Ativan (lorazepam) Addiction and Abuse

Ativan (lorazepam) is an anxiety medication often prescribed to help people feel calmer and relaxed. Lorazepam is part of a class of substances known as benzodiazepines, which affect the central nervous system, including the brain and nerves. If an individual takes Ativan for a long period of time, the  potential for misuse increases. Ativan is strong and fast-acting, and long term misuse could result in building a tolerance and dependence to Ativan. Ativan addiction is a very serious disorder. Ativan is designed to help people with the symptoms of short-term anxiety and is not necessarily meant for long-term use because it has the potential to be habit-forming.

What is Ativan?

Ativan is a powerful anti-anxiety medication that is part of a class of substances called benzodiazepines. These psychoactive drugs are used primarily in the treatment of anxiety but may also be used to treat panic disorders, seizures, insomnia and trouble sleeping. In some cases, benzodiazepines can also be used for anesthesia, sedation before surgery or medical procedures, muscle relaxation, withdrawal from alcohol and drugs, nausea, vomiting and depression.

Other benzodiazepines include Valium, Xanax and Ambien. Also often called benzos, this class of substances have hypnotic, sedative and anti-anxiety properties. They work to impact the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter, controlling the neurons that contribute to anxiety and stress.

An Ativan contains either 0.5 mg, 1 mg  or 2 mg of lorazepam, and also inactive ingredients including monohydrate, magnesium stearate and microcrystalline cellulose. This class of drugs is synthetically made and has a particular chemical structure and makeup. In general, benzodiazepines work by improving the efficiency of GABA, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain. In reduces the communication between neurons, which is how the calming effect occurs.

Is Ativan Addictive?

Ativan (lorazepam) is extremely addictive, and because of how habit-forming it can be, as well as how potent and fast-acting it is, it’s not often prescribed for use for more than a few months at a time. The maximum period it’s prescribed to patients for use is about four months.

What Causes Ativan Addiction and Dependence?

Ativan is very potent, even when compared to other benzodiazepines, which is why individuals who are taking it, even when it’s prescribed, have a higher likelihood of quickly developing a tolerance to it , which is one of the contributing factors to its high addiction potential. Because of that potency, withdrawal from Ativan can lead to intense withdrawal cravings compared to when people quit taking other benzodiazepines.

Individuals may think that if they take a very small does of Ativan, such as 0.5 mg, they don’t have the same potential of becoming addicted as someone who is prescribed a larger dose — but this isn’t necessarily true. Everyone’s body is different and because the substance is so potent, there is the possibility of Ativan addiction developing even while prescribed a smaller dose.

Ativan Addiction Sign, Symptoms, and Effects

Sometimes it can be difficult to spot outward signs that a person is using or misusing Ativan (lorazepam). It becomes more challenging to recognize whether or not someone is on Ativan the more they use it because their body becomes so used to the substance that it allows them to function normally, whereas if they stopped taking it, the lack of substance would actually be what causes a variety of the visible side effects.

In some cases, there may be some outward signs that a person is on Ativan, or is misusing it, particularly if they take high doses. Some of the signs of Ativan misuse may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite

Ativan addiction behavior often becomes similar to the addiction behaviors seen with the misuse of other drugs. For example, if someone has a prescription for Ativan that person may start taking more of the substance than they’re supposed to, or they may start taking doses more often that their prescription indicates. When someone  misuses a substance, including Ativan, they may also become preoccupied with misusing the drug and how to secure more of it.

When someone misuses Ativan, they may become elusive, and they may lose interest in things they were previously interested in their life. For example, people on Ativan might not meet school, professional or social obligations.

When an individual is dependent on Ativan,they can experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea and anxiety if they miss a dose, or if they don’t take enough. They’ll also have acquired a tolerance, so they’ll need to take more for the desired effects they want. Cravings are an indication of psychological dependence, and these cravings can interfere with responsibilities and relationships.

People who misuse Ativan may start to withdraw from their life, and they might also start lying or stealing to support their addiction.

Behavioral Symptoms of Ativan (lorazepam) Abuse

When an individual develops an Ativan (lorazepam) addiction, there are going to be concurrent behaviors that are uncharacteristic for this person. If a person is misusing a substance, they are going to have less time and energy as a result.

