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Ativan: Sinner or Saint?

Ativan is both a helpful anxiety-relieving prescription medication and a harmful addictive drug. Different people have different experiences with the pills but is it more good or more bad? Is the question that simple? Should medical professionals ban Ativan entirely while it still functions as a life-saving medication for those struggling with extreme anxiety? Or should we determine the classification of Ativan and other benzodiazepines based on those who become addicted to the drug?

What is Ativan, What Does it Do, and What is it Used For?

Ativan (lorazepam) is a prescription medication, classified as a benzodiazepine. It is prescribed to treat a number of different conditions including:

  • Severe anxiety disorders
  • Anxiety associated with depressive disorders
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Seizures caused by epilepsy

Other common brands of benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, and Librium. If you’re familiar with any of those medications, Ativan produces similar effects. If you aren’t familiar, you are likely wondering how Ativan and other benzodiazepines help individuals with these conditions. The most significant difference between Ativan and a drug like Xanax is that Ativan is not approved for the treatment of panic disorders. Ativan helps reduce anxiety in individuals with either anxiety disorders or depressive disorders. Due to certain side effects caused by lorazepam, it functions best as a short-term anxiety medication. Effects of long-term Ativan use still lack significant extensive research. Side effects caused by regular Ativan use can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Relaxation
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of balance
  • Impaired coordination
  • Memory problems

Seek immediate assistance from your doctor if any of the following severe side effects of Ativan occur:

  • Mild to severe drowsiness
  • Self-harm or suicidal ideations
  • Sudden changes in behavior and/or mood
  • Confusion
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased difficulties in sleeping
  • Restlessness or excitement
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulties swallowing

Additionally, depending on the dosage prescribed, some individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms when separated from Ativan. Doctors usually taper the dosage rather than cutting an individual off “cold turkey.” Still, the psychological effects due to the lack of Ativan in the system can be alarming. If your doctor prescribed Ativan to you, keep an eye out for these significant side effects as they can cause worsening problems. Like all medications, though, side effects commonly occur and are a necessary evil, a trade-off for the many benefits they often provide.

Ativan is a Lifesaver: How Ativan Can Help Those With Anxiety Disorders

Most people have experienced some level of anxiety in their life. An over-crowded grocery store; dinner with the in-laws;  a text from a friend reading, “Can I ask you something?” For those with anxiety disorders or anxiety caused by depressive disorders, the anxiety is significantly more severe. Some affected with anxiety and depressive disorders find themselves unable to either get out of bed or leave the house for days or weeks at a time. The crippling feeling of impending doom, that something terrible will happen, or that life is over, consumes these individuals. Imagine living like that every single day of your life. Trying to hold down a job, maintain friendships, and even deal with the line at the gas station can be difficult obstacles to overcome. When a doctor prescribes Ativan or another form of benzodiazepine to these individuals, often the difference is noticeable. Although overall effects obviously vary from person to person, usually the impact of the anxiety-relieving Ativan helps these individuals function. Again, the use of Ativan is most often used on a short-term basis, occasionally within a medically-supervised environment. Ativan works best when used in combination with individual or group therapy where the individual can learn coping mechanisms to manage their anxiety or depressive disorder. With all the benefits Ativan provides to these individuals with anxiety and depressive disorders, you might think that is the end of the story. However, Ativan and other benzodiazepines are highly addictive and often those who use it don’t realize how dependent they are on the medication. When removing Ativan from your system you must consult with your doctor in order to have the safest process possible, whether or not you are considered “addicted.”

Ativan Nearly Ruined Me: A Story of Ativan Addiction

Mind, Body, Green, an online publication and store devoted to helping people eat clean and revitalize their lives, documented the journey of one anxiety-riddled individual, Quentin Vennie. He was 26 years old when his doctor diagnosed him with both anxiety and panic disorders. Vennie was prescribed various pills to be taken at three separate times throughout the day. Ativan and Vicodin were two of his prescribed medications. He often added alcohol into the equation to increase the sedative effects of the medications. His dependence on the combination of alcohol and drugs in order to feel normal quickly unraveled into a full-blown addiction over the course of eight months. Important to note is the fact that his doctor kept him on the Ativan for an extended period of time. It is widely suggested that Ativan be used to treat individuals with anxiety disorders for no more than two to four weeks. However, if you’re addicted to Ativan, the last thing you’re concerned about is the recommended length of time it be used for. Such was the case for Vennie who was so heavily dependent upon his self-imposed cocktail of Ativan, Vicodin, and alcohol. After overdosing on his Vicodin, Quentin Vennie realized the severity of his dependence and addiction to the anti-anxiety medications. He recalled his father’s battle with drug addiction when he was a child and knew he did not want to leave this world the way his father did. Under the supervision and direction of his doctor, Vennie shifted his treatment well-rounded, holistic approach to his addiction. He changed to a plant-based diet, quit smoking, gave up drinking save the occasional glass of red wine, and began practicing yoga daily. While not an option for every individual. Vennie’s approach to addressing and combating his addiction proved successful. The most important aspect of his story was his doctor’s supervision throughout the recovery process. He was able to entirely cut the harmful use of Ativan and Vicodin out of his life. Still, should the use of Ativan be barred from those who need it simply because of individuals like Quentin who find themselves addicted?

