Ativan Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

Ativan Addiction Treatment Guide

Categorized as a benzodiazepine, Ativan, known clinically as lorazepam, is a prescription drug that doctors administer prior to delivering anesthesia. Doctors may also prescribe Ativan for anxiety or anxiety-induced insomnia and seizures. Lorazepam is also sometimes prescribed to curb withdrawal symptoms in some people who are addicted to alcohol. Like many prescription drugs, Ativan can be addictive and is sometimes abused. Patients who are legitimately prescribed the drug may become physically dependent with prolonged or excessive use. Others become addicted when they obtain the drug illegally and continue to abuse the drug because they enjoy the sedative effect.

The best way to avoid becoming addicted to Ativan is to refrain from using the drug recreationally or without the prescribing doctor’s knowledge and supervision. Patients should only use the medication in the prescribed amount and for the intended duration under the direct supervision of their doctor. Open communication between the patient and doctor and general awareness about the signs of addiction can also help patients avoid developing a dependency on the drug. If you believe you may have an Ativan addiction, treatment is available whether you were prescribed the drug by a doctor or you obtained it through recreational means.

Ativan Addiction Treatment

Using Ativan to Treat Alcohol Addiction

People who become addicted to alcohol commonly experience symptoms that resemble anxiety-related disorders. Treatment centers typically prefer longer-lasting benzodiazepines. Nevertheless, Ativan is used in treating clients who have liver damage or severe lung damage or who are over the age of 65. Because Ativan effectively alleviates symptoms of anxiety, the drug is widely regarded in use among people who are in the process of recovering from alcohol addiction. Administering Ativan to eliminate the withdrawal effect allows alcohol rehab clients to focus more fully on the treatment process without the distraction of illness and the intense physiological urge to drink.

Although Ativan is considered a safe, predictable treatment for alcohol withdrawal, the medication also carries strong warnings of the potential for dependency and addiction. When administered by a treatment center within the context of alcohol recovery, clients typically follow one of three regimens: a symptom-triggered regimen that depends on when the client actually experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms, a fixed tapering dose regimen that reduces gradually, or a loading dose regimen. Clients usually receive Ativan as a treatment for alcohol withdrawal for a duration of seven days. If symptoms are still present beyond this period, clients should notify their prescribing doctors to minimize the potential for developing long-term dependencies.

Why Ativan Is a Controlled Substance

Despite the general attitude that regards Ativan as a safe drug to use in the treatment of some addictions, ease of access to the drug poses risks. Not only are people who use Ativan for a longer period of time at risk of becoming dependent and overdosing, but Ativan may also cause overdose or death when combined with other drugs. Moreover, there are increased health risks associated with taking benzodiazepines in people over 65 who have a history of falls or other life-threatening injuries. Therefore, regulations require doctors and pharmacies to dispense Ativan and other benzodiazepines under close supervision.

Signs of Addiction to Ativan

Patients who become addicted to Ativan often start by using the drug appropriately under the direction of a physician. People who are prescribed Ativan for ongoing use typically suffer from anxiety. Therefore, they may find themselves increasing the frequency or duration of their usage because they favor the calm, peaceful, sleepy state that the drug induces. Ativan also produces side effects that may encourage a patient to unknowingly increase usage. The early signs of addiction are usually more subtle in those who began using their medications as prescribed.

Increased Dosage and Prolonged Use

If you find that you are running out of your medication and are requiring more frequent refills, this could be the first sign that you may have an addiction. Doctors anticipate how much medication a patient is likely to need when taken according to the prescribed schedule at the medically necessary dose. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe Ativan to be taken more sporadically as needed at the onset of anxiety.

Consuming the entire prescribed amount of Ativan before you are due for a refill may suggest that you have developed a tolerance to the drug. As tolerance builds, the body requires more of the drug to feel the same effect, thereby increasing the potential for physical dependency and, ultimately, addiction. Although recreational users usually do not obtain Ativan at prescribed intervals, they also experience a need for higher dosages or larger quantities of the drug. Recreational users sometimes crush Ativan pills and snort the drug in powdered form, or they mix the crushed powder with water and inject the mixture for faster delivery.

Prolonged use occurs when a patient continues to take Ativan after they have been directed by a doctor to stop. If the individual is unable to continue to get prescription refills, they may find ways to purchase the drug illegally.

Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

A person who tries to slow down on his or her Ativan use or abstain entirely may experience a negative physical reaction if they have become addicted. Ativan withdrawal symptoms may include any of the following:

• Insomnia
• Muscle spasms
• Anxiety
• Nightmares
• Difficulty concentrating
• Impaired memory

Recognizing Ativan withdrawal symptoms may be more difficult for people whose doctor prescribed the drug to treat anxiety. Many of the withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating, are similar to the symptoms that severe, recurrent anxiety often causes. If you believe you may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms after your doctor has stopped prescribing Ativan, do not be afraid to speak to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor will work with you to continue to treat your symptoms and to help you potentially avoid severe addiction.

