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Ativan Addiction & Abuse

Written by Abby Doty

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Last Updated - 6/17/2022

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All across America, substance abuse is a significant issue. In many cases, it isn’t just illegal substances like heroin and crack cocaine causing problems. Millions of Americans are struggling with addiction to prescription drugs. A legitimate prescription from a physician may lead to a severe addiction with some of the more habit-forming medications.

One such medication is a benzodiazepine, or benzo, called Ativan. Ativan is the brand name for the drug lorazepam. Like XanaxValium and Klonopin, Ativan is typically prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. It may also be prescribed to treat seizure disorders.

What Is Ativan Used For?

Ativan is FDA-approved to treat multiple conditions, including anxiety disorders and seizures. Doctors will also sometimes prescribe it off-label to treat other conditions. Ativan is one of the most commonly prescribed benzos: in 2019 alone, more than 2.8 million Americans filled an Ativan prescription.

Is Ativan Addictive?

As a Schedule IV controlled substance, Ativan carries a risk of abuse, addiction and dependence. To reduce your risk of becoming addicted to Ativan, it is important to take the medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Taking it more often than prescribed, taking a higher dose than prescribed or taking Ativan that has not been prescribed to you can increase your risk of developing an Ativan addiction.

Signs that a person may be developing an Ativan addiction include:

  • Changes in sleep
  • Spending excessive time trying to obtain Ativan
  • Seeking out different doctors or pharmacies to get Ativan
  • Exaggerating symptoms to try to get Ativan
  • Stealing or lying to obtain Ativan

Ativan Addiction Statistics

Benzo addiction, including Ativan addiction, impacts many Americans. Some data about benzo and Ativan addiction include:

  • About 20% of total benzo use qualifies as misuse, or taking the drug other than how it is prescribed
  • Roughly 2.1% of U.S. adults misused benzos, and 0.2% meet the criteria for having a benzo use disorder.
  • Among those who are prescribed benzos, 17.1% misuse the drugs and less than 2% have a benzo use disorder.
  • Most benzo misusers get the drugs from friends or relatives, and only 20% get them from a doctor.
  • 46.3% of people who misuse benzos state that they do so to relax
  • 22.4% of those who misuse benzos do so to fall asleep
  • Adults aged 50 and older are more likely to abuse benzos than younger adults

Ativan Side Effects

Those who use Ativan may experience a variety of physical and psychological effects. Some of the side effects associated with Ativan include:

  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • Sluggishness
  • Sleeping for long periods of time
  • Feelings of elation
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory problems
  • Headache
  • Difficulty concentrating

Long-term Ativan use can cause additional side effects and risks. Studies have shown that long-term benzo use is linked to:

  • Hip fracture
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Cognitive impairment

Ativan and Alcohol

Ativan should not be mixed with alcohol. Both substances are central nervous system depressants, and using them together can increase the risk of side effects like:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired thinking and judgment

Although taking benzos on their own is less likely to cause potentially fatal slowed breathing, using alcohol alongside benzos can increase the risk of an overdose and slowed breathing.

Ativan Overdose

An Ativan overdose is a medical emergency. Often, a person overdosing on Ativan will also have taken other substances, which increases the chances of complications, including slowed breathing and death. This is especially true of central nervous system depressants like opioids — Ativan carries a Boxed Warning against use with opioids for this reason. As such, it is important to seek medical attention right away if you suspect someone has taken too much Ativan.

Signs of an Ativan overdose include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems
  • Changes in mental status
  • Slowed breathing, if taken along with other substances like opioids or alcohol

Ativan Withdrawal

When you become physically dependent on a substance like Ativan, suddenly stopping it can cause you to go into withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs when your brain and body expect the presence of a substance but are no longer getting it. This can cause various uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms.

Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms

Typical Ativan withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid pulse
  • Hand tremor
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures

Ativan withdrawal symptoms often start six to eight hours after the last dose, peak on the second day and improve after the fourth or fifth day. However, it is important to note that benzo withdrawal symptoms, in general, can wax and wane during withdrawal and don’t steadily improve. Risk factors for withdrawal symptoms include long-term use and high Ativan doses.

Ativan Detox

Attempting to wean yourself off Ativan can be dangerous. Because Ativan withdrawal can cause dangerous symptoms like seizures, it is safest to undergo a medically supervised detox when you stop taking the medication, especially if you take a high dose or have been taking the drug for a long time.

In a medically supervised detox setting, doctors and nurses can treat any withdrawal symptoms as they arise to keep you as comfortable and safe as possible. In some cases, you may be converted to a longer-acting benzo like Valium and then have the dose slowly tapered down.

Ativan Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with Ativan addiction, it is important that you reach out and receive treatment. The Recovery Village Ridgefield has both inpatient and outpatient programs available for this purpose. As a number of the healthcare professionals and addiction experts on our staff are in recovery from addiction themselves, they can relate to your experience.

You don’t have to allow Ativan to control your life. Ativan addiction treatment is available. Convenient to the areas of Seattle, Washington; Tacoma, Washington; Eugene, Oregon and Portland, Oregon, The Recovery Village Ridgefield offers medically assisted detox, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and aftercare programs for long-term recovery. Give us a call today, and begin your path to recovery.


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