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Side Effects Of Long-Term Ativan Use And Abuse

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D

When someone uses Ativan in excess or for longer than their doctor recommends, they put themselves at risk of cognitive damage, overdose, dependence and addiction.

Addictioncampuses.com Side Effects Of Long Term Ativan Use And Abuse

Ativan (lorazepam) is one of the most popularly prescribed medications for anxiety in the United States. It is classified as a benzodiazepine drug, along with Xanax (alprazolam), a similar anxiety medication. These drugs are fast-acting, meaning they provide rapid relief for anxiety. Unfortunately, this gives them the potential to be abused.

The window of effectiveness (half-life) for Ativan is not long. When a person uses Ativan as prescribed, they may experience “rebound anxiety” in between doses, which leads some individuals to increase their dosage against their doctor’s recommendation.

The calming and euphoric effects of Ativan are also desirable to people who do not suffer from an anxiety disorder. Some people may take Ativan to experience a high or an intense state of relaxation or to self-medicate their mild anxiety symptoms.

Ativan is intended for temporary relief of anxiety, to be taken as needed. When it is used or abused over a long period of time—especially infrequent high doses—the risk of adverse side effects increases.

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Side effects that can occur with long-term Ativan use and abuse include:

  • drowsiness
  • visual disturbance
  • memory loss
  • depression
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a headache
  • hallucinations
  • violent mood changes
  • aggressive behavior
  • suicidal tendencies

One of the most dangerous side effects of prolonged Ativan use is seizures. While Ativan may be prescribed to help alleviate seizures, the way that it affects the brain can actually cause seizures if it is used excessively.

Addictioncampuses.com Side Effects Of Long-Term Ativan Use And Abuse Anxiety

Long-Term Effects Of Ativan On The Mind And Body

“Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older,” notes the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Ativan reduces anxiety by depressing the central nervous system and slowing functions like breathing, heart rate, and brain activity.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in the brain. Its job is to regulate the brain’s excitement levels and maintain a relative calm. Ativan increases the effects of GABA to help those struggling with anxiety to feel more relaxed.

The sedative properties of Ativan make it useful not only for relieving anxiety but also for panic attacks, seizures, insomnia, surgical anesthesia and to ease symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Mental Effects Of Ativan Use

Ativan can alleviate many mental health troubles, but it is not without risk. Over time, Ativan can cause cognitive issues. It may affect a person’s ability to speak properly and can lead to memory problems. Ativan has been linked to an increased chance of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Negative mental effects may be reversed when a person stops taking Ativan, but this is not always the case. Even if someone does not experience mental side effects, long-term Ativan use increases the risk of addiction, a truly debilitating mental disease.

Physical Effects Of Ativan Use

Ativan may cause the enzymes in the liver to increase, which is often an indication of inflamed or damaged liver tissue. Jaundice—a yellowing of the skin or eyes frequently related to liver damage—may also result from Ativan use.

Changes may occur in a person’s appetite, weight, and sexual desire. The sedative effects of Ativan can lead to vertigo (dizziness), weakness of the muscles and loss of coordination or bodily control.

How Is Ativan Abused?

Ativan (lorazepam) comes as a tablet, liquid or injection. The tablet form may be dissolved beneath the tongue (sublingually) for more effective absorption. Ativan is commonly abused orally, but some people crush and snort Ativan tablets, hoping for an immediate effect.

Snorting (insufflation) takes Ativan to the brain quickly through blood vessels in the nose. However, since Ativan is already a fast-acting drug, this mode of intake may do more harm than good. Snorting powdered Ativan can severely damage the nasal tissue.

Ativan can be administered safely by intravenous or intramuscular injection. If abused by injection, bacterial infections can occur from unclean needles, as can transmission of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

Ativan Abuse And Overdose Risk

A person can overdose on Ativan (lorazepam) by taking too much at once or having it build up in their system. A build-up can occur if another dose of Ativan is taken before the previous dose has been processed.

Benzodiazepines are stored in body fat, which means they remain in the body for a decent length of time. If too much accumulation occurs, the levels of Ativan in the body can reach toxic levels.

It is more likely, however, that overdose will occur when Ativan is taken with another substance. A study published in American Family Physician found that 80 percent of benzodiazepine abuse occurs as polysubstance use, most notably with opioid drugs.

