The Dangers of Mixing Ativan (lorazepam) & Alcohol

Oftentimes it’s accidental. You might have an Ativan (lorazepam) prescription, misjudge the effect of alcohol when combined with it, and find yourself blacking out.

But sometimes it’s intentional. And that’s when it’s time to take a closer look.

Ativan is from a family of drugs called benzodiazepines, which includes Xanax and Klonopin. Its generic name is lorazepam. When taken in a high dose or enhanced with alcohol, it can create an extreme high. However, this combination also makes it easy to overdose, resulting in dangerously low blood pressure, slowed breathing, and erratic behavior.

What Ativan (lorazepam) Does

Ativan is a depressant, calming excessive electrical nerve activity in the brain. Specifically, it affects gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, releasing the GABA neurotransmitters into the brain. The neurotransmitters induce a feeling of sleepiness and reduce anxiety. These effects are why Ativan is sometimes used to calm repeated epileptic fits, or as a sedative to help an individual with anxiety work through a difficult time.

Ativan has a similar effect to Xanax and is nearly as potent. It shows its effects quickly, peaking in 1-6 hours and decaying at a half-life of 14-15 hours. It can produce a powerful high, but the high also ends sooner than the high from other drugs. While Xanax is considered the more dangerous of the two, the reality is that both are equally dangerous—Xanax just tends to be more accessible.

What Happens when You Take Ativan (lorazepam) with Alcohol

Ativan and alcohol are both tranquilizers that release GABA. The effect is given a dangerous boost by the liver, which struggles to filter out both the drug and the alcohol at the same time. This is why the danger of overdose is even higher for older adults, whose livers are not functioning as effectively as they need to.

Together, alcohol and Ativan can slow down the body’s functioning and make it much easier to overdose. A person who’s overdosed on Ativan may be confused and seem drunk. Their breathing might slow and their blood pressure will drop dangerously low, sometimes leading to a blackout. There have also been cases of extreme self-harm during fluctuating benzodiazepine levels.

But it’s not just alcohol that can cause problems with Ativan. Some people may have an extreme allergic reaction to Ativan, leading them to take Benadryl to try to combat the swelling. But Benadryl and other antihistamines are tranquilizers and can actually increase the depressant effects of the drug. Similarly, you should avoid narcotic painkillers and sleeping aids. Always check with a doctor before taking and medications with Ativan.

Treatment for an Ativan (lorazepam) Overdose

If you or someone you know appears to be showing signs of an Ativan overdose, the first step is to call 911. You may need Flumazenil, a drug that can reverse Ativan’s effects but is only available through an IV at a hospital. Your can also contact the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (in the U.S.).

Is Ativan (lorazepam) Addictive?

Absolutely. However, it’s first important to note that in this case, addiction and dependence to not mean the same thing. Ativan is used as a short-term drug because it’s extremely easy to form a physical dependence on it. The body can build up a tolerance often in just two weeks, making it dangerous to stop taking it without a doctor’s guidance to slowly decrease the dosage and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

An addiction, on the other hand, involves not just a physical dependence, but a psychological one as well. An individual with an Ativan addiction will take the drug compulsively, even when they can see the negative consequences in their life.

Signs of Ativan (lorazepam) Abuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, proper use of a drug is defined as “Taking only medications that have been prescribed, for the reasons the medications are prescribed, in the correct dosage, and for the correct duration.” Abuse of Ativan can include behaviors such as chewing the pill to release the medication faster, crushing it to snort or inject intravenously, or simply taking more than prescribed.

In most cases, an individual with an Ativan addiction might have a prescription to the drug, or else they may be attaining it from a friend or family member with a prescription. However, some people may buy Ativan or a generic form on the black market, such as at a rave or even at school.

While individuals of all ages may form an addiction, older adults especially are vulnerable to medication misuse and abuse. Not only do they tend to use more medications than other age groups, their bodies are more sensitive to the effects and not as effective at metabolizing the drugs.

Physical Signs of Addiction

While withdrawal symptoms do not necessarily indicate an addiction, they can be a first signal that something is wrong. A doctor can determine if a dependence has turned into a more serious addiction

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Ativan (lorazepam) withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures

Lifestyle Changes

Addiction can be difficult to detect. Pay attention to signals such as fluctuating income—an individual or student who is selling drugs might have new money with an unknown source, and someone who is abusing drugs may spend more money than they have to try to get more. If a family member has a prescription, make sure that there’s as much in the container as there should be.

Overcoming an Ativan (lorazepam) addiction

If you or someone you know is addicted to Ativan, the first step is getting help. A detox program can you lower your dosage safely over time and avoid the powerful withdrawal systems. The Recovery Village offers a spectrum of care, so after detox you’ll have the support you need to find freedom in a healthy lifestyle. Learn more about our detox program here.

Neale, G., Smight. A. “Self-harm and suicide associated with benzodiazepine usage.” The British Journal of General Practice. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 May 2007. Web. 2 Mar 2016.

“Lorazepam (Ativan).” National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI,  Jan 2013. Web. 2 Mar 2016.

“Addressing Prescription Drug Abuse in the United States” Center for Disease Control, 2013. Web. 1 Mar 2016.

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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