Updated on November 15, 2023
13 min read

What are the Dangers of Ativan Addiction and How is It Treated?

Ativan, the brand-name version of lorazepam, is a benzodiazepine medication that addresses anxiety and insomnia. While it has some beneficial effects for short-term episodes, taking this drug over time can lead to physical and psychological dependence.

Ativan addiction can lead to lasting health consequences, so it’s vital to understand the signs of misuse and dependence.

This blog post discusses the potential dangers of Ativan addiction. It also explores the various treatment options available for those looking to take precautions against developing an addiction.

What is Ativan?

Ativan is a prescription medication that belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. It works by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which slows down brain activity and produces a calming effect.

This makes it a helpful tranquilizer and sedative drug for managing anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions.

Physicians typically prescribe Ativan for short-term use only. Taking the drug over an extended period can result in addiction. It can also cause various negative side effects.

Different Forms of Ativan

Ativan comes in two forms: oral and injectable. People take it orally as a tablet for common situations, while medical professionals administer an injection in a hospital setting for seizures or other critical conditions.

The drug is available in various strengths ranging from 0.5 to 10mg. Dosage usually depends on your needs and the severity of your condition.

What is Ativan Prescribed For?

Doctors prescribe Ativan for the short-term treatment of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

For those struggling with insomnia, Ativan can help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increase total sleep time. In surgical settings, Ativan helps reduce anxiety before a procedure.

Off-Label Uses for Ativan

In addition to its prescribed uses, you can also use Ativan off-label for the following conditions:

  • Alcohol withdrawal delirium
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Delirium
  • Nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy
  • Panic disorder
  • Psychogenic catatonia
  • Vomiting

However, you should only practice using Ativan off-label under the guidance of a physician. Otherwise, it may lead to addiction and other health complications.

How Does Ativan Work?

People with anxiety disorders tend to have lower levels of GABA, which can contribute to their symptoms. Ativan increases the activity of GABA in the brain, resulting in a calming effect. By enhancing its effects, Ativan helps reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

Ativan works in 15 to 30 minutes and peaks within 2 hours.


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What are the Side Effects of Ativan?

Ativan is mostly safe, but it might cause some users mild or severe side effects.

Some of Ativan’s most common side effects include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Restlessness

Serious Side Effects and Risks of Ativan

Although rare, Ativan may cause severe side effects requiring immediate medical attention. Seek help right away if you experience any of the following adverse reactions from Ativan use:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Respiratory failure
  • Anxiety
  • Psychological and physical dependence
  • Body aches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Nightmares
  • Sleep apnea

Additionally, this medication can trigger suicidal thoughts, delirium, and paranoia in some users. If you experience these thoughts, call 911 or contact your physician immediately.

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What are the Risks of Ativan?

Ativan is relatively safe when used correctly. However, you increase the following risks when you take this drug and drink alcohol simultaneously:

  • Breathing problems and respiratory failure
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Sedation
  • Memory problems
  • Coma

It’s possible to experience a severe allergic reaction to Ativan. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives or a rash
  • Breathing problems
  • Swallowing problems
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue

Ativan can also trigger side effects when you mix it with other drugs. Consult your doctor to confirm what you can and can’t take with your Ativan treatment.

What are Ativan’s Drug Interactions?

Ativan is also known to interact with other prescription medications and certain supplements. You should alert your doctor to your use of the following drugs before taking Ativan or any other central nervous system (CNS) depressant. This includes:

How Does Ativan Compare to Valium and Xanax?

Although all benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, they vary in effectiveness and specific side effects.

Here's how Ativan compares to other benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax:

Ativan vs. Xanax

  • Xanax has a faster onset of effect, lasting about 4 to 6 hours. Ativan's duration of action is approximately 8 hours.
  • The impact of race on Xanax’s effectiveness is significant, as people of Asian descent experience higher concentrations and longer-lasting effects. This is also true for those with concurrent obesity, liver or kidney disease, and alcoholism. Race or age has less influence on Ativan.
  • Xanax offers faster sedative effects compared to Ativan. However, they also wear off more quickly.

