Ativan (Lorazepam) is a benzodiazepine, a category of drugs prescribed primarily for the treatment of anxiety disorders, anxiety related to depression, panic disorders, and insomnia. Ativan works by enhancing the actions of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, which produces a calming effect. Like other benzodiazepines, it can be highly addictive and is meant to be used for short-term relief only (up to four months). If an individual has become addicted to Ativan, they should seek residential detox and treatment services immediately, as there are serious withdrawal risks when use of the drug is discontinued.
What Is Ativan Addiction?
Ativan is the brand name for the drug lorazepam, one of a class of anti-anxiety sedatives called benzodiazepines. Ativan is designed for short- and intermediate-term use, meaning it is seldom prescribed for more than four months at a time. In addition to its use in treatment for anxiety disorders, Ativan may also be prescribed for insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, manic bipolar disorder, and to counteract stomach problems caused by chemotherapy.
Like other types of benzodiazepines, Ativan is highly effective against the symptoms of anxiety. It induces a state of calm and relaxation by slowing hyperactive neural activity, replacing anxious mental states with far more pleasant feelings. Unfortunately, like other benzodiazepines Ativan is also addictive, and if it is taken in larger doses than intended or for longer than recommended a dependency can easily develop.
Whether it’s overused as a sedative or misused for recreational purposes, Ativan addiction is a difficult condition to overcome, and virtually impossible to defeat without the assistance of trained and experienced addiction treatment professionals.
Facts and Statistics
Ativan addiction is unlikely to develop if users stick to their prescriptions. But prolonged or heavy use of the drug can quickly lead to dependence.
The numbers reveal more about the rising risk of Ativan and benzodiazepine abuse:
- As of 2011, Ativan was the fifth most widely prescribed benzodiazepine, with more than 27 million prescriptions written (and the number has continued to rise).
- Between 1996 and 2013, the total number of benzodiazepine prescriptions written each year in the U.S. increased from 8.1 million to 13.5 million.
- From 2005 to 2011, more than 900,000 Americans visited emergency rooms seeking treatment for conditions related to benzodiazepine use.
- 75 percent of those who visited emergency rooms for benzodiazepine overdoses had also been abusing opioid painkillers , usually for recreational purposes.
- 20 percent of all emergency room visits for benzodiazepine-related distress result in extended hospitalization or death.
- Between 1999 and 2010, the rate of annual overdose deaths attributable partially or completely to benzodiazepine consumption rose by more than 500 percent, from .58 adults per 100,000 to 3.07 percent adults per 100,000.
- All indicators suggest levels of benzodiazepine abuse are getting worse, and the consequences of that abuse are getting more severe.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Ativan Addiction
Ativan addiction symptoms can result from long-term use of a drug that was not designed for extended consumption, or from heavy use of the drug by those who’ve developed a tolerance for its effects.
Signs of Ativan addiction for chronic, long-term users include:
- Increases in anxiety levels
- Memory problems
- Physical weakness
- Symptoms of anorexia
Meanwhile, heavy use of Ativan magnifies the normal effects of the drug, and when someone is taking large quantities of Ativan they may suffer from:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Inhibited decision-making
- Mental confusion
- Blurred vision
- Poor coordination
- Difficulty speaking clearly
- Respiratory troubles
As Ativan addiction unfolds, sufferers will experience sudden and frightening mood swings, and they may become secretive and withdrawn. They may disappear for extended periods of time without any explanation of where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing. If asked about their behavior or signs of ill health, they will blame it on stress, overwork, the flu, or dozens of other excuses that have no connection to reality.
This type of denial aids and abets Ativan addiction, and only when addicts are willing to admit they have a problem will they have a chance of getting better.
Ativan addiction is officially categorized as a sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic (SHA) use disorder. When diagnosing any type of benzodiazepine addiction, clinicians look for distinctive symptoms associated with drug dependency, which they will attempt to uncover while interviewing the patient seeking treatment.
These telltale signs of Ativan addiction include:
- Longer than planned consumption
- Inability to quit using Ativan without assistance
- Use or acquisition of Ativan becomes a time-consuming preoccupation
- Powerful cravings
- Neglect of home, family, or work obligations related to Ativan use
- Persistent interpersonal problems traceable to the addiction
- Reduced interest in important social, occupational, or recreational activities
- Physically hazardous behavior while under the influence of Ativan
- Use of Ativan continuing despite its role in worsening other health problems
- Growing tolerance for Ativan (and a need to take more to obtain the desired effects)
- Ativan withdrawal symptoms that accompany any attempt to stop using it
If two symptoms are present a mild SHA disorder will be diagnosed, while six symptoms will lead to a diagnosis of severe SHA disorder, which is a dangerous condition that requires swift intervention and treatment.
