan addiction is a sedative use disorder. Some of the symptoms and signs of Ativan addiction and a sedative use disorder according to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) can include:5

  • Experiencing a problematic pattern of sedative use that leads to significant impairment or distress in your daily life, lasting 1 year or longer.
  • Taking the drug for longer or in larger amounts than you originally intended.
  • Trying and failing multiple times to cut down or quit using the drug.
  • Spending a lot of time trying to get sedatives, use them, or recover afterward.
  • Using the drug despite noticing negative consequences in your life at work, school, or home.
  • Giving up activities that you once enjoyed because of your substance use.
  • Using the drug despite experiencing negative physical or psychological effects on your health.

Sedative use disorder is often associated with other substance use disorders, including alcohol, cannabis, opioid, and stimulant use disorders. Benzodiazepines like Ativan are often used to boost the effects of opioids or other sedating substances like alcohol. Ativan may also be used to alleviate the unwanted effects of other substances.

Effects of Ativan Use

There are several effects of benzodiazepine use, some that can be potentially dangerous to your health. When someone has misused benzodiazepines, they can appear intoxicated in a very similar way to someone who has over-consumed alcohol. Some of the short-term health effects of misusing Ativan may include:3

  • Drowsiness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Dizziness.
  • Problems with movement and memory.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slowed breathing.

In rare cases, some people may also experience unusual behaviors while asleep, such as driving, making phone calls, or preparing or eating food.2 Sometimes, upon awakening, the person has no memory of what happened while they were asleep.2

Other less common side effects that can be dangerous if not treated include shortness of breath, difficulty speaking, extreme fatigue or dizziness, or even loss of consciousness.2 Serious psychological side effects like severe depression, thoughts of harming oneself, or lack of interest or enjoyment in daily life may also occur in rare cases.2

Ativan Dependence and Withdrawal

Ativan dependence occurs after you have taken the drug regularly for a sustained period of time, over several weeks, though it may occur sooner in those misusing it at high doses. Physiological dependence is a natural biological consequence of regularly taking certain medications.6 Dependence occurs when the body adapts to the continued presence of a substance, and when you stop taking it or cut back significantly, withdrawal symptoms can occur.6

Withdrawal symptoms are similar to that of alcohol withdrawal and can include serious symptoms such as convulsions, seizures, or delirium.7 Because severe withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, it is important to seek medical attention if you believe you are experiencing Ativan withdrawal.

Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms

Ativan withdrawal occurs when someone who is dependent on Ativan abruptly stops taking the drug or cuts back significantly. Symptoms of Ativan withdrawal may include:7

  • Headache.
  • Anxiety.
  • Tension.
  • Dizziness.
  • Derealization or depersonalization.
  • Confusion.
  • Irritability.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Hallucinations or delirium.
  • Cardiovascular symptoms like palpitations or tachycardia (rapid heart rate).
  • Short-term memory loss.
  • Drastically elevated body temperature.

How Long Does Ativan Withdrawal Last?

The timeline of Ativan withdrawal can vary significantly based on multiple factors, including other drugs a person takes, how much Ativan a person regularly takes, and other individual biological factors. In general, withdrawal symptoms can start between 24 hours and 7 days after last use.8 Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks on average.8

Ativan Overdose

If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing an Ativan overdose, call 911 or poison control immediately to ensure urgent emergency medical attention.

Some Ativan overdose symptoms include confusion, impaired coordination, slow reflexes, and coma.2 When ingested alone, benzodiazepine overdose rarely leads to death. However, polysubstance use, such as taking Ativan and alcohol at the same time, may be dangerous because of how it increases the sedative effects of the substance.2

Combining opioids and benzodiazepines can be particularly dangerous as concurrent use can increase risk of overdose because both types of drugs can suppress breathing—the cause of overdose fatality—in addition to over-sedation and impairing cognitive functions.9 Research shows that people who use opioids and benzodiazepines concurrently are at higher risk of visiting the emergency department, being admitted to a hospital for a drug-related emergency, and dying of drug overdose.9

In the case of a benzodiazepine overdose, the medication flumazenil (Romazicon) can be administered via IV by a physician.2 This drug reverses the sedative and overdose effects of benzodiazepines, but not the effects of alcohol or other sedative-hypnotics. If opioids were used, administration of naloxone, a medicine that’s available over the counter at drug stores, may help to return a person’s breathing but still requires medication attention.10

Treatment for Ativan Addiction

Ativan addiction treatment can vary based on the needs of the patient. In general, the process may start with medical detoxification, followed by rehab, and then aftercare services. Some of the services and settings of care included in addiction treatment may include:11,12

  • Detoxification. Medical detox is supervised withdrawal from substance use, in which a team of medical professionals treats the symptoms of withdrawal to get you ready to start clinical treatment for substance use.
  • Inpatient addiction treatment. This involves 24/7 care in a hospital or clinic setting. It is designed for those with medical or mental health concerns who need around-the-clock monitoring and treatment.
  • Outpatient addiction treatment. In an outpatient program, you receive treatment during the day while living on your own the rest of the time. Treatment frequency and length can vary.
  • Behavioral therapy. This involves attending sessions with a licensed mental health professional in an individual, group, or family format. It intends to help you to gain insight into your substance use and learn strategies to resist cravings and urges.
  • Support groups. Intended to add a layer of community support, these self-help groups are facilitated by peers who are also in recovery from substance use.
  • Relapse prevention. Treatment that focuses on learning and practicing skills to refuse drugs or alcohol and prevent relapse in sobriety.
  • Aftercare. Sometimes called continuing care, aftercare begins after treatment has been completed. It is typically offered during early sobriety as part of a support group.

Start Your Recovery Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with Ativan addiction, help is available. Attending detox and transitioning to a treatment program can help you learn skills to maintain your recovery long-term.

Start the process today by finding treatment options near you using the treatment directory online tool, which allows you to compare different programs in your area. Another option is to call American Addiction Centers (AAC) at any time to speak with a helpful admissions navigator or use AAC’s “verify insurance” tool to learn more about using health insurance to pay for rehab.

If you’re uninsured, you may be asking yourself, “How can I go to rehab without insurance?” There are other options to pay for rehab. To learn more, contact AAC by phone or online today. Don’t hesitate–start your recovery journey today.

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