Ativan vs. Valium

  • Both medications can be addictive. If you discontinue using either drug, a withdrawal syndrome may occur. The withdrawal symptoms can be severe in the case of Valium.
  • Ativan and Valium are highly effective drugs. However, Valium receives more positive reviews compared to Ativan. Ativan also has a higher number of reported negative side effects.
  • Ativan's most common side effect is sedation. Valium's potential side effect is hypotonia, which causes decreased muscle tone.

Before using either drug, consult your healthcare provider to determine which medication is best for you. Remember to tell your doctor all the medications you're taking, as they may have interactions with either Ativan or Valium.

Is Ativan a Controlled Substance?

Yes, Ativan is a controlled substance. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies all benzodiazepines, including Ativan, as Schedule IV drugs.

Schedule IV drugs have a low potential for abuse. However, they can lead to psychological or physical dependence when you use them over an extended period. Other examples of controlled substances in this category include Valium and Xanax.

Ativan pill

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What are Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms?

Users experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Ativan after long-term use. This means the conditions it treats worsen when they stop taking it. The most common withdrawal symptoms result in rebound anxiety or rebound insomnia.

Rebound Anxiety

Rebound anxiety is a common withdrawal symptom from Ativan use. It occurs when your symptoms return, and they might feel worse than before.

Rebound anxiety symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Tremors

Experiencing rebound anxiety may lead to taking higher doses or using the drug for extended periods. This can develop into physical dependence and lead to long-term adverse effects from Ativan use.

Rebound Insomnia

In some cases, Ativan users report experiencing rebound insomnia after they stop taking it. This results in difficulty sleeping worse than before. Rebound insomnia symptoms include:

  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Feeling restless during sleep
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness

Other Withdrawal Symptoms

Other withdrawal symptoms from Ativan use include:

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Tremor
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression

Is Ativan Used Recreationally?

When someone takes a prescription drug without a prescription, it is a form of recreational use or misuse. Ativan is a highly addictive drug, and some people use it recreationally. They might crush and snort pills or mix the drug with alcohol to amplify its effects.

In larger doses, Ativan causes a high similar to that of alcohol. It can lead to intense relaxation, euphoria, and sedation.

How Can You Recognize Physical and Behavioral Indications of Ativan Use?

Both physical and behavioral signs can indicate someone is misusing Ativan. These may include:

Physical Indicators

  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination or motor skills
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Changes in appetite or weight loss/gain
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Slowed breathing rate

Behavioral Indicators

  • Slowed response time
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Neglecting responsibilities or interests
  • Reduced inhibitions

If you notice any of these physical and behavioral indications, addressing them and seeking help is essential. Early intervention can prevent further damage due to Ativan use.

Who Is at Risk for Ativan Addiction?

Anyone can develop an addiction to Ativan. However, some factors increase your risk. They include:

  • A history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Family history of substance use disorder
  • Mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety
  • Taking high doses or using them for extended periods

People with a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, may be more at risk of developing Ativan addiction. This is because they often experience heightened emotional distress and may turn to drugs and medications for relief.

What are the Signs of Ativan Abuse?

Symptoms of Ativan abuse vary from person to person. However, you can look for these common signs if you suspect someone of abusing the drug:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Taking more frequent doses than prescribed
  • Using the drug with the sole purpose of achieving a high
  • Combining the drug with other substances, especially alcohol
  • Snorting or injecting the drug

If you notice these signs in yourself or a loved one, seek help immediately. Ativan abuse can lead to addiction and other health complications if left untreated.

What Are Ativan Overdose Symptoms?

An Ativan overdose can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an Ativan overdose include:

  • Altered speech patterns
  • Sweating
  • Extreme weakness
  • Nightmares
  • Problems walking
  • Trembling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Problems with muscle control or coordination
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Sluggishness
  • Extreme excitement, nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
  • Paleness

You should seek immediate medical attention if you believe you or a loved one has overdosed on Ativan. Prompt treatment can help avoid adverse effects such as coma and respiratory failure.

What are the Long-Term Implications of Ativan Dependence?

Long-term drug abuse can lead to symptoms similar to those any drug-dependent person would experience. Some of the potential long-term implications of Ativan dependence include:

Physical Implications

Some physical implications of dependence on Ativan include:

  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Changes in appetite and weight gain/loss
  • Cardiovascular problems such as low blood pressure and heart attack

Mental Health Implications

Ativan abuse can lead to mental health issues, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Memory loss and cognitive decline

Social Implications

Long-term Ativan use can also have severe social implications, such as:

  • Strained relationships with family and friends due to behavioral changes caused by drug abuse
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Financial problems due to spending money on obtaining and using Ativan

How Should You Monitor the Side Effects and Usage of Ativan?

