Powerful sedatives are prescribed to treat various conditions, including anxiety, one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Among them is Ativan, a potent benzodiazepine medication that also treats seizures, insomnia, and other conditions.
The Schedule IV medication is among the most prescribed benzodiazepines, along with Xanax (alprazolam) and Klonopin (clonazepam). Therapeutic doses of these drugs help many people. But increasingly, they are being misused and abused, even by those who have legal prescriptions for them. Also, disturbingly, fake pills are being passed off as benzodiazepine medications on the recreational drug scene.
They are either deadly fentanyl drugs cut with benzodiazepines, which are called “benzo dope.” In some cases, they may not be benzodiazepines at all. According to this Vice article, benzo dope has appeared on drug scenes in parts of the United States and Canada. This rising trend, along with overprescribing practices of Ativan and other sedatives, has the attention of the medical and law enforcement communities.
Below, we discuss the dangers of Ativan addiction, how to recognize the symptoms, and how professional treatment can help someone address their Ativan dependence safely.
What Is Ativan?
Ativan (generic name lorazepam) is a potent benzodiazepine medication prescribed to people with anxiety disorders, chronic sleep disorders, seizures, and manic bipolar disorder. It is also used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including psychosis. Because benzodiazepine medications are habit-forming (addictive), they are prescribed for short-term use, usually no longer than two weeks to a month. Ativan acts quickly when in the body but lasts a long time, from 10 to 20 hours.
As with other benzodiazepines, Ativan calms activity in the brain as it acts on the organ’s gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. Once it stimulates the GABA neurotransmitter, people who use the drug will feel calmer and relaxed. Abusing Ativan reduces the body’s natural GABA response as it becomes dependent on the drug to produce the chemical. Ativan users will feel the effects of this when they notice their usual Ativan dose no longer affects them the way it used to. This prompts them to take more of the drug, which only increases their dependence on it.
On the recreational drug scene, Ativan goes by the nicknames Goofballs, Downers, Candy. They may also be referred to as “Benzos,” which is a shortened form of “benzodiazepines.” It can refer to the category of drugs as well.
What Are the Signs of Ativan Addiction?
Some people can hide their substance addiction from others, but there are ways to tell when someone is addicted to Ativan. First, it’s important to realize that recreational users and people with legitimate prescriptions for the drug can abuse the drug. One reason the drug is so potent is that many users develop a quick tolerance for Ativan and soon feel unable to function without it.
Some of the symptoms of Ativan are similar to alcohol intoxication. Benzos and alcohol both affect the brain in similar ways, so a person addicted to Ativan may have “drunk-like” movements. They may also experience:
- Slurred speech, stuttering
- Delayed movements, reflexes
- Tremors (shaking)
- Mental confusion
- Erratic or aggressive behavior
While each person is different, Ativan can affect multiple users in similar ways. You may notice these in yourself or a loved one:
- Intrusive thoughts and/or Ativan thoughts, cravings
- Increased isolation from others to use Ativan
- Taking Ativan longer or in larger amounts than prescribed
- Taking Ativan outside of a personal prescription
- Crushing, chewing, smoking, or injecting Ativan into the body
- Using Ativan with other drugs, alcohol
- Attempting to stop Ativan use without success
- Feeling withdrawal symptoms once Ativan use is cut back or stops
- Using Ativan regardless of what happens (strained relationships, strained finances, legal trouble, health problems)
Longtime Ativan users should not suddenly decide to “go cold turkey” and stop using Ativan. This is not the safe route to stopping chronic Ativan use. If you stop, it could bring on a host of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that could lead you back to using the drug just so you can make the symptoms stop. Common Ativan withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle spasms
- Tremors (shaking)
- Increased anxiety
- Numbing/tingling in arms/legs
- Suicidal thoughts
Of course, if you want to stop using Ativan, going back on it in this situation is a step backward, one that could ultimately lead to an accidental drug overdose if you take too much after going on and off the drug. The proper way to end Ativan addiction is to enter a substance abuse treatment program that starts with medical detox before placing you in the best setting where you can address your substance abuse and mental health challenges.
What Is Involved In Ativan Addiction Treatment?
If you or a loved one wants to address Ativan addiction, entering a drug rehabilitation center is a good first step. You will go through a continuum of addiction care that usually starts with medical detoxification (detox for short). Before you begin your program, professional medical and addiction care specialists will evaluate your physical, mental, and emotional health needs.
People in active Ativan addiction will enter this critical phase of treatment to get them through the withdrawal symptoms that commonly occur as the drug exits the body. Many people who are trying to end their drug or alcohol use struggle to make it through this period without much-needed support. When they don’t have it, they often relapse and get back on the drug they want to leave behind. When you enter a professional drug treatment program, you get the support you need to ensure you don’t pick up Ativan or any substance as you start your journey to sobriety.
Medical professionals will monitor your vitals round-the-clock for several days (or however long you need) while Ativan and other toxins leave your system. To aid in this process, your usual Ativan dose will be cut back gradually to give your body time to adjust to the changes. You also may receive medications to help you with other withdrawal symptoms.