People who abuse Ativan face more potential dangers than addiction. Benzodiazepines were responsible for 31 percent of prescription overdose deaths in 2013, the most recent year with full data available. This means more than 7,000 people lost their lives to benzodiazepine overdose in that year, and with prescription drug deaths rising steadily that number could easily surpass 10,000 in 2017.
Heavy use of Ativan often leads to overdose, which is identifiable by symptoms consistent with above-normal dosages (extreme drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, etc.). If these symptoms get progressively worse rather than better, it means an overdose has occurred and emergency assistance should be requested immediately, before it is too late.
Causes and Risk Factors of Ativan Addiction
Because benzodiazepines are highly addictive, anyone taking Ativan for any reason could be vulnerable to drug dependency.
Nevertheless, there are some risk factors that increase the likelihood of a benzodiazepine addiction developing. They include:
Genetics. Drug dependency tends to run in families, at least partially based on shared genetic factors that make some people more vulnerable to drug addiction.
Severe anxiety disorders or insomnia. When these conditions are persistent and debilitating, people with prescriptions for Ativan or other benzodiazepines are much more likely to exceed recommended dosages.
Recreational use. People who use Ativan recreationally, especially in combination with opioid painkillers, are at far greater risk of developing an addiction than those who use the drug for legitimate medical conditions.
Using the drug for longer than four months. Beyond this point, benzodiazepines tend to stop working and may even cause increased anxiety. Users who don’t realize the danger will likely end up taking excessive quantities of the drug, in search of relief that is no longer coming.
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Ativan Addiction Withdrawal and Detox
Gradual tapering of dosage is the only safe way to end a physical dependence on Ativan, regardless of the depth or longevity of the addiction. This will minimize the severity of Ativan withdrawal symptoms, which if left unchecked may include:
- Uncontrolled nervousness and anxiety
- Distorted perceptions of reality
- Panic attacks
- Heavy sweating
- Short-term memory loss
- Delirium and hallucinations
Ativan withdrawal symptoms will usually appear within a few hours of the most recent dosage, and any attempts to stop using Ativan completely with no gradual reduction of quantities consumed may provoke a dangerous medical emergency.
Medical detox is the best hope for a safe and sustainable recovery from the withdrawal symptoms of Ativan addiction. With round-the-clock supervision and monitoring of all physical and psychological side effects associated with Ativan withdrawal, detox can take place at the proper pace, smoothing the transition to therapy and other treatment interventions once physical dependency is under control.
Benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, so those are the most common co-occurring conditions when Ativan abuse is diagnosed.
Mood disorders like depression may also accompany Ativan addiction, since overmedication by sedative depresses mood, and the inability to overcome drug dependency may add to feelings of pessimism and discouragement. Ativan is sometimes prescribed for manic states of bipolar depression, but if it is misused it will likely do little to help bipolar sufferers get better.
Studies have shown a clear relationship between benzodiazepine addiction and dependence on opioid painkillers. This potent combination is often consumed by those who misuse prescription medications for recreational purposes, and presents an enormous challenge for treatment professionals who must treat the symptoms of both if recovery from drug dependency is to be an achievable goal.
Anytime a dual diagnosis for multiple mental or behavioral health conditions is made, treatment must address all symptoms simultaneously if wellness is to be restored.
Ativan Addiction Treatment and Prognosis
Benzodiazepine addictions can be tenacious, but that doesn’t mean treatment is ineffective or unlikely to succeed. In fact, treatment for Ativan addiction has good odds for success if the recovery regimen is well-planned, thorough, and professionally executed by experienced addiction specialists.
Following initial detox, patients in an inpatient or intensive outpatient rehab program for Ativan addiction will participate in a variety of therapy sessions, with individual, family, and group therapy options included as appropriate. If a dual diagnosis for other substance use or mental health disorders has been made, integrated services will be provided to deal with all troublesome symptoms. Life skills classes and holistic healing therapies may be included in an Ativan rehab regimen, which will be carefully customized to meet the needs of each individual patient.
After inpatient treatment is complete, Ativan addiction patients will transition to aftercare programs where the focus will be on relapse prevention. Whatever the temptations and life circumstances might have been that helped initiate or support drug dependency, they should be addressed during therapy and in 12-step (or alternative to 12-step) peer group meetings, to make sure the recovering Ativan addict has all the support they need to continue on the path of lasting recovery.
Overcoming an Ativan addiction is possible, as long as men and women in recovery keep their eyes on the prize and are not reluctant to ask for more help when they need it.