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What Is Ativan? — Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects

Ativan is a prescription drug that was initially intended to treat seizures. Although physicians still prescribe this medication for several issues, Ativan has a high potential for abuse. Individuals who are prescribed Ativan and recreational users run the risk of developing a physical and emotional dependence on this medication. If you or a loved one is considering Ativan use, you must understand the benefits and risks of this medication before proceeding.

What Is Ativan?

Ativan, also known as lorazepam, belongs to the category of prescription drugs called benzodiazepines. Since Ativan is a depressant, it functions by increasing the availability of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) within the brain. GABA has a calming, tranquilizing effect that spreads throughout the mind and body.

Doctors may prescribe Ativan for insomnia, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and alcohol withdrawal. Typically, individuals who are prescribed Ativan will take it in the form of a tablet or oral liquid. Dosages range from 2mg to 6mg per day, taken 2 to 3 times a day. Since patients often have the worst anxiety around bedtime, your physician may recommend a larger dose at night.

Ativan may also be administered via IV injection by a healthcare provider. In this instance, the recommended dose depends on the disease being treated and how the person responds to treatment.

Side Effects of Ativan

Even when patients follow physicians’ orders, there is always the risk that they may experience side effects while using Ativan. These side effects may include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty Concentrating

Although it is uncommon, some users may experience:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea 
  • Generalized weakness

Serious allergic reactions to Ativan are rare. If users are experiencing the following symptoms of a severe interaction, they should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Stomach pain
  • Blood in urine or stool
  • Addiction
  • Overdose

Ativan Addiction

Like many other benzodiazepines, there is always a risk that users may develop a physical dependence on Ativan. There are two primary signs of physical dependence. As the body develops a tolerance to the drug, users will require a higher dosage to feel their desired effects. However, this is a dangerous practice — as the user’s tolerance and dosage increases, so does the risk that they will overdose.

As the second sign of addiction, people who develop a physical dependence on Ativan may experience withdrawal if they discontinue use or reduce their dosage.

Ativan addiction is most likely in users who take the drugs at a higher frequency or dose than prescribed or use it for recreational purposes. In addition, people who take Ativan in combination with alcohol, opioids, or sleep aids are more likely to develop a dependence on the drug.

Signs of Ativan Addiction

Addiction is a progressive disease that causes users to seek and use a substance compulsively. If you or a loved one are exhibiting the following symptoms, an addiction may be present:

  • Irritability or depression when the user cannot obtain the substance
  • Developing an obsession with obtaining and using the substance despite a decline in health and poor relationships
  • A sharp decrease in the quality of their physical appearance and personal hygiene
  • Isolating themselves from loved ones
  • A decline in the quality of their work or school performance

Signs of an Ativan Overdose

When patients take Ativan as prescribed, the potential of overdosing is extremely unlikely. However, taking large doses of Ativan or taking it more frequently than prescribed puts the user at an increased risk of overdosing. An overdose could result in a coma or death, and these incidents are on the rise. In 2020, deaths related to benzodiazepine increased by 42.9%.

Since Ativan is a central nervous system depressant, it slows down activity in the brain. There is little chance of unconsciousness, coma, or death when the drug is taken correctly, but large doses of Ativan can be fatal, especially if users combine it with other substances. Accidental and deliberate overdoses of Ativan may occur when an individual uses Ativan in conjunction with prescription pain medications, alcohol, anti-anxiety drugs, and hypnotic medications.

Signs of an Ativan overdose include the following:

  • Pale, cool, or bluish skin
  • Shallow breathing
  • Loss of coordination
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Over-sedation and drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness

Overdosing on Ativan is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. If you or someone else is displaying signs of an Ativan overdose, dial 911 for emergency services.

Ativan Withdrawal

When a user takes Ativan for longer than three weeks, their central nervous system adjusts to the substance’s effects. This is why many patients find that they need higher doses of Ativan to relieve their symptoms due to increased tolerance. As previously mentioned, if patients develop a high tolerance to Ativan, they may become physically or psychologically dependent on its effects. 

When patients grow dependent on the calming effects of Ativan, their brain becomes hyperactive to compensate, and they go through withdrawal. The severity of withdrawal depends on the amount of time that users have been taking Ativan, the amount they take, and their overall mental health.

Symptoms of Ativan Withdrawal

  • Increased irritability
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Sleeplessness
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Coma
  • Death

Patients that become dependent on or addicted to Ativan must not cease use abruptly. To minimize withdrawal symptoms, patients should undergo a physician-supervised drug taper. While withdrawal symptoms may be moderate, they can also be fatal, so it’s best not to take unnecessary risks. Ativan users should not attempt to quit without a physician’s supervision and proper medical support. It is highly recommended that users enter a supervised rehabilitation program to get clean.

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