Ativan (lorazepam) is the brand name for a prescription medication that belongs to a group of central nervous system (CNS) anti-anxiety depressants known as benzodiazepines (benzos). Ativan can be prescribed for several medical purposes, including for the treatment of anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, muscle spasms, insomnia, and seizure disorders.
Despite its many applications, Ativan can be habit-forming, particularly if misused without a prescription or in doses more frequently or in greater amounts than directed by a doctor. Over an extended period, Ativan can adversely impact a person’s emotional and physical health and overall quality of life.
Long-term abuse of Ativan can lead to the following side effects:
- Sedation and lethargy
- Fatigue and weakness
- Confusion and disorientation
- Memory impairments
- Learning impairments
- Mouth sores
- Abdominal bleeding
- Kidney problems
- Loss of appetite
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Pale or bluish skin (cyanosis)
- Dependence and withdrawal
In severe cases, the social effects of long-term Ativan use may include family conflicts and relationship strain leading to estrangement or divorce. Other possible adverse consequences include financial or legal issues and challenges with maintaining employment.
Effects on the Body
Like other benzos, Ativan is a CNS depressant that reduces brain activity. For this reason, Ativan helps relieve anxiety symptoms, such as tension, restlessness, agitation, irrational fears, and panic attacks. It can also help prevent seizures and induce sleep.
However, within just a few weeks of regular use, the CNS will grow accustomed to the presence of Ativan, and tolerance to the drug’s actions on the brain and body begin to develop. This condition requires the individual to use ever-increasing doses of the drug to achieve sought-after effects, including feelings of calm and relaxation. With prolonged use, the person can become dependent on Ativan, thus requiring the drug to function both mentally and physically.
Recreational or non-medical use of Ativan significantly increases the risk of dependence and addiction. But even a person who takes Ativan as prescribed by a doctor can become dependent on the drug over time. For this reason, lorazepam and other benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for relatively brief periods.
One of Ativan abuse’s most significant risks is the possibility that dependence can progress into full-blown addiction, which is further hallmarked by a psycho-emotional compulsion to seek and use drugs despite the incurrence of adverse outcomes.
Although Ativan does not usually produce severe suppression of the respiratory system, a life-threatening overdose can occur when the medication is used in conjunction with other CNS depressants. For example, mixing Ativan with alcohol or opioids significantly increases the risk of severe respiratory depression, overdose, brain damage, and death.
Ativan abuse can provoke problematic changes in an individual’s behavior. Important responsibilities and favorite activities may fall to the wayside as obtaining and using the medication become a priority.
Common behavioral signs of Ativan misuse may include the following:
- Reduced interest or pleasure in activities once deemed meaningful or enjoyable
- Avoidance of social events and withdrawal from family relationships
- Sleeping excessively
- Unusual irritability, agitation, or anxiety
- Confused, tired appearance
- Neglect of personal hygiene and grooming
- Borrowing or stealing money or other items
- Being secretive and deceptive about one’s activities
- Reduced performance at work or school
Drug-seeking behaviors are prevalent among persons who abuse prescription drugs, such as Ativan. These behaviors may include visiting multiple doctors, exaggerating or lying about certain symptoms, and forging prescriptions. Formerly honest, well-meaning individuals can begin engaging in unethical behaviors, such as lying, stealing, or selling drugs, due to addiction’s impact on their mental and emotional health.
After someone has been using Ativan for a prolonged period, they may experience a reemergence and of symptoms that used to be relieved by the drug, such as anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. These rebound effects can also occur during withdrawal when the person tries to stop using Ativan or dramatically cut back.
Additional signs of withdrawal may include:
- Stomach pain
Withdrawal from Ativan without medical supervision can be dangerous, especially for chronic or heavy users. Discontinuing use of the drug suddenly or “cold turkey” can provoke potentially fatal seizures, not unlike delirium tremens, an extreme outcome of alcohol withdrawal. The safest and most effective method of withdrawing from Ativan is by undergoing medical detox, a process in which individuals are monitored as they are weaned off the drug, and it is cleared from their system.
Getting Treatment for Ativan Addiction
Medical detox provides a structured, supportive environment where persons are kept medically stable until they are ready to begin the more intensive work required for recovery, such as that which is characteristic of a long-term, intensive substance abuse treatment program.
Although prolonged Ativan abuse can take a severe toll on a person’s physical and emotional well-being, it’s never too late to get help for addiction. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer multifaceted rehab programs, including a full range of therapeutic services, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support.