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Ativan Addiction and Treatment

ativan addiction

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Ativan, the name brand for the drug Lorazepam, is a highly addictive, highly potent sedative. It is primarily prescribed for anxiety disorders but is also used to treat other medical conditions. Ativan, of the drug class benzodiazepine, is a strong sedative that is often prescribed for anxiety disorders, some seizure disorders, and is occasionally used to help calm aggressive or violent behaviors in some individuals. It is relatively fast acting and highly addictive. Because of its habit-forming properties, it is intended to be used short-term and is not recommended for extended use.
Ativan works by depressing the Central Nervous System (CNS) and reducing excess excitement and agitation in the brain, producing a calming effect. It can be administered orally or intravenously. Benzodiazepine users can feel the effect of Ativan within two hours after intake and it will stay in the system for an average of 10 to 20 hours. It should only be used under the direct supervision of a healthcare professional.

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Table of Contents

How is Ativan used?

Ativan (lorazepam) is often prescribed for anxiety disorders, seizures, and other medical conditions. It is also prescribed to people with severe insomnia. Ativan is not intended for long-term use because of its potential for addiction.
Any use of Ativan outside of a doctor’s instructions, or without a valid prescription, is considered abuse. It is never advisable to take someone else’s prescription, especially if a user has a history of drug addiction or preexisting medical conditions.

Effects of Ativan

When used for its intended purposes, Ativan causes feelings of relaxation and calm. It helps to alleviate feelings of anxiety and panic and may loosen tense muscles caused by these conditions, or by another underlying medical condition or injury.
Those taking Ativan may feel drowsy due to sleep-inducing properties within the drug. It is  highly effective at treating anxiety, but due to the risk of addiction, it can only be prescribed for a short length of time. Alternative medications should be explored to replace Ativan once a prescription is discontinued.
Some addicts use Ativan for recreational purposes to get the Ativan high effect. However, recreational use of Ativan is against the law and considered drug abuse.

Recreational use of the drug is against the law as it is considered as abuse.

Is Ativan addictive?

Ativan is considered to be a highly addictive drug. It is a strong and fast-acting sedative used for anxiety and seizure disorders. The use of Ativan without a doctor’s prescription is considered drug abuse. Users who abuse Ativan are more likely to form an addiction.
The long-term side effects of Ativan can include:

  • Dependence (users require higher doses to achieve the same effect)
  • Appetite loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Frequent sweating
  • Withdrawal syndrome
  • Addiction
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred Speech
  • Impaired cognitive ability, severe cases of which may not be reversible even when the drug use is discontinued

When a user stops taking Ativan once he or she has become addicted, withdrawal symptoms can set in and be severe. Withdrawal symptoms may include behavioral changes, such as aggression, severe anxiety, depression, panic, and seizures (especially in users who have an underlying seizure disorder).

Risk Factors

Anyone can become addicted to a prescription medication, even those with no history of prior drug abuse. Therefore, anyone who is prescribed Ativan is at risk for developing an addiction and should only use the drug carefully, under the direct supervision of a doctor or licensed medical professional.
Ativan addiction and abuse are more common among patients with anxiety disorders or other untreated mental health disorders. Ativan’s effects will become weaker with time, so patients looking to keep their symptoms at bay may begin to abuse their prescription.
Certain groups of patients may be at greater risk for developing an addiction. Veterans and other patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may attempt to self medicate by abusing Ativan. Professionals in high-stress workplace environments may seek to alleviate their stress with Ativan as well. Additionally, teens and college students may attempt to use Ativan, or combine it with other drugs, to handle the pressures of school life.

Warning Signs

Warning signs of an Ativan addiction include:

  • Daily intake of the drug (exceeding what is prescribed)
  • Depending on the drug to function normally during the day
  • Early symptoms of withdrawal
  • Inability to stop taking the drug
  • Mixing Ativan with other drugs or alcohol
  • Taking Ativan for alcohol withdrawalor opiate withdrawal
  • Extended Ativan peak concentration
  • Lost interest in being with friends and family
  • Lost interest in personal hygiene and appearance
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Seeming overly tired, disoriented, aggressive, withdrawn, or irritable
  • Appearing secretive like he or she is hiding something
  • Seeming depressed or talking about self-harm
  • Often appearing disoriented, confused, or staggering when he or she walks

Although these signs may not always point toward drug addiction (many of these symptoms can also be common with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety,) it’s advised to speak with a loved one if you suspect them of any sort of drug abuse.
It is especially important for Ativan users with depression to be attended by a mental health professional.

Ativan Statistics

The number of treatment center admissions for benzodiazepine addictions tripled between 1998 and 2008. Nearly 95% of all these admissions were for the reported abuse of other substances in combination with Ativan and other benzodiazepines. In 2009 almost 313,000 individuals using benzodiazepines were admitted to an emergency care facility – approximately 20% were under the influence of benzodiazepines only, and approximately 80% were under the influence of benzodiazepines and another substance.

Treatment for Ativan Addiction

Patients suffering from an Ativan addiction are encouraged to seek professional help in an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment center. These programs typically assist with the detox phase and provide a series of private and group therapies as well where the addict can learn ways to cope with their cravings. These programs also typically provide aftercare treatment to ensure the patient receives continuous support.
There are numerous addiction treatment resources for those seeking to end their Ativan addiction:
Peer support, support groups, and 12-step programs are all available for drug addiction. These groups usually provide peer support and accountability for those attempting to stay clean. A group leader or counselor is available to direct the group and provide a safe place for recovery while trying to maintain sobriety.
Outpatient therapy is another option which involves users seeing a counselor who has been trained in drug addiction. Sessions initially take place once a week or more and then slowly lessen until they are infrequent or on an as-needed basis.
Inpatient therapy is the most effective option for those with a severe addiction. Drug rehabilitation facilities combine the best of peer and counselor support, but in a safe, supervised location where access to drugs is prohibited.

  1. Ait-Daoud N., Hamby A. S., Sharma S., Blevins D. A Review of Alprazolam Use, Misuse, and Withdrawal. Journal of Addiction Medicine. 2018; 12(1): 4–10. doi:10.1097/ADM.0000000000000350.
  2. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ativan Label.
Sharon Levy

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.


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