Ativan (lorazepam) Abuse & Side Effects

brain effects of ativan abuseThe Physician’s Desk Reference describes Ativan, also known by its generic name lorazepam, as a medication used to manage anxiety, whether it is due to an anxiety disorder, depression, or short-term anxiety symptoms. A member of the benzodiazepine family, Ativan is classified as a Schedule IV drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, meaning that it is considered to have a low potential for abuse. The medication is sometimes used to treat epilepsy, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Ativan, however, can also be used recreationally. The National Alliance on Mental Illness warns that even with short-term use, individuals can become dependent on or addicted to Ativan due to its high potency.

According to the DEA, in 2011, there were 49 million prescriptions written for Ativan, making it one of the three most commonly used benzodiazepines in the United States.

How Ativan Works?

Ativan works by slowing down certain processes in the brain and nervous system, which provides a calming effect. Ativan has a short half-life, meaning that it leaves the body quickly, which can easily lead to physical dependence or addiction. Physicians usually prescribe Ativan for short periods of time to lower the risk of this dependence occurring.

Individuals are at risk for developing a tolerance to Ativan quickly, meaning that they will need to increase the dose taken in order to achieve the same effects. Those taking Ativan via a legitimate prescription should never attempt to up their dosage without consulting their doctor.

Ativan, like other medications, produces side effects. Some of these effects can include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Weakness

Physical Dependence on Ativan

Physical dependence on a drug can occur if it is taken for an extended period of time. This can lead individuals who have become dependent to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using Ativan, even if they only stop for a short period of time. Some of the withdrawal symptoms that are related to Ativan include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

The severity and duration of the withdrawal symptoms will be directly related to the individual’s pattern of use. However, Psychology Today states that withdrawal symptoms can last up to six months or even longer.

Abuse and Addiction

ativan abuse and addiction

Abuse of a drug is defined by Medline Plus as taking a drug at a higher dose than prescribed, taking it more frequently than prescribed, and/or taking it for a longer period of time than prescribed. If individuals take Ativan simply to get high, that is most certainly considered abuse. Some people choose to abuse the medication due to the calm, euphoric feelings it can cause.

Individuals may exhibit various signs of Ativan abuse or addiction. Some of these signs include taking the drug outside of the parameters of the prescription, failing to meet work or familial obligations, and choosing to abuse Ativan rather than engaging in activities that used to be enjoyed.

As the addiction progresses, the person may begin to experience strain in personal relationships, financial issues, and health problems.

Some individuals choose to combine Ativan with alcohol to enhance the relaxing effects of the medication. This is incredibly dangerous, as alcohol can further depress the respiratory system, causing loss of consciousness or even death. Some individuals may also use Ativan with stimulants such as cocaine, in order to counteract the effects of the stimulant. As with any polydrug abuse, the effects of each substance can be compounded, amplifying the risks involved.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that in 2008, there were 60,200 admissions to licensed treatment facilities related to the nonmedical use of benzodiazepines. While addiction to Ativan, like addiction to any benzodiazepine, can be severe, full recovery can be achieved with comprehensive care. A high-quality treatment program should include medical detox, individual and complementary therapies, and a complete aftercare plan.

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