What Is Ativan (Lorazepam)?

Ativan (lorazepam) is a prescription medication used for the short-term management of anxiety-related symptoms. However, misuse of Ativan — and other benzodiazepines — can be dangerous and life-altering.

This page will explain Ativan uses and side effects, its addiction potential, the side effects of misuse, and how to get help for you or a loved one if you’re struggling with Ativan addiction.

What Is Ativan Used to Treat?

Ativan is a prescription benzodiazepine medication approved for the treatment of symptoms of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.1

Off-label uses (e.g., those not approved by the FDA) include use as a pre-anesthesia sedative, to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and to help treat continuous seizures.2

What Are Ativan Side Effects?

Notwithstanding its usefulness for the disorders it treats, Ativan can have unwanted side effects. Common Ativan side effects include:1

  • Sedation.
  • Weakness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Unsteadiness.

When Ativan is misused, it is often taken more often or in higher doses than recommended.

Misuse commonly occurs in conjunction with other medications, such as opioids, other benzodiazepines, with alcohol, or with heroin or other illicit drugs.1

High dose misuse with other substances is associated with an increased frequency of drug overdose. It can also lead to addiction. Misuse side effects can include:1

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Amnesia.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Impaired concentration and memory.
  • Breathing difficulty.
  • Delirium,
  • Paranoia.
  • Suicidal ideation and behaviors.
  • Seizures.

How Addictive Is Ativan?

Not everyone who uses Ativan will become addicted to it. However, benzodiazepine medications, including Ativan, have a known risk for prescription drug misuse and addiction.1

Ativan is only intended to be used for the short-term management of anxiety symptoms.1

Long-term use or misuse of Ativan can result in a person developing tolerance — a circumstance where there is a diminished response to the drug, and more and more medication is needed to achieve the same effects — and physiological dependence.1

According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, in 2021, 3.9 million people (1.4%) aged 12 years or older misused prescription benzodiazepine medications, with 665,000 (0.2%) misusing lorazepam products like Ativan,and 2.2 million people (0.8%) had a prescription tranquilizer or sedative use disorder.3

Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Addiction

There are 11 diagnostic criteria that qualified healthcare professionals use as part of their assessment to diagnose sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder (the clinical term used for Ativan addiction).

For a person to be diagnosed, they must meet at least two of these criteria with a 12-month period. These include:

  • The sedative (like Ativan) is taken in more significant amounts or for more extended periods than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to stop or cut back sedative use.
  • A significant amount of time is spent getting or using sedatives like Ativan or recovering from the effects of use.
  • Strong urges to use sedatives like Ativan (cravings).
  • Sedative use results in a failure to fulfill significant obligations at home, work, or school (e.g., repeated absences, poor performance, etc.).
  • Continuing to use sedatives despite persistent or recurring interpersonal or social problems caused or worsened by use.
  • Giving up or reducing important social, recreational, or work-related activities due to sedative use.
  • Using sedatives like Ativan in dangerous situations, such as while driving a car.
  • Continuing to use sedatives like Ativan despite knowing its use may have caused or worsened a physical or psychological condition.
  • Experiencing a diminished effect from the same dose of sedatives or needing increasing amounts of Ativan in order to experience the same effect (tolerance). (This criterion doesn’t count toward diagnosis if Ativan is being used as prescribed.)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when sedative use is abruptly cut back or suddenly stopped. (This criterion doesn’t count toward diagnosis if Ativan is being used as prescribed.)

While only certain healthcare professionals can make a diagnosis, understanding the symptoms can be beneficial in getting you or someone you love the help you need.

Ativan Withdrawal Side Effects

The onset of Ativan withdrawal symptoms may begin shortly after the last use. A person who has become dependent on Ativan may experience withdrawal symptoms as quickly as 6-8 hours after their last dose.4

Symptoms generally peak within two-to-three days and improve by the fifth day, on average.4

This timeline, as well as the severity of withdrawal symptoms can be affected by many factors, including the use of other medications or substances.

Ativan withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Autonomic activity (e.g., sweating or pulse rate higher than 100 beats per minute).
  • Hand tremor.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Transient visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations or illusions.
  • Psychomotor agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Grand mal seizures.

Acute withdrawal symptoms from abruptly reducing or stopping Ativan use, particularly seizures, can be life-threatening.

Due to the potential for life-threatening symptoms, a person should not stop using sedatives like Ativan without first talking to their doctor or prescriber.

Many people benefit from a supervised medical detox which can help ensure your health, safety, and comfort.5

In detox, withdrawal symptoms are safely managed, individuals are continually monitored, and they have immediate access to medical care in the event of an emergency.

Ativan Addiction Treatment

While detox is integral to the recovery process, it is not considered sufficient treatment for a person to maintain long-term abstinence.

Individuals can benefit from more comprehensive treatment following detox to help build a strong foundation in recovery.6

If you or someone you care about are struggling with addiction to Ativan and might benefit from Ativan addiction treatment, there is effective evidence-based treatment that can help.

At our inpatient rehab near Tampa, our specialists use addiction-focused healthcare to get you on the road to recovery.

To find out more about the types of addiction treatment available, contact our admissions navigators at 24/7.

They are on hand to answer any of your questions, including how to start treatment, what to expect in rehab, and can give you more information about handling the cost of rehab — including using your insurance to pay for rehab.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
We are here to help you get sober and learn how to stay that way. Retreat to the sunny climate near Tampa, Florida for a stay at the gold standard of treatment facilities. At River Oaks, we offer customized care plans to help you on your recovery journey at our beautiful Hillsborough County campus.