Lorazepam (Ativan) is a prescription anti-anxiety medication used to treat several mental and physical conditions, including anxiety, panic disorder, epilepsy, and alcohol withdrawal. Despite its relative safety and effectiveness, long-term use that can result in dependence and addiction.
Benzodiazepine-based medications are frequently used to treat the symptoms of these types of disorders because they are potent CNS (central nervous system) depressants. Drugs in the depressant class enhance the effect of the neurochemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the body, resulting in sedation, reduced anxiety, reduced seizure activity, and muscle relaxation.
Because lorazepam stimulates and alters the brain’s reward system, it has the potential to lead to dependence and addiction. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) classifies lorazepam and other benzos as Schedule IV substances. Individuals who are prescribed lorazepam may be more likely to develop a dependence on these medications. This effect is due to therapeutic exposure to the drug in combination with existing mental health issues, such as anxiety and substance abuse (e.g., alcoholism).
Moreover, persons who have suffered from substance use disorders are more likely to struggle with abuse of lorazepam or other sedatives. This may be especially true for those who have suffered from alcohol use disorders because benzos have effects comparable to alcohol and may be prescribed to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
As a short-acting benzo, the euphoric and sedating effects of lorazepam usually subside after about two hours. For this reason, people who use this medication may soon feel anxious or experience other unwanted symptoms soon after. The unpleasantness of this effect may encourage the user to take another dose before it’s prudent. This circumstance may serve to perpetuate a cycle of misuse, dependence, and addiction faster than long-acting benzos, such as Valium (diazepam).
People who misuse lorazepam for non-medical purposes rarely use this substance alone to get high. One recent study found that about 80% of benzodiazepine abuse was related to polydrug abuse, most commonly in combination with opioids. What’s more, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that more than 30% of opioid-related overdoses also involve benzodiazepines. Other research has revealed that people with alcohol use disorders also tend to abuse Ativan and other benzos.
People who use other depressants, especially alcohol and opioids (e.g., heroin, oxycodone), might use lorazepam or other benzos to amplify the effects of the other psychoactive substances. However, this behavior is quite risky and can rapidly lead to a life-threatening overdose and other severe health complications.
Lorazepam Side Effects
Lorazepam, even when used as directed, may cause side effects. However, these are more likely to manifest or become more severe if the person is misusing/abusing the drugs by taking it too frequently or in excessive doses. Lorazepam and other benzos have been associated with several side effects, on both a short- and long-term basis. These may include the following:
- Impaired equilibrium
- Low blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Parasomnias (e.g., sleepwalking)
- Respiratory depression
Signs of Lorazepam Abuse and Addiction
A person struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol will begin to exhibit a number of related symptoms, including behavioral changes and various physical effects, including the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Disorientation or confusion
- Cognitive impairments
- Memory loss/amnesia
- Slurred speech
- Symptoms similar to drunkenness
Once tolerance has developed, the person will no longer be able to achieve the sought-after effects of lorazepam. In response, the user may start increasing the amount or frequency of their dose, with or without a doctor’s permission.
If a user has developed a dependence on lorazepam and tries to discontinue use, he or she will soon begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. These occur because the person’s body has adapted to the medication’s presence and can no longer function correctly without it. Withdrawal symptoms can manifest after just a few weeks of abuse and become more intense when a person tries to discontinue the use of their medication abruptly or “cold turkey.”
Lorazepam withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Rebound anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Impaired memory
- Numbness and tingling
- Abdominal cramps
- Heart palpitations
- Rapid pulse
If the person stops using lorazepam suddenly, the most severe (and concerning) physical withdrawal symptoms can persist for a week or more. The abrupt cessation of any benzo is risky and never advised. Those who are dependent are urged to seek help from a doctor or addiction specialist to help them devise a tapering schedule or safety-driven detox and recovery plan.
Also, the discomfort of withdrawal fueled by drug cravings can easily result in a relapse as the individual attempts to subdue the unwanted symptoms. This dangerous and potentially life-threatening pattern of use can escalate indefinitely. For these reasons, medical detox is recommended for benzo withdrawal.
Changes in behavior that may indicate a person is addicted to lorazepam or other benzos include the following:
- Compulsive drug-seeking behavior
- Intense drug cravings
- Using an increasing amount of the drug due to tolerance
- Prioritizing drug use over obligations or enjoyable activities, such as work, family, or social events
- Being deceptive about how much of the drug one is using
- Stealing money or other items to help pay for drug-using habits
- Doctor-shopping in the pursuit of acquiring multiple prescriptions
- Irritability, aggression, moodiness, and depression
- Denials of addiction despite the incurrence of adverse consequences
Signs and Symptoms of Overdose
An overdose of lorazepam or another benzo may include the following symptoms:
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Stumbling and falling
- Diminished muscle tone
- Low blood pressure
- Profound sedation
- Severe respiratory depression
People who are overdosing on lorazepam typically experience shallow breathing and respiratory depression or arrest that can result in unconsciousness, coma, and death.
Treatment for Lorazepam Dependence and Addiction
For those suffering from an addiction to lorazepam or other substances, it is vital to get help to overcome this disorder. Long-term use is associated with a wealth of adverse physical effects and poor health. Changes in behavior can also result in loss of social support and several unwanted consequences, including financial and legal issues.
Two broad approaches are considered to be safe and effective for the treatment of lorazepam dependence. One requires a tapering schedule under medical supervision until the brain and body are no longer physically dependent on the drug. This technique can usually be performed at home, but it often helps to include outpatient therapy and counseling to help with the individual’s emotional needs and recovery.
Another method is to undergo medical detox in a clinical environment such as a detox center. This process should also include participation in a comprehensive addiction treatment program that would begin immediately after detox has been completed.
Just Believe Recovery is a specialized addiction treatment facility that features a well-rounded approach to substance abuse. We aim to address the factors that contribute to substance abuse, such as those related to the environment, lifestyle, history of trauma, and physical and emotional well-being. Our programs include both partial-hospitalization and residential formats that provide research-based behavioral therapies, counseling, group support, aftercare planning services, fun activities, and much, much more.
If you or someone you love is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, we urge you to contact us today! We provide the tools, education, and support required to help those who need it most achieve abstinence and foster long-term sobriety and wellness!