Ativan is the brand name for a drug that contains lorazepam, which belongs to a class of drugs termed benzodiazepines. Doctors usually prescribe Ativan to treat excessive anxiety in the short-term. It can also treat continuous seizures and, it is sometimes administered right before anesthesia. In addition, benzodiazepines can be used to treat insomnia, as well as the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), lorazepam works by increasing sensitivity of the brain to a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA is a nerve-calming agent, which means it reduces nerve activity in the brain and can promote feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. With continued Ativan use, the brain adjusts to this medicated state, and even individuals who take lorazepam as directed by a doctor can develop a dependence on, and subsequent addiction to, it.
According to a review originally published in JAMA Psychiatry, approximately 5.2 percent of adults in America between the ages of 18 and 80 used benzodiazepines in 2008. Because Ativan is widely available, it is also widely abused. People abuse Ativan by:
- Taking it without a prescription
- Taking it in larger doses or more frequently than prescribed
- Taking it in a delivery method other than prescribed, like snorting or injecting it
- Using it for nonmedical reasons or for the sole purpose of getting high
- Mixing it with other substances to enhance its effects
People who abuse Ativan may either begin by taking it as prescribed or obtain the drug illegally from the start. Regardless of why someone takes Ativan, the body can build up a tolerance to it fairly quickly. That means people who use lorazepam on a consistent basis will need to gradually increase their dosage to feel the same initial effects. Keeping up with a growing tolerance, especially without the help of a doctor, is incredibly dangerous and can quickly lead to dependence.
Anyone can develop an addiction to Ativan, but naturally, those who have easier access to it may be more at risk. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that in 2011, more than 27 million lorazepam prescriptions were dispensed in the United States. Doctors who prescribe Ativan monitor their patients closely for signs of dependence and addiction, but the signs are not always glaringly apparent.
Abusing Ativan is dangerous, and if loved ones suspect an individual of doing so, it is important to offer support and encourage the person to enter treatment. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, there were more than 900,000 emergency department visits from 2005 to 2011 that involved benzodiazepines alone or in combination with other substances.
Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Abuse
If a loved one frequently exhibits the physical side effects most commonly associated with Ativan, it could be a sign of abuse. Some common side effects of taking Ativan are:
- Slowed reaction time
- Slowed breathing
- Mood swings or changes in personality
- Rash or skin irritation
- Memory impairment
In addition, there are also certain behaviors that could indicate an addiction is developing. These include:
- Stealing and lying to obtain more Ativan
- Visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to get multiple prescriptions for Ativan
- Acting in a reclusive manner
- Exhibiting poor judgment
- Lashing out at others
- Making poor financial decisions
- Struggling to maintain relationships
- Falling behind at school or work
Ativan addiction can affect an individual’s life in a number of ways, and the longer the addiction goes on, the higher the chance that serious repercussions will occur. According to the US National Library of Medicine, a substance use disorder can result in depression, unemployment, failed relationships and a number of health problems. For example, if individuals opt for injecting Ativan, they risk HIV and hepatitis B or C from sharing needles.
Because of the dangers of addiction, it is only natural for family members to want to help. Luckily, there are many effective ways to treat Ativan addiction.
The first phase of treatment for Ativan abuse is detox. Individuals who have developed a dependence on lorazepam will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it, but a detox program can help them manage those symptoms and come out on the other side ready to face recovery. It is important to remember that benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, so an individual should never attempt to quit taking Ativan without the help of trained medical professionals.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, withdrawal symptoms for Ativan typically peak within 2-4 days of the last dose because it is a short-acting benzodiazepine. Individuals may experience headache and nausea within the first 24 hours of withdrawal, followed by anxiety, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure. When symptoms peak, individuals may have tremors, irritability and cravings. Physical symptoms typically start to subside 8-10 days after the last dose, and within two weeks, the acute withdrawal period is over. People who attempt to quit Ativan cold turkey without the help of a doctor risk having seizures and other potentially fatal complications.
In many instances, physicians may switch patients onto a long-acting benzodiazepine and then taper the person’s dose from there. This gradual weaning process makes for a smoother withdrawal process and lessens the likelihood of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.
Recovering from Ativan Addiction
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for Ativan addiction, but a growing body of research indicates that many individuals enter a successful recovery period with the help of therapy. A quality treatment program will offer a variety of different types of therapy, like Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, family therapy, and group sessions. Individuals who started taking Ativan for legitimate medical reasons will also need to find a suitable replacement medication for their original condition while in treatment.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Motivational Interviewing attempts to foster positive changes in a client’s life by addressing the ambivalence that developed as the addiction grew stronger. Clients who actively engage in Motivational Interviewing can identify their intrinsic motivations and harness the power of their passions to change their lives for the better.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another popular therapy used in addiction treatment. During CBT, clients are encouraged to explore the relationship between their thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Their therapist helps them uncover and identify positive thought patterns so they can implement them during the recovery process and overcome the negative thought patterns that contributed to the addiction.
Treatment for Ativan addiction does not end when the structured treatment program does. Clients who attend support groups during and after treatment may find it easier to stay in recovery. For many, support groups are an essential component of maintaining sobriety, and individuals often get helpful guidance and direction from their peers.
Overcoming Ativan addiction is a long journey, and each phase has its own challenges, but with a strong support structure and the right treatment approach, it is possible to stop abusing Ativan for good.