Ativan is the brand name of the drug lorazepam, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety. Ativan is a commonly prescribed benzodiazepine, but unfortunately, it is also one of the most highly abused drugs in the United States. Though most doctors try to help their patients avoid becoming dependent on this drug, anyone who takes it regularly for more than a few weeks will experience dependence and may require Ativan detox treatment.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal (which occurs when someone who becomes dependent on a drug in this class suddenly stops taking it) is dangerous and can lead to serious side effects. In some cases, it can even be life-threatening. One should be extremely careful when going through Ativan withdrawal, and professional treatment is recommended for a safe, effective recovery.
If you or someone you love is dependent on Ativan, now is the time to seek help. We are available to assist you in finding detox facilities in your area for your needs.
Understanding Ativan Abuse
Ativan slows down the brain’s activity in order to allow the user to relax (National Library of Medicine). When taken as prescribed up to 2 or 3 times a day, it can help an individual who is struggling with an acute anxiety disorder to relax and better manage their feelings of anxiety. However, many people abuse it because the drug causes relaxation, drowsiness, and euphoria when taken in high doses.
Abuse of Ativan and drugs like it is rampant. Anyone who takes this medication in a different way than prescribed is considered to be abusing it, and this includes
- Individuals who take higher doses than prescribed
- Individuals who take it more often than prescribed
- Individuals who take it via methods other than prescribed (such as crushing and snorting it)
- Individuals who start taking it as prescribed and then begin to misuse it later
Doctors are extremely careful to only prescribe Ativan to those who truly need it, but sometimes, people are able to obtain the drug even if they are not meant to use it.
- This often occurs through illegal activities like buying Ativan online, doctor shopping, etc.
Ativan abuse is highly dangerous, partly because even those who take it as prescribed are in danger of becoming dependent on it.
Ativan Abuse and Dependence
Ativan dependence occurs when a person takes this drug regularly for a long period of time. This means even people who are prescribed the drug can become dependent on it. Dependence can be defined by
- A need to use the drug in order to function throughout the day
- A need to use the drug in order to go to sleep, wake up, etc.
- The experience of intense physical and psychological symptoms when the drug can no longer be obtained by the individual
This last sign is also a syndrome of its own, which is called withdrawal. Ativan withdrawal can be extremely dangerous, and many individuals do not realize they are experiencing it until the symptoms become severe.
A person will go through Ativan withdrawal if they suddenly stop taking the drug after becoming dependent. This happens to some individuals who are no longer able to obtain the drug after first obtaining it illicitly. Other times, a person may not realize they have become dependent on the drug after taking it under a doctor’s care and then suddenly stop using it. This can also be extremely dangerous. Whatever the case, if you are dependent on Ativan, you must go through the proper treatment in order to avoid experiencing serious withdrawal.
Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Withdrawal
The signs and symptoms of Ativan withdrawal are easy to recognize because many of them are behavioral in nature. Some may be purely psychological, however, which can make them harder to notice for someone who is not going through the syndrome themselves.
According to the medical journal Addiction, benzodiazepine withdrawal produces these effects:
- Sleep disturbance
- Increased tension
- Panic attacks
- Hand tremors
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Weight loss
- Problems concentrating
- Increased blood pressure
Delirium, paranoia, hallucinations, and other psychotic effects can also occur as a result of this withdrawal syndrome. Some individuals dissociate while others may exhibit violent behavior or experience homicidal thoughts. These symptoms are extremely serious and make the individual a danger to themselves and others.
In addition, some individuals might experience sudden seizures as a result of withdrawal because benzodiazepines are often used to prevent seizures. You should be prepared for the potential of any of these withdrawal symptoms occurring after discontinuing Ativan use.
Timeline of Ativan Withdrawal
The worst of your symptoms will usually occur in the first 1 to 3 days of withdrawal. However, withdrawal itself can last for up to 3 weeks, which can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous, depending on the symptoms.
- Days 1-3: The individual is likely to experience a host of withdrawal symptoms during this time, including anxiety, headaches, sweating, confusion, tremors, vomiting, abdominal cramps, etc. Also, this is the time where the individual will be most at risk of experiencing seizures and psychosis.
