Understanding Ativan Dependence, Addiction, and Treatment
Anxiety treatment comes in many forms and levels of effectiveness. One such treatment used by many physicians is Lorazepam, more commonly known in the market by its brand name Ativan. It’s easily one of the most widely prescribed benzodiazepines used by doctors. An estimate of 26.5 million Ativan prescriptions was given in 2017 alone. That number continues to grow over the years as more people with anxiety disorders get treatment for their condition.
Though this particular drug works quite well in helping people deal with their anxiety symptoms, there are some risks that are quite hard to avoid, like drug addiction. This is actually a common risk held by many prescription medications. Let’s explore what this drug is capable of doing and how to detoxify your body with its addicting effects.
What is Ativan?
Ativan is the brand name of a medication known as lorazepam, which is a short-acting prescription sedative that belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. This particular class of drugs is designed chiefly for anxiety as well as treating other conditions. The exact mechanism of action of benzodiazepines has not yet been fully explored by the medical community. However, it is believed that drugs in this class work primarily by affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemicals that nerves release in order to communicate with other nearby nerves. Other examples of benzodiazepines are:
- Oxazepam (Serax)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Clorazepate (Tranxene)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
Lorazepam, in particular, is mainly used to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders and may be used alone or in conjunction with other medications. It’s actually considered dangerous to purchase Ativan on the internet or outside the United States due to the many side effects it can produce, not to mention its tendency to make users of the drug become addicted to it.
Off-Label Uses of Ativan
Some physicians also prescribe Ativan for alcohol withdrawal symptoms to try to reduce some of the complications. The drug can also be used in the treatment of symptoms of schizophrenia, such as agitation. Patients undergoing chemotherapy are also sometimes prescribed with some dosage of Ativan to help decrease nausea and vomiting.
What are the Side Effects of Ativan?
Experts caution people from misusing or abusing prescription drugs for a reason. It’s mostly because of the slew of side effects that come with it. If used correctly, drugs like Ativan can be quite effective in achieving their goal of treating anxiety. However, if you use it beyond what your physician has prescribed, then you’re in for an entirely different experience. Side effects could easily overwhelm you and can range from something as mild as drowsiness to something more serious. Some of the common side effects of Ativan include:
- Memory Problems
- Lack of Balance or Coordination
- Feeling Unsteady
While these are just common side effects and can still occur even if you follow your doctor’s prescription, misusing Ativan and using it for prolonged periods could produce the following more severe side effects to your body:
- Severe Drowsiness
- Muscle Weakness
- Sleep Problems
- Vision Changes
- Drooping Eyelids
- Upper Stomach Pain
- Thoughts of Suicide or Harming Yourself
- Sudden Restlessness
- Dark Urine
- Unusual Changes in Mood or Behavior
- Yellowing of the Skin or Eyes
- Trouble Swallowing
Once you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, it’s better to consult your doctor right away. These side effects could quickly develop and become more severe if left unchecked.
Dependence and Addiction
Ativan, like many prescription medications, can cause physical dependence and, eventually, addiction. There are two main hallmarks of physical dependence on Ativan, and they are:
- Tolerance is developed when a person taking Ativan starts to require increased amounts of it to get the desired therapeutic effect or recreational “high.” The problem with this is it can become a never ending cycle as you build tolerance and increase your dosage of the drug. In time, it could even lead to overdose.
- With increased tolerance, those who abuse Ativan will also start to develop withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop taking the drug or significantly reduce the dosage.
Seeing these two hallmarks of dependence shows just how serious of a condition it is. It’s not even drug addiction yet. Dependence is merely a component of addiction. While the risk of being addicted to Ativan is high once you’ve developed dependence for it, not all people who are physically dependent will become addicted. It’s also worth noting that Ativan addiction will generally show mental and behavioral signs, just like with other highly addictive drugs.
Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms
Those who are addicted to Ativan will start to experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit using the drug or rapidly decrease their dose. The drug can be really dangerous if you use it recklessly. Even those who take only the recommended dosage can even feel some of the withdrawal symptoms. Some people have even reported that they developed a physical dependence on it in as little as one week.
During withdrawal, the brain and the nervous system undergo an adjustment as they try to relearn how to function properly again without the help of Ativan. This period of adjustment is where most people experience varying degrees of physical and psychological discomfort, which is what you see as withdrawal symptoms. These things vary in severity and duration and depend a lot on how much of the drug was used and for how long. A person’s medical history and the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders also affect the severity of the symptoms. Some of the physical symptoms of Ativan withdrawal may include:
- Drug Cravings
- Muscle Aches and Pains
- Abdominal Cramps
- Changes in Mood
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Changes in Blood Pressure
These are just physical symptoms of withdrawal. There is also the potential of experiencing psychological symptoms like seizures, anxiety, panic attacks, convulsions, and psychosis. In some cases, it could even be fatal.
How to Quit Using Ativan
The general recommendation by experts in the medical community is that you shouldn’t go cold turkey when you quit using Ativan. This is because a cold turkey withdrawal could easily lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms. You should also consider if you have any underlying mental illnesses as it can affect the severity of the withdrawal symptoms if you do it cold turkey. It’s more advisable to seek constant medical attention and undergo a detoxing phase to somehow mitigate some of the effects that you may encounter.
If you or someone you know is undergoing Ativan addiction, medically assisted detoxification is the most beneficial way of treatment. There are medications out there that can help to reduce Ativan withdrawal symptoms and make the detox process much more comfortable. It’s essential to perform a detox with a physician to help you manage some of the symptoms, especially if it suddenly becomes life-threatening.
However, it’s important to remember that a medically assisted detox doesn’t mean you won’t feel any withdrawal symptoms. You’ll still feel a lot of the effects, but they are much more manageable, and you’ll have the help of a licensed physician to help you go through it.
Ativan is a commonly used sedative that is quite effective at battling anxiety symptoms but is also a lot dangerous when misused or even abused. It’s important to know just how severe Ativan dependence is and how you can overcome it with the help of a well-structured detox program.