Many people are prescribed Ativan, also known by its generic name, lorazepam, to help manage anxiety and some other conditions. While Ativan can be an effective treatment, it’s also addictive and requires professional treatment to minimize withdrawal issues. Here’s what you should know.
What Is Ativan?
Lorazepam and Ativan are classified as short-acting benzodiazepines, a category of drugs prescribed to induce a calming or tranquilizing effect. WebMD states that benzodiazepines “act on the central nervous system, produce sedation and muscle relaxation, and lower anxiety levels.” Specifically, benzodiazepines like Ativan boost GABA neurotransmitters and “depress the central nervous system,” decreasing brain activity.
This effect is one reason why a physician might prescribe Ativan and lorazepam to help patients with:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- General anxiety disorder
- Inducing amnesia for uncomfortable procedures
- Muscle relaxation
- Panic attacks
- Seizure control
- Surgical procedures requiring anesthesia
Some of these uses are FDA-approved, while others are considered “off-label.” This means the research is inconclusive as to the total effectiveness with certain conditions, but some healthcare providers might have other patients who achieved success with the medication.
How It’s Prescribed
The average dose of Ativan is 0.5–0.6 mg twice daily, depending on the condition. Medical professionals usually reevaluate an individual’s health issue to determine whether continued use of Ativan is necessary. Most patients follow this prescription only for 1–4 months. While considered effective in most cases, especially for general anxiety disorder or insomnia, Ativan is still intended to be a bridge to more effective care.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), this drug is usually prescribed only for short-term use, because “benzodiazepines may produce emotional and/or physical dependence (addiction) even when used as recommended. Physical dependence may develop after 2 or more weeks of daily use.” For this reason, it’s unlikely that a healthcare provider will prescribe Ativan or other short-acting benzodiazepines to someone with a history of drug or alcohol addiction.
NAMI further notes that mixing benzodiazepines like Ativan or lorazepam with alcohol or other drugs is dangerous, producing extreme side effects, overdose, or death by overdose.
Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms
People taking Ativan should follow their healthcare providers’ instructions for gradual withdrawal from the drug before switching or stopping medication. Under no circumstances should a person stop taking the drug suddenly.
Ativan, lorazepam, and other sedative-hypnotic benzodiazepines often have an immediate effect on the brain—for example, easing symptoms of anxiety or insomnia within an hour or two. Consequently, these drugs are classified as controlled substances. Ativan is a controlled substance and classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule IV prescription drug. This means that it has “an accepted medical use but may also cause physical or psychological dependence and may be abused.”
The journal American Family Physician (AFP) indicates how vital it is for individuals to follow a plan to taper off this medication gradually as directed by their physician, especially if they took it for a long time or at higher doses. This helps minimize Ativan withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Additional anxiety symptoms
- Excessive sweating
- Memory problems
- Trouble sleeping
These symptoms might appear in as little as 24 hours, and last for up to two weeks. Your healthcare provider may recommend a period of several weeks to slowly reduce dependency and the impact of withdrawal symptoms.
AFP also states that people with more severe Ativan dependence can experience even more dire symptoms, especially if they stop abruptly. They include:
- Panic attacks
Another concerning symptom of stopping suddenly is depression, whether diagnosed or emerging, as well as a rebound effect of anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions the medication was designed to treat. One person with Ativan dependency shares her story on The Fix.
Long-term or illicit use also significantly compounds withdrawal effects, as will mixing Ativan or lorazepam with alcohol and other drugs.
Ativan Addiction Treatment
If someone experiences intense withdrawal symptoms or overdose due to Ativan, professional treatment is necessary to help reduce reliance on the drug and stabilize neurotransmitters. In some circumstances, a medically-supervised detoxification may also be required.
Then, a specialized Ativan addiction treatment plan using other modalities helps a person create lifelong wellness. Such modalities include but are not limited to:
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- 12-Step recovery programs
- Methods to improve sleep hygiene
- Urge surfing to manage stress
- Other stress management techniques
Twin Lakes Recovery Center Can Help
Prescription drug addiction is a valid concern, but one that can be overcome with proper individualized treatment and dedicated care. To learn more about how our board-certified medical professionals can help you, talk to a member of our admissions team, day or night.