Ativan is the brand name for the drug lorazepam. It is a prescription medication that is indicated to treat seizure disorders like epilepsy. It is also commonly given to treat anxiety and depression. Ativan is the class of drugs called benzodiazepines. These types of drugs have a very strong impact on the brain and are quite potent.
Ativan has a calming effect on the brain. This medication works like other benzodiazepines by increasing the effects of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Ativan has soothing effects. The person taking it will start to experience sleepiness, less anxiety, muscle relaxation, and some anticonvulsant effects.
Ativan (lorazepam) is only meant for short-term use. People who take Ativan for a prolonged time or take it illicitly for recreation will most likely develop a psychological and physical dependence on it. An individual’s brain chemistry will be changed when Ativan is in the system.
The brain starts to develop neural adaptations, meaning the body is building a tolerance to the medication. Tolerance occurs when a medication is used for longer than intended, and the system becomes adjusted to it. When tolerance occurs, more of the drug is needed to feel the same effects as before. Tolerance can develop into physical dependence.
Individuals who are misusing Ativan for its sedative effects are taking more significant quantities of the drug at one time. When this happens, the brain floods with GABA and dopamine, stimulating the brain’s reward system.
Once the body is dependent on Ativan, the person taking the drug feels they need to take more of it to avoid the discomforting and possibly dangerous symptoms of Ativan withdrawal.
What Causes Ativan Withdrawal?
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Ativan as a Schedule IV controlled substance meaning it has low potential abuse and a low risk of dependence. However, research has been conducted with results indicating that chemical dependence may start in just a few weeks of taking Ativan, and even in low doses.
People who take benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, will experience a dopamine surge in their brains. Dopamine is at least partially responsible for how we feel pleasure. Ativan withdrawal is caused when chemical dependence occurs.
Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms
When an individual addicted to Ativan tries to reduce the amount they are taking or stop taking the drug, they will experience some very intolerable withdrawal symptoms.
Ativan can be physically and psychologically addictive. When the body and brain work toward getting back to normal, both will present withdrawal symptoms that can be unbearable.
Here are some of the possible symptoms one might feel:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyable
- Loss of appetite
- Memory loss
- Suicidal ideation
While not all of these withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening, some can cause complications that can be fatal, such as seizures.
Withdrawal from Ativan may begin relatively fast. It is essential to be familiar with the timeline for withdrawal so you can be prepared for any eventuality.
Ativan Withdrawal Timeline
The process of withdrawal is different for each person because each person has their own individual characteristics, health history, and background. Some of the factors for how severe withdrawal could be are:
- Strength of the last dose of Ativan
- Amount of the drug taken at last dose
- How often Ativan was abused
- Mental and physical health
- History of substance use
- Other substances taken with Ativan
- Co-occurring disorders, such as a mental health disorder
Some people may feel symptoms in as short as 10 to 24 hours after the last dose was taken. Generally, the early stages of withdrawal will produce more severe symptoms than the latter stages. Symptoms will fade in time. Physical withdrawal symptoms are usually experienced for about 10 to 14 days, and some physical symptoms may linger for a few months. Psychological symptoms are generally more persistent and difficult to tolerate.
Below is a general timeline for Ativan withdrawal:
First 72 hours – Acute withdrawal symptoms are felt. These can include headaches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and insomnia.
Days 4-7 – Withdrawal symptoms usually peak at this time. Some people might experience tremors, strong cravings for Ativan, and irritability. Rebound symptoms may be encountered, such as anxiety and insomnia.
Between the first and second weeks, some withdrawal symptoms will decrease in severity and fade off.
Two Weeks – The most severe withdrawal symptoms should be gone entirely. If any are still felt, they should be weak or mild. Psychological symptoms may still be present and persistent. It is possible for those who are heavily addicted to Ativan that some of the symptoms mentioned above might be felt for a few years after detox and withdrawal.
It is common for individuals addicted to Ativan to feel rebound anxiety and have insomnia, which are both considered rebound symptoms. These symptoms can be more intense than the symptoms in which Ativan was prescribed. Although they can be temporary, they can influence the individual to start retaking Ativan.
Why Medical Detox Is Best For Ativan Withdrawal
As a strong benzodiazepine, Ativan can cause dependence and addiction. Seizures are a common withdrawal symptom and can be dangerous to manage alone. In addition, they can cause long-term brain damage. Detoxing cold turkey is not recommended due to the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and the likeliness of needing immediate medical assistance. Dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea is another reason why medically supervised detox is paramount.
Medical detox is supervised around the clock by medical and addiction professionals with decades of experience in handling delicate withdrawal processes. Summit Behavioral Health works with Serenity at Summit to care for individuals in detox. Individuals undergoing withdrawal from Ativan will find that their worst symptoms, physical and psychological, are managed with care.
What Comes After Detox?
Getting through withdrawal in detox is the first step in the continuum of care, as outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). When detox is complete, the individual will begin therapies to help them find the root cause of their addiction, become aware of negative or incorrect thinking that can lead to addiction, and find new, healthier, and more positive ways to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Many people addicted to Ativan find that Inpatient treatment programs are beneficial in their recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that the standard time in an inpatient program is from 30 to 90 days. When inpatient treatment is completed, the individual will begin outpatient therapy.
Summit Behavioral Health provides intensive outpatient programs (IOP), outpatient programs (OP), individual and group therapy sessions, as well as the top therapy types for overcoming addiction. Outpatient programs usually occur on a part-time basis as the individual begins to transition back to their daily life. IOP can be the buffer needed between addiction treatment and getting back to everyday living at home.
12-step programs have been a vital part for many people in recovery and can be a neutral place to meet new people and open up about the challenges that caused addiction. They can also be a good place for the person who is newly sober and needing support.
Recovery from addiction is an everyday challenge and can be very difficult for someone who is abusing Ativan for recreational reasons or for the person who was prescribed it. The first step on the road to recovery is the most daunting one — admitting there is a problem. The most important step a person can take is to admit they are addicted to Ativan. Addiction treatment can help you or someone you care about get their life back and become the happy, drug-free person they and you once knew.
How long does it take for Ativan to wear off?
It takes about 10 to 20 hours for Ativan to wear off for most people. Its half-life, the amount of time it takes for your body to metabolize the drug to half its concentration in the bloodstream, is around 12 hours. Ativan is excreted through urine, so staying well-hydrated by drinking a lot of water, may help move it out of your system.
What happens when Ativan wears off?
If you taper off Ativan, which is the safe way to reduce your use, your body has time to readjust to life without the drug. However, expect to feel kind of crummy for about a month or two. When Ativan wears off, you could experience rebound symptoms, like insomnia and anxiety.
Sometimes, these can come on more intensely than when Ativan was first prescribed for you. Talk to the doctor who prescribed the drug and ask him or her if there is anything they can offer you to manage those rebound symptoms.