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Ativan (Lorazepam) Abuse & Addiction | Side Effects, Withdrawal Symptoms, & Treatment Options

Published on October 16, 2020
round white pills on a table Ativan Lorazepam

Many people take Ativan to treat anxiety, seizures, or insomnia. Some doctors also use it to help patients cope with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which can include anxiety and seizures.

Unfortunately, when it’s taken for a long time or in a manner not prescribed, Ativan can lead to addiction. If you or a loved one struggles with Ativan addiction, it’s important to seek help from a substance abuse treatment program

What Is Ativan?

Ativan is the brand name for a medication called lorazepam. It belongs to a class of prescription drugs called benzodiazepines (also known as “benzos”). 

Benzodiazepines, which include other popular medications like Xanax and Klonopin, are central nervous system depressants. They work by enhancing the activity of a brain chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA relaxes the muscles and calms the mind. 

The calming effect of Ativan can work well for people who have insomnia, seizures, or mental illnesses like anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Most doctors only prescribe Ativan for short-term or occasional use (such as during a panic attack). That’s because people who take it frequently or for a long time face a higher risk of addiction.

Side Effects Of Ativan

Like all prescription medications, Ativan may cause side effects. The most common side effects of Ativan include:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • muscle weakness
  • memory problems
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • frequent urination or trouble urinating 
  • blurred vision
  • changes in sexual ability or drive

Ativan can also cause more dangerous side effects such as trouble breathing, trouble swallowing, memory loss, and irregular heartbeat. If you experience these or other unusual symptoms, contact your doctor.

Learn more about Ativan Side Effects

Ativan Abuse

Along with calming you down, Ativan can make you feel euphoric or “high.” That’s why some people abuse it.

Ativan abuse occurs when you take the drug in a manner not prescribed. For example, you may:

  • take higher doses than prescribed
  • take it more frequently than prescribed
  • take it for a longer period than prescribed
  • take it with other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids
  • crush the pills and snort them
  • take it without a prescription

Ativan Addiction

Over time, Ativan abuse can lead to addiction, also called substance use disorder (SUD). When you’re addicted, it’s extremely difficult to stop using the medication. Addiction can also occur if your doctor prescribes Ativan for long-term use or at high doses. 

Signs Of Ativan Addiction

If you’re concerned that you or someone you know is abusing or addicted to Ativan, look for the following signs:

  • withdrawing from friends and family members to spend more time getting and using the drug
  • developing a tolerance to the drug (needing higher and higher doses to achieve the desired effects)
  • avoiding responsibilities at work or school
  • visiting multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions of the drug (also called “doctor shopping”)
  • feeling unable to quit the drug despite wanting to
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit the drug

Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms

People who abuse Ativan or take it as prescribed for a long time often develop a physical dependence. This means their bodies depend on the drug to function normally. 

When you try to stop taking it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • depression
  • sweating
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • nausea or vomiting
  • hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feelings things that aren’t there)
  • paranoia
  • hand tremors
  • seizures

Whether you have a prescription for Ativan or not, consult a doctor before you try to stop taking it. They’ll help you gradually reduce your dosage, which will decrease the chance of withdrawal symptoms.

Learn more about Ativan Withdrawal

Can You Overdose on Ativan?

It’s possible to overdose on Ativan if you take a higher dose than you were prescribed or you mix it with other drugs. 

Signs of a benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • severe drowsiness
  • respiratory depression (slow, troubled breathing)
  • confusion
  • low blood pressure
  • slurred speech
  • hallucinations
  • poor coordination
  • poor reflexes
  • coma

If you or someone else shows these signs, call for emergency services immediately. Ativan overdose can result in death.

Learn more about Ativan Overdose

Ativan Addiction Treatment Options

As with all forms of drug abuse, it’s not easy to recover from Ativan abuse or addiction on your own. If you or a loved one is struggling with this medication, turn to a drug addiction treatment center.

Inpatient & Outpatient Treatment Programs

Rehab centers offer inpatient treatment programs for people who have severe addictions and require 24/7 supervision and support. They also offer outpatient programs for those who have milder addictions and strong support systems outside of treatment. 

Both inpatient and outpatient programs allow you to safely detox from Ativan. A team of medical professionals will help you gradually reduce your dosage to prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms.

As you detox, you’ll have access to services that support recovery and prevent relapse. Most treatment centers offer:

  • individual therapy, in which a counselor will help you develop healthy coping skills and manage any mental health disorders you have
  • group therapy, in which you can share experiences and coping tips with people who are going through similar issues
  • healthy activities like journaling, yoga, exercise, and meditation

To learn more about the treatment options available at Ark Behavioral Health, please contact us today. 

Ativan FAQ

What Is The Difference Between Ativan & Xanax?

Although Ativan and Xanax are both benzodiazepines, Xanax tends to be more potent. Xanax has a quicker onset of effects than Ativan and tends to be abused more often. 

Ativan stays in your system longer than Xanax, which makes it slightly safer because you won’t need to take it as often.

Read Ativan Vs. Xanax to learn more

Is It Safe To Take Ativan During Pregnancy?

It is not considered safe to take Ativan or any benzodiazepines while pregnant, unless it is medically necessary. 

Even low doses of Ativan have potential risks for birth defects, like cleft lip and cleft palate. The biggest danger is the baby developing physical dependence in the womb. This can cause severe withdrawal symptoms after the baby is born that can last several months. 

Learn more about Ativan & Pregnancy

How Long Does Ativan Stay In Your System?

Ativan has a half-life of 12 hours and takes about 2.5 days to be eliminated from your body. However, Ativan and its metabolite can take up to 4 days to leave your system. 

Several factors can affect elimination time, including dose, frequency of use, and how long you have been taking it. 

Read How Long Does Ativan Stay In Your System to learn more

Can You Snort Ativan?

Ativan tablets can be snorted if they are crushed into a fine powder and inhaled intranasally. However, these tablets are meant to be taken orally and can have adverse effects on your respiratory system when snorted. 

Snorting is a form of drug abuse and can lead to nasal damage, infections, overdose, and addiction. 

Learn more about Snorting Ativan

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - Benzodiazepines
The Mental Health Clinician: College of Psychiatric & Neurologic Pharmacists - Benzodiazepine Use, Misuse, and Abuse: A Review
U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Lorazepam

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