Doctor Shopping

Some people who are addicted to Ativan are able to obtain the drug from doctors. However, when a doctor no longer prescribes the drug, the individual must seek out another means. It is not uncommon for benzodiazepine abusers to engage in a practice known as doctor shopping when they are no longer able to get refills under their current prescriptions. An individual seeks out other doctors in an attempt to obtain additional prescriptions for more of the drug than is medically necessary. Not only can doctor shopping supply the addict with drugs for personal use, but some people sell a portion of their drugs to other Ativan users who do not have prescriptions.

Effects of Addiction to Ativan

Addiction occurs in multiple stages. Therefore, an individual who has very recently become dependent on a substance will often have very different symptoms than someone who has been using a drug for many years. A person who uses benzodiazepines recreationally or longer than recommended by a doctor begins to experience a renewed difficulty in managing insomnia as tolerance initially builds. People who use Ativan to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms may gradually come to depend on the drug, and new symptoms may develop as a result of prolonged use.

Early-Stage Signs of Ativan Addiction

As Ativan users increase their dosages or frequency of use in response to building a tolerance, they may begin to experience depressive moods. Studies indicate the risk of depression increases with higher doses of benzodiazepines. The individual may also begin to experience negative effects on his or her cognition. Verbal learning abilities, comprehension, and speech may begin to slow due to the effect benzodiazepines have on the brain over time. In the early stages of addiction, individuals may develop a fear of quitting Ativan because they anticipate the severe withdrawal symptoms that these drugs tend to cause.

Long-Term Addiction

Long-term benzodiazepine addiction typically manifests through mental, physical, and behavioral signs. The individual becomes so dependent on the drug that he or she must invest a substantial amount of time in obtaining and consuming large doses of the drug and managing side effects.

At this point, side effects may include worsened insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, and general weakness. There is an increased risk of coma or overdose due to the large amount of Ativan that the individual must consume to avoid life-threatening withdrawal. Social relationships typically suffer and may become severely strained or non-existent at this stage. The addict’s physical appearance may also suffer as a result of becoming lax on hygiene due to depression, anxiety, and physical weakness.

Ativan Addiction Treatment

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be developing an addiction to Ativan, you can take comfort in knowing that treatment is available. While you may naturally feel frustrated and want the situation to be resolved without outside help, it is important to note that quitting “cold turkey” is dangerous and can potentially be life threatening. The safest, most effective way to stop using Ativan is to undergo supervised medical detox. Medical detox is most often the first step toward treating and overcoming the addiction.

Medical Detox for Addiction to Ativan

For people who are addicted to Ativan, withdrawal often includes a range of physical and potentially mental responses that require medical attention. Physical responses to drug cessation can include:

• Muscle tension or stiffness
• Heart palpitations
• Tremors
• Sleep disturbances
• Excessive sweating
• Seizures

More severe cases may include severe mental health responses. Seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you know abuses Ativan and experiences the following:

• Psychosis
• Hallucinations
• Suicidal ideations

If you have made the decision to stop abusing a benzodiazepine, contact a medical detox center to ensure that you are able to get clean safely and under supervision. Medical detox centers have staff available around the clock to monitor clients and to intervene immediately if the client needs medical intervention.

Ativan Treatment Options

Treatment for addiction to Ativan typically begins with intensive therapy and monitoring to help clients remain compliant. Rehab centers most often recommend a residential treatment program to help clients stabilize and establish a new, healthier sense of “normalcy.” Residential treatment usually lasts 30 to 90 days, depending on the nature of the program and the severity of the addiction.

In some cases, clients may feel more stable when they are allowed to remain in their home environments. Some treatment centers offer hybrid programs in which the client attends counseling sessions and program activities throughout the day and returns home only to sleep at night. Hybrid programs are best suited for clients who have healthy, drug-free home environments that are supportive and consistent with the client remaining clean and sober.

After clients complete residential treatment, they usually continue to receive support through an outpatient treatment program. Outpatient treatment offers the flexibility clients need to gradually reintegrate into the world outside and to continue to remain drug-free. The client may either transition into a sober living environment or return to living independently or with family upon entering outpatient treatment. At this point, the client must commit to returning to the treatment center daily or according to the prescribed schedule to continue to receive therapy and participate in program activities. Outpatient treatment is designed to eventually help the client become involved in sobriety groups and develop the confidence and tools they need to live more independently and remain drug-free.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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