- Days 4-7: Seizure risk and psychosis can last through this time. The individual will also start to lose weight in many cases and have increased blood pressure and heart palpitations.
- Days 8-14: Symptoms become milder at this point. Anxiety and depression can be intense, but psychosis and seizures usually diminish. The individual will probably still experience nausea, vomiting, and headaches, and as a result, become irritable and feel a general malaise.
- Days 15-21: At this point, the individual will start to feel better, although the malaise and depression may linger. Mood swings may still occur, but they will be much milder than before.
After the general withdrawal ends, there are usually certain symptoms that tend to linger. This is known as PAWS and can include mostly psychological symptoms like mood swings, malaise, depression, and anxiety. Sometimes, these symptoms can last for months after withdrawal ends.
Dangers of Ativan Withdrawal
Ativan withdrawal can be dangerous. In fact, benzodiazepines are considered to have some of the most dangerous withdrawal effects, which can be similar to alcohol withdrawal’s most severe form called delirium tremens.
- Psychosis is a serious potential side effect of Ativan withdrawal. Most people don’t know what they’re doing and may lash out at those close to them as a result of experiencing hallucinations, fear, paranoia, etc.
- Seizures also add danger to the experience of Ativan withdrawal. It is difficult to predict them, and they require immediate medical attention.
- Those going through depression as a result of this syndrome might experience suicidal thoughts. This can be extremely dangerous, especially for those who are not equipped to cope with these feelings.
- People going through withdrawal are always under the threat of relapse. Someone who does relapse during or after Ativan withdrawal could overdose on the drug, leading to respiratory depression, coma, and death.
It is important to understand exactly how dangerous this withdrawal syndrome is and to seek out the proper treatment for it.
Am I Dependent on Ativan?
Unfortunately, if you have been taking Ativan for at least a few weeks regularly, you are probably already dependent on it. The drug can cause dependence whether a person is abusing it or not, and you will require proper treatment if you are already dependent. Ask yourself the questions below to be sure.
- Do I use Ativan every day?
- Have I been taking the drug for more than a few weeks?
- Do I need it to fall asleep, get through the day, etc.?
- Do I ever experience intense side effects if I’m not able to take it?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are more than likely dependent on the drug.
Should I Go through Ativan Withdrawal at Home?
It is unsafe to go through Ativan withdrawal at home. The dangerous side effects of this syndrome listed above can be treated in a detox facility, but if you do not have access to safe, professional care, you will be less likely to navigate the experience in a safe way.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, withdrawal symptoms are usually most severe when a short-acting benzodiazepine is used and then discontinued, and Ativan is meant to be taken several times a day because it is so short-acting. As a result, one should absolutely avoid going through Ativan withdrawal without proper care.
Ativan Detox Treatment
According to the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, detox involves weaning the patient off of the drug itself or another benzodiazepine in order for the patient to safely navigate withdrawal. In many cases, other medications may be given to treat certain symptoms. Detox focuses on helping the patient safely put an end to their dependence on the drug so they can focus on the next steps of recovery.
In most cases, inpatient detox is likely the best choice for Ativan dependency treatment. This is because the withdrawal effects can be highly dangerous and unpredictable, which can require hospitalized care. Also, those who choose to go through outpatient withdrawal might not be able to recognize worsening symptoms while at home. Inpatient detox is often necessary.
What Happens After Detox?
Ativan dependence can be treated during detox, but those who have become addicted to Ativan will require further care in a rehab program. The Drug Enforcement Administration states that illicit distribution of benzodiazepines is widespread throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world, so individuals who are addicted will require help learning to avoid further use after their detox program has ended.
Many people also need multiple treatment programs in their lifetimes to avoid relapse, and this is absolutely acceptable. Others may choose an aftercare program like a 12-step group or a sober living home. Whatever you choose, make sure it is the best option for your personal needs.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Lorazepam.
- Addiction. (1994). The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2004). Benzodiazepines.
- Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. (n.d.). Benzodiazepine Addiction.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Benzodiazepines (Street Names: Benzos, Downers, Nerve Pills, Tranks).