Combining Ativan with central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, opioids, and other benzodiazepines intensify sedation. This can cause severe respiratory depression that may result in loss of consciousness, coma or death.

Mixing Ativan with stimulant drugs can also be dangerous, as the differing substances counteract each other. A person under the influence of both a depressant and a stimulant may feel less impaired than they would under the influence of just one drug.

This can cause them to take more of either substance in order to increase its effects. Since the drugs interfere with one another, it can be very hard to gauge how much is “safe,” which makes overdose a significant risk with any type of polysubstance use.

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Ativan Dependence And Withdrawal

Over time, the body becomes tolerant to benzodiazepines like Ativan (lorazepam). For the drug to have the same effect, a higher dose is required. Tolerance to hypnotic effects that aid in sleep occurs first and tolerance to anti-anxiety properties follows.

As an individual’s tolerance grows, they continue to need larger amounts of Ativan. Because tolerance develops quickly, American Family Physician states that “there is little evidence to indicate that benzodiazepines retain their efficacy after four to six months of regular use.”

Instead, it is likely that someone will develop a physical dependence on Ativan with prolonged use. When this happens, they experience withdrawal symptoms like sweating, vomiting, abdominal cramps, tachycardia (rapid heart rate) or seizures if they suddenly stop taking Ativan.

Doctors advise tapering off of Ativan slowly in order to limit or avoid withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from Ativan may be life-threatening because it can disrupt brain activity and cause seizures. Tapering allows the body to adjust more slowly and effectively, which can help prevent the development of addiction.

Dangers Of Ativan Addiction

Many people—doctors included—believe that the effects of anxiety on the mind and body can be more dangerous than the side effects of the drug that relieves it. What they may not consider is that benzodiazepine drugs like Ativan (lorazepam) can actually worsen anxiety symptoms if used in excess.

When Ativan is used to regulate brain function for an extended period of time, the brain stops controlling GABA and allows the drug to take control. If a person stops taking Ativan, their brain activity surges, causing intense anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. These unpleasant and over-stimulating effects lead the individual to take more Ativan for relief.

This mental dependence (addiction) is very difficult to overcome. As tolerance grows, a person takes more and more Ativan. They become consumed by thoughts of obtaining and taking the drug. They cannot control their drug use, and continue taking Ativan even when it becomes the cause of their problems, rather than the cure.

Addiction is the most devastating side effect of long-term Ativan use and abuse. It can lead to strained relationships, depleted finances, unemployment, loss of child custody, and an overall unhealthy and meaningless life. But addiction doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

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Find Freedom From Ativan Addiction

The first step toward freedom from Ativan addiction is detoxification. Our medically supervised detox program for benzodiazepine addiction monitors individuals closely through the withdrawal process to ensure their safety. After the drug is eliminated from their body, treatment for addiction can begin.

At Addiction Campuses, we believe that every person struggling with a substance use disorder is unique. We work with individuals to create treatment plans based on their needs. The most effective treatment for addiction is not one type of therapy, but rather a variety of methods that examine the many issues surrounding substance use.

Addiction is a disease that takes over the mind. Evidence-based treatments like counseling and behavioral therapy can help recovering individuals regain control over their thoughts and actions.

  • Individual and group counseling encourages people to examine and discuss issues related to their personal experience with addiction and recovery.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) pinpoints negative thought patterns that lead to destructive behavior and works closely with the individual to transform their thinking so they can make positive choices. This can help relieve anxiety as well.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) focuses on mindfulness, acceptance and working toward change by helping individuals identify negative influences in their lives and teaching them healthy coping skills.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment can benefit those suffering from both addiction and a co-occurring mental disorder, such as anxiety disorder. Dual diagnosis recognizes all the factors that contribute to substance abuse and aims to decrease the chance of relapse.

Our residential addiction treatment facilities provide a safe and comfortable environment for recovery. The inpatient setting is substance-free and offers around-the-clock support. This intensive level of care allows us to get to know each recovering individual personally and address their physical, mental and spiritual needs more fully.

For more information regarding Ativan (lorazepam) addiction and treatment options, reach out to one of our specialists today. Freedom is only a phone call away.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America - https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

U.S. National Library of Medicine - https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=89057c93-8155-4040-acec-64e877bd2b4c

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D
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