Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline: What to Know
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Ativan withdrawal symptoms vary by phase, but generally include flu-like symptoms such as headaches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, increased blood pressure, high heart rate, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and body aches. Other symptoms may include sensory changes, hallucinations, memory loss, loss of appetite, and restlessness. Later symptoms may include anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, cravings, and depression.
Table of Contents
Ativan is a prescription medication belonging to the benzodiazepine drug class. It is prescribed to help treat anxiety disorders, anxiety caused by depression, anxiety before medical procedures, insomnia, epilepsy, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS.) It’s also used to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Ativan works as a sedative and tranquilizer which depresses the central nervous system, calming and relaxing the body by suppressing blood pressure, respiration and heart rate.
Addiction to benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) is unfortunately not uncommon. Drug treatment programs saw admissions for benzodiazepine addiction triple in just 10 years from 1998 to 2008. Benzo addictions are tricky because they often start out with a simple visit to a doctor’s office where benzodiazepines are prescribed for a legitimate ailment. However, it is extremely easy to grow dependent on these drugs and Ativan is no exception. Addiction does not happen overnight; it requires the persistent use of Ativan over a long period of time. As the body continuously receives doses of the drug it builds up a tolerance, requiring higher and higher doses of Ativan to have the same effect. This increases the risk of addiction.
Addiction to Ativan occurs when one has grown physically and/or psychologically dependent on the drug. Though symptoms can vary from person to person here are some signs to look for:
- No longer caring about work obligations
- Neglecting family responsibilities
- Cutting oneself off from family and friends
- Financial struggles from trying to fund the addiction
- Legal issues from criminal activities
These signs of addiction may grow stronger as the dependency develops. However, it is important to know that a user does not have to deal with addiction alone; help is available. Those seeking to end their Ativan addiction are encouraged to do so with the help of medical and/or mental health professionals.
Once the body gets used to the effects of any drug, users grow accustomed to it and may develop a dependency. When the drug is stopped abruptly, the body notices and attempts to account for its absence in the system. It begins to feverishly try to return to its state of function before the drug was introduced. This process is called withdrawal, and it can have very unpleasant, dangerous, and even life-threatening symptoms.
Ativan is habit-forming and can lead to physiological and psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it should be taken cautiously, according to a doctor’s prescription. Pfizer, the manufacturer of Ativan, warns against using the drug for a period of more than 2-4 weeks because of its high potential for dependency which can lead to addiction.
Attempting to Quit Ativan
If someone chooses to discontinue their use of Ativan after a prolonged period, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. It is not advised to stop taking Ativan abruptly and without medical consultation first. For those with more severe addictions there are special detox centers where they can safely undergo the withdrawal and recovery process.
Ativan has an intermediate half-life of about 12 hours, so withdrawal symptoms may begin within 24 hours after cessation of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms are often divided into two stages: acute and prolonged.
Ativan Withdrawal Timeline
The Ativan withdrawal timeline begins within 24 hours after the last dose of Ativan. Withdrawal begins with the acute phase—when the most severe physical symptoms occur—and typically continues for 3-4 days. This is followed by the prolonged withdrawal phase which typically lasts for 10-14 days and during which symptoms somewhat lessen. Mild symptoms may continue for years after quitting Ativan until the addict receives proper treatment for anxiety and craving-related thoughts and behaviors.
Ativan Acute Withdrawal Phase
The acute withdrawal phase can last for up to 3-4 days after the last dose. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Abdominal cramps
- Body aches
There might be some cognitive and emotional symptoms such as confusion anxiety, and insomnia. Users also report:
- Loss of appetite
- Involuntary movements
- Sensory changes
- Memory loss
Ativan Prolonged Withdrawal Phase
The prolonged withdrawal phase follows the acute phase and can last between 10 and 14 days. Apart from the usual symptoms, such as general malaise, headaches, and nausea, patients may experience depression and cravings. Some patients who struggle with depression may experience suicidal thoughts, which can lead to suicide attempts.
The symptoms listed above are not a complete list of possible withdrawal symptoms, and depending on certain individual factors and history of drug abuse, the duration of withdrawal symptoms may vary. Note that some users experience withdrawal symptoms, such as lack of motivation and mood swings, for up to a few years after detoxification.
Factors that may influence withdrawal
There are certain factors that may influence how long the withdrawal period lasts, namely, the period of usage and the dosage. The more dependent the body has become, the more severe and drawn out withdrawal symptoms will be.
The method of administration will also influence the duration and severity of withdrawal. Those taking the drug by prescription will take it in pill form. However, those taking Ativan recreationally via injection or snorting will become dependent, and possibly addicted, more quickly than those taking it orally.
Ativan Potential Dangers
Like other benzodiazepines, the best way to quit Ativan is by tapering. Quitting “cold turkey” can be dangerous and lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, brain damage, coma, or even death (in the most severe cases.)
Those seeking to end their Ativan prescription or addiction should do so under professional medical supervision. Doctors may be able to prescribe other medications to help treat Ativan withdrawal symptoms. They can also help treat comorbid disorders that occur with withdrawal, including mental illnesses.
Ativan Detox Centers
Withdrawal symptoms will be most pronounced in patients with severe addictions. Such persons may want to undergo the withdrawal, detoxification, and recovery process in a designated detox center.
A gradual tapering is the medically recommended process for coming off of Ativan. A doctor will be able to assist and monitor this process, checking vitals and watching for seizures and respiration issues. If necessary, mental health professionals are also available to provide emotional support throughout the detox. Patients may suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts while going through withdrawal and having support can greatly decrease the risk of acting on these feelings. Detox centers are the safest places to undergo the withdrawal and recovery process.
Ativan Withdrawal & Treatment
During treatment, doctors will taper a patient’s prescription. Slowly reducing the dosage will help users deal with rebound symptoms of withdrawal. Rebound symptoms are the symptoms that led users to seek an Ativan prescription in the first place: mainly anxiety or insomnia.
In addition to the medical and mental health support a user will receive at a center, they will also be instructed to make changes to their lifestyle such as getting frequent exercise and eating a healthy diet. Research shows that practicing yoga, meditation and breathing techniques can help reduce anxiety and improve the patient’s emotional and mental state.
- Pétursson H. The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Addiction. 1994. 89(11):1455-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7841856.
- The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Lorazepam – Medical Countermeasures Database. 2019. https://chemm.nlm.nih.gov/countermeasure_lorazepam.htm.
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