Ativan is only for short-term use. Long-term drug use for 4 months or more can lead to dependence and addiction.

If you or someone you know is taking Ativan, it's essential to monitor its usage and side effects closely. Some ways to do this include:

  • Keeping track of the prescribed dosage and any changes made by a doctor
  • Monitoring physical and behavioral changes in yourself or your loved one
  • Being aware of potential interactions with other drugs or alcohol
  • Seeking help if you suspect addiction or any negative side effects

How Do You Safely Stop Using Ativan?

It's essential to seek medical supervision when stopping the use of Ativan. Stopping abruptly can cause severe withdrawal symptoms and potentially life-threatening complications like seizures.

A doctor may gradually decrease the dosage over several weeks or months to minimize withdrawal effects. They may also prescribe other medication to help manage withdrawal symptoms.

It's crucial to follow a doctor's instructions and not to try quitting without medical supervision. Otherwise, you may face severe withdrawal symptoms and potential relapse.

What Are the Treatment Options for Ativan Abuse?

There are no FDA-approved medications for treating an addiction to benzodiazepines like Ativan. However, therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, and group therapy are effective in treating Ativan abuse.

In severe cases, detoxification under medical supervision may be necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms safely.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a psychotherapy technique that identifies and changes negative thoughts and behaviors of drug abuse. It aims to help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and address underlying issues that may contribute to substance abuse.

CBT can help you manage drug cravings and prevent relapse by teaching you the following skills:

  • Stress management
  • Problem-solving
  • Developing a support network
  • Identifying and avoiding triggers


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a treatment approach that involves talking to a therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It can help you address mental health issues contributing to Ativan abuse or addiction.

Individual psychotherapy sessions allow for personalized treatment based on your needs and goals. Some forms of psychotherapy used to treat Ativan abuse include:

  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a treatment approach that involves attending sessions with other people also seeking treatment for Ativan abuse. It allows you to receive support from others in similar situations and provides a sense of community.

Group therapy can also help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve social skills. It's best suited for those comfortable sharing their experiences with others and participating in group discussions.


In cases of severe Ativan dependence, detoxification may be necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. This process involves gradually reducing the dosage of Ativan until it's no longer required under medical supervision.

Detoxification can take several days to weeks, depending on the severity and duration of Ativan use. It's essential to undergo detoxification under medical supervision to manage any potential complications that may arise, such as seizures.

12-Step Programs

12-step programs are support groups that use a spiritual approach to help you overcome drug addiction. They're based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and provide a structured program for recovery.

Some well-known 12-step programs for addiction to benzodiazepines include:

  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Pills Anonymous (PA)
  • Co-dependents of Narcotics Anonymous (CoDA)

Aftercare Programs

Aftercare programs are treatment options that follow primary rehabilitation for Ativan abuse. They provide ongoing support and assistance to prevent relapse and help you maintain long-term sobriety.

Some common aftercare programs include:

  • Sober living houses
  • Support groups, such as SMART Recovery or Women for Sobriety (WFS)
  • Individual therapy sessions
  • Outpatient treatment programs

Alternative Therapies

Aside from traditional treatment options, alternative therapies and approaches can help manage anxiety and insomnia without medication. These include:

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback therapy

These non-pharmacological therapeutic approaches can relieve and improve your overall well-being. They can also complement traditional treatment methods and techniques for Ativan abuse, providing a holistic approach to recovery.

Additional Resources for Ativan Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with Ativan abuse or addiction, resources are available to help you recover. Some organizations you can look up include:


Ativan is a potent benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and insomnia symptoms for short-term instances. Long-term Ativan use can cause addiction and dependence, so you must use it as your doctor directs to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms and long-term health complications.

Ativan addiction can worsen the conditions it treats, leading to continued misuse at higher doses. There are several treatment options for Ativan abuse, including detoxification and aftercare programs. You can look up resources from different organizations to help you or someone you know struggling with Ativan abuse.

If you need help recovering from Ativan addiction, consult an addiction specialist today.

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Updated on November 15, 2023

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