Some Statistics on Ativan Use in the United States

The astounding rates of opioid addiction have received increasing amounts of media attention over the past few years. Over 10,000 people have died of opioid overdose each year since 2002, but the number has nearly tripled over the time between 2002 and 2015. In 2015, 33,091 individuals died of prescription opioid overdose. Less discussed is the impact of benzodiazepine overdoses. They seem to fly under the radar, shadowed by the impact of prescription opioids. While they account for about two-thirds less deaths than prescription opioids, there are still nearly 9,000 individuals who died of a  benzodiazepine overdose in 2015. This equates to around one person every hour of every day in 2015. While Ativan addiction might not impact everyone prescribed the medication, clearly they still have an impact that needs addressing. How can the government regulate the use of benzodiazepines in those who are addicted while not restricting their use in those who need and find help from them?

Is Ativan Good or Bad? Is the Question that Simple?

As you’ve seen from both examples, it’s difficult to say that Ativan is either all good or all bad. It is impossible to say either of those. Not everyone who uses Ativan will become addicted. Sure, most develop a physical and psychological dependency on the drug but it’s nothing they cannot overcome with the help of their psychiatrist.

What Decides Whether or Not Someone Will Become Addicted to Ativan?

The real struggle lies in those who become dependent and eventually addicted to Ativan. There is no single determining factor, no switch to flip that decides whether or not someone becomes an addict. Current research points to a combination both biological (genetic) and environmental (external conditions) factors. While researchers have yet to identify a specific “addiction gene,” there are certain genetic factors that influence the potential someone has of becoming an addict. Many studies are being conducted presently to help single out specific genes that contribute to the development of addiction later on in life. If researchers are able to determine a genetic chance of someone becoming an addict, we can develop preventative solutions in the future. At the current moment, environmental factors play a significant role. If you grew up in a household with one or both parents in active addiction and/or alcoholism, you are much more likely to follow these patterns of behavior. If you attend a school or spend time with a group of friends in which drug and alcohol use is prevalent, you are more likely to depend on drugs and alcohol as well. Still, despite the correlation between various genetic factors or life events does not imply causation. Just because there are similarities or patterns does not mean we can infer a direct impact. Further research needs to be done to provide doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists a better understanding of how to treat individuals with addiction.

What Does an Ativan Overdose Look Like?

Ativan overdose is possible. As mentioned previously, nearly 9,000 people died of some form of benzodiazepine overdose in 2015. If you or someone you love actively abuses Ativan, keep an eye out for the Ativan overdose symptoms. Knowing what to look for can be the difference between someone living through an overdose and dying of it. Symptoms of an Ativan overdose include:

  • Changes in speech patterns or rhythms
  • Increased sweating
  • Sudden loss of strength or energy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nightmares
  • Tremors
  • Unsteady walking
  • Significantly slurred speech or difficulties speaking
  • Difficulties with muscle control or coordination
  • Significant drowsiness, tiredness, weakness, or sluggishness
  • Excessive excitement, nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
  • Paleness
  • Unusual weak feeling

It might be difficult to determine whether you are experiencing regular side effects or overdose side effects. Generally the side effects caused by an overdose are much more pronounced than general side effects caused by regular use. When in doubt, the best option is to call 911 and request an ambulance. If something is happening, the EMTs have the training and capability to secure and treat the individual who overdosed.

Addiction Treatment for Ativan and the Recovery Process

If you are heavily addicted to the anti-anxiety medication, Ativan addiction treatment may be a helpful process in helping you separate from benzodiazepines. Various levels of addiction treatment are available, from the detox process to separate you from the drugs to an intensive outpatient program or drug and alcohol counseling, a less intensive, long-term approach to treatment. Unless you sought out Ativan through a dealer or a friend, you were most likely initially prescribed Ativan for an anxiety disorder or anxiety due to a depressive disorder. Learning to handle and manage that anxiety without the assistance of benzos or other drugs should be the main focus in treatment. If you do not have the tools or support to handle your anxiety, your chances of relapse increase immensely. Coping skills both for your anxiety as well as managing life in general without drugs are helpful to develop and are learned in treatment. Relapse prevention methods are also taught during treatment. If you fear a return to Ativan, moving into a sober living may be helpful for you. Living in environment with other people who have the same goals as you is often encouraging. You learn how to care for yourself, how to be responsible, how to show up to the places you say you will be today. After living with drug dependence or addiction for extended periods of time, often addicts forget basic ways of taking care of themselves. Residential treatment or sober living helps with that. Regardless of the path you choose, both regular and helpful use of Ativan as well as recovery from Ativan addiction are possible. Keep a close eye on your Ativan intake and consult your doctor if you notice any significant feelings of dependence or an urge to take a greater amount. Don’t allow yourself to become another statistic on the National Institute for Drug Abuse website; give yourself the chance at recovery.


“How Anxiety & Addiction Saved My Life” MindBodyGreen “Continued Rise in Opioid Overdose Deaths in 2015 Shows Urgent Need for Treatment” “Overdose Death Rates” National Institute on Drug Abuse