Ativan Effects, Overdose, and Treatment

Ativan, the brand name for lorazepam, is a fast-acting benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and other disorders. However, it is also used recreationally. Due to its potential for addiction, both people with prescriptions and recreational users are at risk of developing a dependency if they misuse Ativan.
Evidence Based
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What is Ativan?

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:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

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.

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Off-label Use of Ativan

Off-label use of Ativan is common. The drug is not FDA approved but can be given for treating:

  • Nausea from vertigo
  • Nausea from chemotherapy
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Agitation
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Condition-specific anxiety (such as flying)

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.

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Side Effects of Ativan

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:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

Some users also experience:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Restlessness

Serious side effects associated with the use of Ativan include:

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

It’s also 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

Additionally, this medication is known to trigger suicidal thoughts in some users and should not be taken by people with untreated depression.

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Ativan Overdose

It is possible to overdose on Ativan. Symptoms of an 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.

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:

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Tremor
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
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Risks of Ativan

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:

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

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:

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Is Ativan Used Recreationally?

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:

  • 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

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:

  • Slowed response time
  • Decreased coordination
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Reduced inhibitions

Someone abuse Ativan might also experience negative side effects, including:

  • Problems with speech
  • Personality changes
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased respiration

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:

  • Increased tolerance requiring higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effect
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities and commitments
  • Social isolation
  • Focus on obtaining the drug, including a willingness to break the law or betray loved ones
  • Feeling unable to function without the drug
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Treatment for Ativan Abuse

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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Resources

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

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
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Medically Reviewed: March 5, 2020
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Annamarie Coy

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