Side Effects of Ativan (Lorazepam)

Ativan is the brand name of the generic drug lorazepam. It is a benzodiazepine that is commonly used as a short-term medication to treat anxiety.1 This page will cover the short- and long-term side effects and risks of Ativan.

Short-Term Side Effects of Ativan Use

Short-term side effects of Ativan use vary from person to person. What side effects a person experiences and how serious or severe they are depend on several factors, including dosage and length of treatment duration. Side effects from benzodiazepines tend to be worse with larger doses.1

Side effects of Ativan use may include:1

  • Sleepiness.
  • Feeling dizzy/unsteady.
  • Weakness.
  • Memory problems.
  • Confusion.
  • Depression.
  • Thoughts of suicide.

Long-Term Side Effects and Risks of Ativan Use

Chronic Ativan use may lead to issues such as:2,3

  • Cognitive impairment.*
  • Tolerance.
  • Dependence.
  • Addiction.

* Long-term benzodiazepine use has been associated with multiple cognitive deficits, including verbal learning and processing speed. However, some assert that it does not cause chronic problems with cognition. While impairment has been found to improve to a certain degree after stopping benzodiazepines, some level of dysfunction did persist.4

When used as directed, Ativan, a substance also sold under the generic name lorazepam, can be an effective tool in the management of anxiety.5 Ativan is a prescription benzodiazepine medication, and, typically, a benzodiazepine should not be regularly used for over a month.2,5

Benzodiazepines help to decrease activity in the brain by increasing the impact of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory chemical messenger.6

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. While the CNS-depressing effects can help relieve anxiety and panic, they can also be dangerous, especially when the drug is taken in high doses.7

Ativan may cause respiratory depression, which could be fatal. Combining Ativan with another CNS depressant can result in even greater CNS depression.1

Dementia Risks Associated With Ativan

There have been conflicting findings regarding how benzodiazepines affect dementia risk. However, a meta-analysis found that use of a benzodiazepine is linked to an elevated risk of developing dementia.

Using benzodiazepines recently and in the past were each associated with an increased likelihood of dementia compared to no use of benzodiazepines ever.8 Thus, benzodiazepine use may have a lasting impact on dementia risk even after they are stopped.

Risks of Polysubstance Use

If Ativan is combined with another substance that depresses the CNS, like using Ativan with alcohol, another benzodiazepine, or an opioid drug, the CNS effects can intensify. For instance, respiratory depression can put an individual’s life in danger.1

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that over 30 percent of opioid overdoses also included benzodiazepines. In fact, the dangers of combining these drugs are so great that all prescription opioid and benzodiazepine medications now have a warning about the hazards of using these drugs concurrently.9

Symptoms of an Ativan Overdose

Overdose deaths involving benzodiazepine medications in the U.S. were more than ten times higher in 2017 than they were in 1999. NIDA reports that in 2017 more than 11,500 Americans died from an overdose involving a benzodiazepine drug, usually in combination with opioids.11

Overdose on Ativan can range from mild to severe. It may produce the following symptoms:1

  • Significant drowsiness
  • Profound confusion
  • Decreased muscle tone, or “floppy” limbs
  • Lack of control over body movements
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular depression
  • Shallow, slow, and/or difficult breathing
  • Coma

Overdose involving Ativan can result in death, though fatal outcomes may be more likely when the drug is used in combination with opioids, alcohol, or other drugs.1

Ativan Withdrawal

Ativan withdrawal symptoms may emerge when a person suddenly stops using the drug.1 How much a person uses at a time and how long it has been used may impact how significant the withdrawal symptoms are.6 Anyone considering stopping a CNS-depressing medication should talk with their doctor or medical provider first.3

Since Ativan acts a CNS depressant, when the drug is stopped after regular use, a sort of “rebound” may occur.3 Stopping a benzodiazepine may result in rebound symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal may be life-threatening in some cases, although this is uncommon, and if a person is experiencing withdrawal symptoms from stopping a CNS depressant, he or she should seek medical assistance right away.3

Ativan withdrawal symptoms may include:1

  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Perceptual distortions
  • Agitation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Depersonalization
  • Involuntary movements
  • Memory loss
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Tingling feelings in the arms and legs
  • Fast heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

How to Quit Ativan

Stopping the use of Ativan should not be managed without medical oversight. Medical detox programs can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Outpatient detox should only be done if the patient is not dependent on multiple substances, has been taking benzodiazepine doses that are generally within therapeutic parameters, and who both are dependable and have dependable loved ones who can help monitor them.12

For patients suffering from benzodiazepine withdrawal (or at risk of suffering from it), assessment should include a physical evaluation as well as the determination of:

  • Medication used.
  • Amount of medication used.
  • How long it was used.
  • Whether other substances (such as alcohol, cigarettes, or sleep medications) were also being used.
  • If any co-occurring mental illnesses are present.

Throughout detox, especially after a patient’s dose is decreased, professionals should reassess the person’s medical and mental health status.12

Though some people may think detox “cures” someone of their substance use disorder, it only addresses the physical aspects of withdrawal. For those with substance use disorders, it generally is not enough on its own to help them to stay sober long term. If a person has a substance use disorder, they should engage in addiction treatment after detox.13

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may be beneficial for individuals addicted to benzodiazepines.7 Therapy and/or medications can help to address any underlying anxiety disorders.14 Not everyone will progress through treatment at the same rate, but when patients engage in professional treatment, it may help them avoid relapse and stay in recovery.

Help is just a phone call away. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and are unsure of what to do, call us today at . Greenhouse Treatment Center offers both outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment near Dallas. Our admissions navigators are ready to help you get the treatment you need today.

Admissions navigators are available 24/7 to provide information about the various types of rehab available, check your insurance coverage, and help you determine how to cover the cost of treatment. To start the admissions process online, simply now.

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