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Ativan, also available under its generic name lorazepam, is a benzodiazepine. Like all benzodiazepines, it works by boosting the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) within the body. Ativan is an FDA-approved prescription tranquilizer and sedative used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
It also has a tranquilizing effect on the central nervous system and is administered to patients during surgery for sedation. Doctors also prescribe it off-label for treating other medical issues. It is available in tablet form and via intravenous injection.
Ativan treats a variety of medical issues, including:
This medication works in 15 to 30 minutes and peaks within one to one-and-a-half hours. Ativan is also a controlled substance and is classified as a Schedule four (IV) prescription drug, which means it has an accepted medical use but can cause physical or psychological dependence.
Off-label use of Ativan is common. The drug is not FDA approved but can be given for treating:
Off-label use of Ativan and other prescription drugs is not illegal. Doctors prescribe medication for purposes other than the FDA-approved uses. However, using a drug without a prescription, without your doctor’s knowledge, or sharing your prescription with someone without a prescription is not safe, nor is it legal.
Ativan is relatively safe when used under a doctor’s care, but might cause mild or serious side effects for some users.
Some of the most common side effects include:
Some users also experience:
Serious side effects associated with the use of Ativan include:
It’s also possible to experience a severe allergic reaction to Ativan. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
Additionally, this medication is known to trigger suicidal thoughts in some users and should not be taken by people with untreated depression.
It is possible to overdose on Ativan. Symptoms of an overdose include:
You should seek immediate medical attention if you believe you or a loved one has overdosed on Ativan.
Not all side effects of Ativan require emergency medical attention, but you should alert your doctor if you experience anything unusual.
Ativan is only for short-term use. Long-term use of the drug for four months or more can lead to serious side effects. Dependence is possible and triggers addiction symptoms, including physical and psychological dependence.
Users also experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Ativan after long-term use. They might also experience rebound anxiety or rebound insomnia. This means the conditions it treated grow worse when they stop taking it. Other withdrawal symptoms include:
Ativan is relatively safe when used properly. However, it can trigger side effects when mixed with other drugs, including alcohol. Drinking alcohol while taking the drug increases the risk of:
Ativan is also known to interact with other prescription medications and certain supplements. You should alert your doctor to your use of the following medications before taking Ativan or any other CNS depressant:
Ativan is used recreationally, and when taken in larger doses, can result in a “high.” Large doses trigger feelings of euphoria and exaggerated sedation.
In some cases, Ativan is prescribed for legitimate purposes, but the person eventually ends up abusing the drug. Signs of abuse include:
Any time someone is taking a prescription drug without a prescription it is considered abuse.
Indications that someone is abusing Ativan might be similar to the normal and desired response to the drug. This includes a sense of relaxation and calmness. Other signs someone has taken the drug include:
Someone abuse Ativan might also experience negative side effects, including:
High doses of Ativan might cause aggressive behavior, depression, paranoia, or suicidal thoughts.
Long-term abuse of the drug can lead to symptoms similar to those any drug dependent person would experience. These include:
There are no FDA-approved medications for treating an addiction to benzodiazepines like Ativan. However, there are other therapies that can help, including behavioral therapy. 12-step programs also reinforce sober living and help with recovery.
Someone who is abusing Ativan, or who is dependent on the drug, should undergo a medically supervised withdrawal process, followed by therapy. Additionally, treatment should include assistance with managing any original symptoms that indicated a need for a prescription.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Benzodiazepines and Opioids.” Drugabuse.Gov, 15 Mar. 2018, www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids
“Ativan (Lorazepam): Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Interactions, Warning.” RxList, www.rxlist.com/ativan-drug.htm#medguide