Once you regain medical stability, professionals who have evaluated you will recommend a placement for you, depending on your condition and needs.
Depending on where you are on your path to recovery, you may need more time to address your Ativan addiction. You can find the time and space at a facility that offers 24-hour on-site care as you focus on healing from the physical and psychological effects of addiction. Inpatient/residential offers a structured, monitored, distraction-free setting where you stay for 30 days or longer to focus on yourself and your needs. During your stay, you will receive therapies, counseling, education, and opportunities to participate in activities that all promote treating the whole person. Therapies can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which combines medication and behavioral therapy to help recovering Ativan users avoid relapse and remain sober.
An inpatient/residential rehab program should be customized to your needs and preferences. This ensures you get the most out of your program. Your program can include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and a 12-step program. Your program may even include holistic practices, such as yoga and acupuncture, among others. Inpatient/residential programs also help you receive additional medical support you may need and give you access to professional staff who can help you anytime you need it.
Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
Some people enter a partial hospitalization program (PHP) when they leave inpatient/residential treatment, while others may go from to PHP after leaving detox. Either way, this partial day setting allows a person in recovery more time to prepare for their return to the outside world. They may live at home or another off-site location, such as a sober living home, while commuting to a facility at least 20 hours a week for therapy and counseling.
PHP allows people in recovery to continue their therapies (CBT, DBT) and other activities uninterrupted. It also gives them more responsibility to care for themselves without 24-hour supervision. Dually diagnosed patients, who have a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, will find additional support in a PHP program as well as people who need support and monitoring to avoid having a relapse.
They will continue their focus on full-time sobriety and review various topics, including relapse prevention strategies, addiction, education, life skills, and more.
People who leave PHP can continue receiving help in an intensive outpatient (IOP) or outpatient program (OP). The main difference between them is the number of hours each involves. A person in IOP has nine or more hours of therapy a week, while a person in OP has fewer than nine hours a week. People who are in either program will stay off-site at home or another residential setting and commute to a facility where they will attend therapy and counseling to help them along their recovery journey. Outpatient programs allow recovering Ativan users more flexibility. They can decide when to go to treatment and how they can fit it alongside their other responsibilities.
IOP and OP are the less-restrictive settings when compared to medical detox, inpatient/residential, and PHP. Each setting requires the person to assume greater responsibility for themselves and their recovery. IOP and OP settings require participants to take an active role in keeping their home environment free of distractions that could derail the progress they’ve made.
They must make judgment calls on who they should continue to associate with or where they should and should not go. People, places, and things can all serve as triggers for a person to relapse, so people in recovery who are in IOP, OP, and even PHP programs must guard against this. They will learn tools and strategies that help them with this task and more. They also will find encouragement to keep their lives substance-free.
Some substance treatment facilities offer aftercare programs to ensure their graduates receive ongoing support and guidance while navigating a new beginning. Aftercare programs connect people to resources that can help them with employment, transitional housing, support groups, therapy, medication help, and more. They also will have a community of people who understand their needs and help them stay on track.
Recovering from substance abuse doesn’t happen overnight. It is a long process, so it is important that people know they are not alone and that help is only a phone call or email away.
How Dangerous Is Ativan or Ativan Overdose?
As noted earlier, Ativan is habit-forming and addictive. If you use Ativan in ways it was not intended or use it longer than you’re supposed to, you risk developing a dependence on it that could lead to addiction. For many people, it will take drug rehab to break this dependence.
High tolerance for Ativan can lead to overdose.Taking more than you should to get high can be too much for the body to process. When you take the medication with other drugs, they only enhance one another, and if you take it in a manner that’s inconsistent with its design, such as crushing it up, the drug can reach the brain must faster, and the effects could be deadlier.
Ativan overdose can warrant emergency medical attention. Call 911 or seek help from the nearest hospital emergency room if you notice:
- Mental confusion
- Extreme drowsiness, lethargy
- Slow, shallow, or stopped breathing
- Clammy skin
- Dilated pupils
- A weak or fast pulse
Ativan withdrawal can worsen anxiety and insomnia, the very conditions it is supposed to treat. This is known as a “rebound” side effect. Some people use benzos such as Ativan to blunt the effects of a high from stimulants like amphetamines, methamphetamine, or cocaine. This is dangerous. Ativan depresses the central nervous system while stimulants speed it up. With two opposite effects taxing the body at the same time, a person could overdose and suffer permanent brain damage or death.
Ativan Abuse Statistics
- In 2020, 2.2% of people aged 12 and older misused prescription sedatives, such as Ativan, in the past year, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (Page 17).
- In 2019, 16% of opioid-related overdose deaths involved benzodiazepine medication, per a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
- Between 2014 and 2016, the physician office visit rate at which benzodiazepines were prescribed with opioids was 10 visits per 100 adults, per the National Health Statistics Reports (Page 2). Visits were higher for women (11 visits per 100 women) than men (eight visits per 100 men).