Because Ativan is a prescription drug,doctor shopping” may be a main behavioral symptom. Doctor shopping refers to when an individual will go to one or more doctor (even traveling great distances to do so) to get more than one prescription within the same time frame. The person will then have to fill the prescriptions at different pharmacies. In the past, there was no definitive prescription monitoring system in the United States. Many states are working on implementing these systems, and some have already done so.

Additional behavioral signs include uncharacteristic run-ins with law enforcement. For example, if individuals misuse Ativan and drive, they can face a DUI charge if they are pulled over by the police. In some individuals, Ativan may cause aggressive behavior, and this risk is amplified if alcohol or other substances are simultaneously misused. Assaults, fights or altercations can lead to legal troubles as well.

Individuals who become addicted to Ativan (lorazepam) may begin to steal items in order to finance their addiction, as well as to cover their essentials and bills. Ativan addiction is not only expensive, but it can cause a person to lose their job. Individuals who turn to stealing may have already exhausted all of their personal financial assets, which can include paychecks, disability checks, government assistance, money in checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit and pension plans. Even if these assets may have taken years of careful planning to accumulate, an Ativan addiction can rid them all away. Another behavioral sign related to strained finances is a person uncharacteristically borrowing money from friends, family and coworkers.

Treatment for Ativan (lorazepam) Addiction

Not all addictions are the same, nor are all the people who have addictions. For example, a person with an addiction to Ativan (lorazepam) or another type of benzodiazepine isn’t going to have the same experiences or needs of someone who’s dependent on alcohol or opioids. People with varying addictions should not be treated the same way. For the best results, individual treatment plans should be established and maintained, which is the primary focus of the treatment process at The Recovery Village.

The Recovery Village is a treatment facility with intensive residential inpatient treatment programs for people with Ativan addictions, as well as other addictions. In addition to inpatient residential programs, other treatment solutions offered by The Recovery Village involve outpatient care, partial hospitalization (PHP), family programs and aftercare.

When someone comes to a rehab facility with an addiction to Ativan, the first step is to assess them and determine whether or not they require a medical detox, and if so, what their levels of care will be during that detox. Medically supervised detox is a critical component of treating an Ativan addiction because, without it, the results can be dangerous or deadly. Withdrawal from Ativan can lead to symptoms of withdrawal that range from headaches and nausea to seizures and psychosis, which is why medical supervision is essential. This also provides the foundation on which the rest of treatment will be built, and many of the initial steps of recovery can begin during the medical detox phase.

Once a detox program is completed clients can then move to other programs, which in many  cases involving severe addiction problems is to the residential inpatient treatment program. Some of the elements of Ativan (lorazepam) dependency treatment that may occur in a residential inpatient program include:

  • In-depth evaluation and treatment planning tailored to the individual
  • Constant supervision from the nursing staff
  • Meeting with a psychiatric care provider at least once a week
  • Group therapy sessions
  • Continual review of treatment and objectives
  • Individual therapy
  • Recreational therapy
  • Speciality group therapy with focuses like substance misuse, the 12-step program, and grief and loss
  • Aftercare and discharge planning

The unique component of Ativan addiction treatment at The Recovery Village is the fact that treatment is holistic and considers every element of the person being treated, through an individualized lens.

Ativan (lorazepam) Addiction and Abuse Statistics

The misuse of prescription substances in the United State, including benzodiazepines, has been on the rise in recent years, as have trips to the hospital and overdose deaths related to these drugs, including Ativan. According to statistics, prescriptions are also getting stronger, and many of the deaths that occur and are related to benzodiazepines also involve opioid misuse:

  • Benzodiazepines are the second-leading cause of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States, after opioids.
  • Prescriptions of sedative substances (benzodiazepines) has increased about 30 percent since 1996.
  • Overdose deaths involving these substances quadrupled between 1999 and 2010.  
  • The amount of benzodiazepine in prescribed medicines including Ativan doubled from 1996 to 2013.
  • Anxiety was the most common reason these drugs were prescribed, making up 56 percent of prescriptions.
  • Based on the rise of overdose deaths being greater than the increase in prescribing benzodiazepines during the same period, researchers believe that people may be taking higher doses of the medicine or combining it with other substances or alcohol.
  • 75 percent of benzodiazepine overdose deaths also involved the misuse of opioids.

Related Topic: Ativan overdose

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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