Ativan Abuse and Addiction: An In-Depth Guide to This Harmful Benzodiazepine

Ativan addiction is actually much more common than people think it is. This drug is prescribed at extremely high rates in Idaho, and it is one of the more popular solutions for anxiety.

But because it is available by prescription, its dangers tend to be minimized. People have a hard time believing that doctors would prescribe medications that could potentially be harmful. But it happens all the time, and it is the reason why we have our current opioid crisis.

According to an article on the NPR website, the number of prescriptions written for benzodiazepines doubled between 2003 and 2015.

To make matters worse, between 2005 and 2015, the number of people receiving long-term prescriptions for these drugs increased by 50%.

These statistics are troubling to say the least. Too many doctors are prescribing Ativan long-term, even though it is not indicated for long-term use. Even when patients take their medications exactly as recommended, they are still at risk for addictions.

More people need to be made aware of the dangers of Ativan. It can be an effective medication when it is used appropriately. But far too often, it is not, and it is a drug that is often abused.

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Ativan and Other Benzodiazepines

Lorazepam, more commonly known as Ativan, is an anti-anxiety medication that belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. These compounds can also be used to treat panic disorders, seizures, and sleep disorders. 

A Few Street Names for Ativan and Other Benzos

Ativan, the brand name for the chemical compound Lorazepam, belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. 

Some of the most common street names for benzodiazepines include:

  • Benzos
  • Blues/Heavenly Blues
  • BZD’s
  • Dippers
  • Downers
  • Goofballs
  • Footballs
  • Nerve Pills
  • Tranks
  • Valley Girl
  • Zannies 

Ativan itself typically gets lumped together with other benzos and, as such, will more often than not have the very same street names as other benzodiazepines. 

Ativan is also more commonly referred to in the medical community as: 

  • Lorazepam
  • Lorazepam Intensol
  • Lorazepam Systemic 

Two other drug brand names, Tavor and Temesta, also contain the active ingredient in Ativan.

Lorazepam works primarily by operating directly on the central nervous system and enhancing the effects with the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, better known as GABA. This chemical is responsible for slowing down a variety of processes in the brain. 

In addition to Ativan, some other common benzos include:

  • Librium
  • Xanax
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Restoril 

While there are a lot of similarities between benzodiazepines, it’s important to realize that some of them are actually more harmful than others.

Lorazepam Abuse

Given that the only legal way to obtain this drug is by having a proper prescription, there really is only one guideline for the proper use of Ativan, and that’s to use it as directed by your doctor. 

Taking a larger dose of Lorazepam than normal or using it at a different time than directed by a qualified medical professional is technically considered abuse

What’s more, giving your unused prescription medications to someone else, even if they have a similar or even the very same condition, is also considered abuse

Beyond that, mixing Lorazepam with alcohol, illicit substances, or any other prescription medications that your prescribing doctor doesn’t know about is considered abuse

As such, if you have any questions about what you should and should not do in conjunction with taking Ativan, be sure to ask your doctor first. 

Not doing so might lead to a variety of potentially dangerous drug interactions or the development of a Lorazepam use disorder.

What Does Addiction to Ativan Look Like?

One of the most common questions among Lorazepam abusers is am I addicted to Ativan? And it’s no wonder – like other benzodiazepines, Ativan addiction can be overwhelming and its withdrawals can be positively unbearable.

But rest assured, there are plenty of ways to determine if you’re addicted and, more importantly, if you need to seek professional help. 

The quickest method is likely taking an online addiction quiz. While it may not give you a definitive answer, it can certainly help you determine if you need to seek any further help. 

You can also use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) substance use disorder questionnaire to see if your patterns of abusing Lorazepam have turned into a full-fledged addiction. Going this route will give you a more detailed idea of whether or not you have a substance use disorder.

Ativan Addiction

Is Ativan More Addictive Than Xanax?

It’s not unusual to hear about Ativan being compared to Xanax. After all, they do share a fair amount of similarities. 

They’re both benzodiazepines for instance. They both also interact with the same neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA. And beyond that, they’re also both two of the more well-known drugs in this class of substances. 

But don’t be confused by these similarities because Xanax, given its short-acting effects and its more intense withdrawals, is commonly believed to be more dangerous than Ativan.

Part of this fact is due to the difference in half-lives, the amount of time it takes for half of the dose to be eliminated in the bloodstream. Xanax, for instance, has a half-life of around 11.2 hours. Ativan, on the other hand, has a half-life of around 12 to 18 hours. 

This essentially means that in a battle of Ativan vs. Xanax strength, Xanax is likely to come out ahead because it’s much faster-acting than Lorazepam. But that also means it will likely have a higher risk of addiction along with it too.

