Ativan can cause a variety of mild side effects. In some situations, however, it’s possible for dangerous symptoms like slowed breathing to occur.

Article at a Glance:

  • Ativan (lorazepam) is a benzodiazepine and Schedule IV controlled substance.
  • Signs of Ativan addiction include doctor shopping and having interpersonal problems related to Ativan use.
  • Serious side effects from Ativan include delirium, paranoia and thoughts of self-harm.
  • Ativan overdose is possible and can be deadly, especially when the drug is mixed with opioids or other central nervous system depressants.

Ativan Addiction Signs

Ativan (lorazepam) is a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning that it carries a risk of abuse, addiction and dependence. However, it can sometimes be difficult to spot outward signs that a person is abusing a benzodiazepine like Ativan.

The more someone uses Ativan, the more their body becomes used to the drug and depends on it to function normally. As a result, it can be hard to tell when someone is struggling with Ativan use.

In some cases, there may be some signs a person is using Ativan, particularly if they take high doses. Some of the behavioral signs of Ativan abuse may include:

  • Doctor shopping, or seeing multiple doctors to get Ativan prescriptions
  • Creating fake symptoms to try to get an Ativan prescription
  • Having sudden changes in behavior or lifestyle
  • Isolating and withdrawing from friends and family
  • Spending time with a new group of people while excluding old friends and family members
  • Being preoccupied with getting and taking Ativan
  • Keeping secrets and lying
  • Declining performance or interest in school, work or other obligations
  • Having unexpected financial or legal problems

Ativan Side Effects

Ativan is a benzodiazepine drug that works as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. As a result, its main side effects have to do with slowing down the central nervous system. The most common Ativan side effectsinclude:

  • Sedation
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness

Serious side effects can occur in people who abuse or overdose on Ativan. These include:

  • Delirium
  • Paranoia
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma
  • Death

Overdose Risk

If a person has taken no other substances besides a benzodiazepine like Ativan, overdose symptoms are often limited and may include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Movement problems
  • Confusion

However, many people who overdose on benzodiazepines also take other substances, particularly opioids. From January to June 2020, almost 93% of benzodiazepine overdose deaths also involved opioids.

Benzodiazepines and opioids are dangerous to use together because they are both CNS depressants. The FDA has even issued a Black Box Warning about taking benzodiazepines and opioids together. Those who take benzodiazepines and CNS depressants like opioids or alcohol are more likely to have overdose symptoms that include slowed breathing, which can be fatal.

An Ativan overdose is a medical emergency. If you believe someone is overdosing on Ativan, seek emergency medical attention immediately. You will not get in trouble for saving someone’s life.

Ativan Prescribed Uses

Ativan is FDA-approved for use in anxiety treatment. The type of anxiety Ativan can treat varies, ranging from phobias and performance-related anxiety to generalized anxiety disorder.

Ativan for Nausea

Ativan is not typically used for nausea and vomiting. However, it can be a helpful add-on treatment in some cases, especially when other standard treatments have failed. Specifically, Ativan has been studied as an add-on drug for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Ativan for Dizziness

Ativan is not generally used as a treatment for dizziness. Instead, dizziness is one of the most common side effects of Ativan. A person who gets dizzy while taking Ativan may need a lower dose of the drug, less frequent dosing or a different medication.

Long-Term Side Effects of Ativan

Ativan is not intended for long-term use. Rather, it’s typically prescribed at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible duration due to its potential for dependence and side effects. The long-term effects of depressants like Ativan can include:

  • Drug tolerance, meaning that increasingly higher doses may be needed to achieve the same effects as before
  • Cognitive impairment, which may not resolve even months after stopping the drug
  • Increased risk of hip fracture; this risk is at least 50% higher in older adults who take benzodiazepines
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle crashes
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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

Kang, Michael; Galuska, Michael A.; Ghassemzadeh, Sassan. “Benzodiazepine Toxicity.” StatPearls, July 26, 2021. Accessed November 1, 2021.

Liu, Stephen; O’Donnell, Julie; Gladden, R. Matt; et al. “Trends in Nonfatal and Fatal Overdoses I[…]olumbia, 2019–2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, August 27, 2021. Accessed November 1, 2021.

Lohr, Lisa. “Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.” Cancer Journal, March 2008. Accessed November 1, 2021. “Lorazepam.” October 1, 2021. Accessed November 1, 2021.

Johnson, Brian; Streltzer, Jon. “Risks Associated with Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use.” American Family Physician, August 15, 2013. Accessed November 1, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.