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Ativan Effects – The Long Term and Short Term Effects of Use

side effects of ativan

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People who continuously use Ativan may experience adverse side effects with either short term or long term use. According to the Us Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 27.5 million Ativan prescriptions written in the US in 2011.  Ativan is used primarily to treat anxiety disorders by can also be used to treat other medical conditions such as muscle spasms, insomnia or mild seizures. The DEA classifies Ativan as a Schedule IV drug, meaning it has a low risk for addiction. However, if the drug is abused or taken outside of a doctor’s prescription or supervision, a user may develop an addiction and suffer negative, sometimes dangerous, side effects.

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Short-Term Effects of Ativan Use

Ativan is typically prescribed for a short period of 1 to 3 months to treat panic and anxiety attacks. 0.5 mg, 1 mg and 2mg tablets are available. Most patients require between 2 mg to 6 mg a day in divided doses with the largest does being taken before bed. However, dosages vary depending on the condition of the patient.

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For anxiety, most patients are prescribed an initial dose of 2 to 3 mg a day taken twice or three times a day. For insomnia, a single daily dose of 2 to 4 mg may be taken, usually at bedtime. If a doctor decides to increase the dosage, they usually do so with the dose that is taken before bed.
Ativan is not meant for long term use. Patients should consult with their doctor about alternative treatments once the initial treatment period has finished.

Under the proper use of Ativan, it allows the user to feel calm and relaxed enough to fall asleep.

When taking Ativan short-term, doctors may recommend consuming certain foods and supplements such as St. John’s Wort and grapefruit juice to help lessen its side effects.
Some side effects such as sleepiness, clouded thoughts, and blurred vision may be felt soon after the first dose: With time and increased usage, patients may notice other side effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Lowered threshold for seizures in patients with epilepsy

Ativan is not recommended during pregnancy and should be avoided especially during the first trimester. As Ativan can be detected in breast milk, it is also not recommended for nursing mothers.
Combing alcohol or other drugs with Ativan should be avoided, no matter how low the dosage.

One may start to believe that without Ativan, there is no chance to sleep or to calm down the anxiety attack. This is the biggest issue with the short-term use of the drug. Of course, this is why dependence can be psychological as well as physical.

Patients attempting to extend their use of Ativan are at risk for developing an addiction. As they become dependent on the calming effects of the drug, they may increase their dosage and become more tolerant to it. Any alteration of dosage or use outside of a doctor’s approval is considered abuse and puts the patient at risk of addiction and harmful, sometimes severe, side effects.

Long-Term Effects of Ativan Use

Long term use of Ativan may increase the severity of its side effects. Patients may find themselves sleeping for large parts of the day and having no energy while they are awake.  They may also experience confusion and may appear to be delirious.
A patient’s mental activity and ability to think straight may be disrupted.  Unfortunately, these issues can remain even after one has stopped taking the drug and tend to affect elderly patients more severely.
Abusing Ativan can cause a chemical imbalance in the patient’s body, allowing them to tolerate more and more of the drug and become physically and /or psychologically dependent.
At the stage of severe addiction, a patient’s behavior may start to change as obtaining the drug becomes a priority. For instance, they may “doctor shop”- go from doctor to doctor to get a prescription. They may exaggerate their symptoms, forge prescriptions or claim to have lost them. Addicts also commonly experience feelings of guilt and shame about their addiction.

Before staring treatment with Ativan, patients should be aware of the associated benefits and risks. Ativan is highly effective, but should be taken only with a doctor’s prescription and supervision. Abusing the drug long term puts on at risk for developing serious side effects and addiction.
  1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ativan.
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration. BENZODIAZEPINES. 2013.
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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