Like a few other benzos, a Lorazepam high is more of a sedation experience than anything else. Due to the anti-anxiety effects of the drug as well as the interactions with GABA, you’re likely to feel relaxed and even tired when abusing Ativan.

One BlueLight (an online drug forum) user described the feeling as such: 

Ativan just kinda relaxes you and helps 'ease' anxiety, you still are able to think a lot, but you won't get stressed about it. Whereas Xanax just switches your brain off so it's impossible to even try and stress out.

- BlueLight member Lingering Grin 

Mixing Lorazepam with other drugs is likely to intensify these effects but also carries with it a variety of risks that may end up being life threatening as well.

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Common Short-Term Effects of Ativan

Lorazepam use and abuse brings with it a host of side effects. According to MedlinePlus, when taken according to your doctor’s prescription some of these side effects may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Appetite changes
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Constipation
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in sex drive 

Beyond that, you might experience some more serious ones as well, such as:

  • Fever
  • Tremor
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe rash
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Depression
  • Memory loss 

When taken illicitly in higher doses, these side effects can become even more intense too. 

The short-term effects of abusing Ativan are also markedly more noticeable in elderly patients. What’s more, Ativan can also make it difficult to effectively maintain balance and may result in falls or trips. For elderly patients, this can be especially life-threatening.

Common Long-Term Effects of Ativan

While the short-term effects of abusing Lorazepam are certainly alarming enough in their own right, it’s the long-term effects of Ativan abuse that may actually be the most destructive.

For instance, it’s long been suspected (for over 35 years in fact) that continued benzodiazepine use shares a link with brain damage.

In fact, long-term benzo use and abuse may have a range of adverse cognitive effects such as:

  • Slowed reasoning
  • Weakened judgement
  • Poor information processing
  • Increased risk of mood disorders
  • Damaged visual spatial perception
  • Decreased sensory perception
  • Impaired reaction time
  • Irreparably changed sleep patterns
  • A noticeable lack of psychological, social, physical, and emotional restraint 

And given that benzodiazepine addiction over the long-term likely increases in the frequency and amount of abuse, it stands to reason that these symptoms will continually get worse over time.

Ativan and Alcohol

Ativan Abuse, Alcohol, and Opioids

Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol or other illicit substances may increase the intensity of the drug’s effects.

However, as with a large number of other drugs and medications, Ativan or any other benzodiazepine should never be mixed with alcohol or opioids. In fact, doing so can greatly increase the likelihood of a serious complication that may actually be life threatening

For example, a 2014 DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network) Report found that emergency department visits related to benzodiazepines combined with alcohol were almost 20% more likely to result in a serious outcome (death, coma, etc.) than with benzodiazepines alone. 

When combined with opioids alone, this number was even higher! 

Part of the reason for this deadly interaction is the fact that all three of these substances are CNS depressants. They use different chemical mechanisms to slow respiration, decrease the heart rate, and work to depress a variety of other bodily functions. 

And when they’re used in combination with each other, the body is being assaulted by not just one, but multiple chemical influences that are trying to slow down it’s essential functions.

Ativan in the Idaho News

With so much information being shared about opioids, the problems associated with benzodiazepines can get forgotten. But these drugs are still risky, and more people are becoming addicted to them every single day.

It is important to know what is happening right here in your home state. Idaho has certainly seen its fair share of problems surrounding Ativan and other, similar prescription medications.

James Dorsey was a seventy-year-old man from Nampa, Idaho who enjoyed a full and active lifestyle. He loved his grandchildren and spent a lot of time with his family. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, and as a result, he was moved to a long-term care hospital in Meridian. The family was under the impression that he was there to get the best possible care. But as time went on, it became very apparent that they were expecting him to die.

It did not take long before the family discovered several problems. They claim that a doctor put a DNR in place for James, which his wife was unaware of. They also began administering comfort care, which meant prescribing high doses of painkillers and other medications. The family sued for medical malpractice and wrongful death.

In their lawsuit, the family alleged that the actions of the doctors were negligent at best. They were more along the lines of committing felony crimes, such as manslaughter, homicide or assisted suicide. The cause of death was listed as a drug overdose from Ativan and morphine.

At one point, James’ wife stated that she was going to take him out of the hospital. She did not like the fact that they were not providing him with any real care. But when she mentioned him being discharged against medical advice, a doctor told her that she would call the police.

The combination of Ativan and morphine resulted in this man losing his life. His family believes he died far too soon at the hands of his doctors who did not seem to care about saving him.

While the entire country has had its focus on the opioid epidemic, other types of prescription drug abuse have grown. Benzodiazepine addiction is much more common now than ever before. These drugs are commonly used to treat insomnia and/or anxiety, and Ativan is one of the most popular ones.

Dr. Chinazo O. Cunningham is an internist and professor of family and social medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She states, “It’s not just one substance here. The focus has been on opioids but we need to expand the way that we’re thinking about it. I think many of us feel that if we don’t turn our attention to benzodiazepines, if we ignore this pattern that we’re beginning to see, we may very well find ourselves in the same position that we have with opioids.”

Dr. Cunningham published a study that showed a dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions for benzos between 1996 and 2013. They went from 8 million to close to 14 million. To make matters worse, the amount of medication in one prescription doubled during that time as well.

Lorazepam Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

As the body becomes more and more used to the presence of Lorazepam in its systems, it begins to compensate by increasing its resistance to the drug. With Ativan specifically, the body reduces the susceptibility of the brain’s GABA receptors.

This is a process more commonly known as building up tolerance.

However, when Lorazepam is removed completely from the body after building up such tolerance, it’s typically a struggle for your systems to return back to normal. As a result, you may experience the extremely uncomfortable side effects of this process, also known as symptoms of withdrawal.

Some of the most common Ativan withdrawals from the Mayo Clinic include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Stomach or muscle cramps
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Convulsions
  • Unusual behavior

More severe addictions will also be accompanied with more extreme symptoms as well, including:

  • Panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Dry retching
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Increased sensitivity to touch
  • Psychosis 

These symptoms add up to what some users have described as “hell on earth.” One BlueLight user named amber_dawn, for instance, describes her experience:

Such a horrid experience… my stomach starts feeling weird, I keep having to go to the bathroom, my balance is off… everything seems to disturb me, hot/cold, none of my clothes feel good, I’m crying on and off, everything seems over emotional, I feel little electric shocks throughout my body…

What’s more, this process of withdrawal can also be fatal, making it all the more important that you detox under the care of a qualified professional.

The withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines like Lorazepam can be excruciating on their own. In fact, many people consider withdrawals from drugs like Ativan to be far more painful even than opioids like heroin.

But beyond the pain of withdrawals itself is the fact that detoxing from any benzodiazepine actually brings with it the risk of life-threatening seizures.

You see, drugs like Ativan work to lessen the effects of GABA. And over time, your body gets used to this weaker neurotransmitter. When you quickly take Lorazepam out of the system though, the burst of more-powerful GABA can send your brain into a flurry of activity. The result may be a grand mal seizure which might actually end up becoming fatal.

Given the potentially fatal risk of Lorazepam withdrawals, one of the most common concerns among sufferers of Ativan addiction is how to stop taking Ativan safely

The key here is employing a tapering method. Instead of cutting Lorazepam out entirely, try to come off of it slowly. Working with a medical professional is the best way to create a tapering plan that not only reduces withdrawal symptoms but also keeps you safe.

Lorazepam addiction and abuse can lead to taking this powerful prescription medicine in much higher doses than what is recommended by a licensed medical professional.

In some cases, such a high amount of Ativan can lead to overdose, which is characterized by a variety of symptoms but is not typically fatal unless combined with other substances like alcohol.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of Ativan overdose may include:

  • Nightmares
  • Slurred speech
  • Unusual paleness
  • Changes in speech rhythm
  • Shakiness
  • Problems with muscle control or coordination
  • Weakness
  • Increased sweating
  • Drowsiness
  • Excitement, nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
  • Loss of strength or fatigue
  • Drowsiness or sluggishness 

If you notice any of these symptoms either in yourself or in someone else, get emergency help immediately by calling 911 or poison control at (800) 222-1222.

Help is Available for Ativan Abuse or Addiction in Boise and Nampa, Idaho

For many people in Idaho who are addicted to Ativan, their future seems hopeless. They cannot imagine themselves ever getting off the drug because they think they need it to survive. After all, that is the nature of the addiction. But we want people to know that there is hope. They can recover successfully and go on to live full and happy lives. But in order to do that, they must take the necessary steps to stop using.

At Ashwood Recovery, we know the pain of Ativan addiction. We know how helpful this drug can be at first and what it feels like to slowly become dependent upon it.

Our treatment program is available to provide our clients with all the help they need to stop using it. 

Please note that recovering from a benzodiazepine addiction can be dangerous. That is why it should never be attempted without professional help and supervision.

Would you like to learn more about Ativan addiction or abuse? Do you have questions about our outpatient treatment program? Please contact us today and let us know how we can assist you.

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