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Ativan Side Effects and Addiction

Written by Thomas Christiansen

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Annie Tye, PhD

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Medically Reviewed by Dr. Annie Tye, PhD

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Updated 12/28/2022

Key Takeaways

  • The most common signs and symptoms of Ativan misuse are sedation, drowsiness, confusion, memory loss and muscle weakness
  • Ativan is associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts
  • Ativan use and misuse is increasing at an alarming rate among all demographics
  • Seniors are prescribed benzodiazepines (including Ativan) at the highest rate among all demographics despite the American Geriatric Society’s strong recommendation that benzodiazepines should be avoided
  • The majority of deaths associated with benzodiazepine overdose are associated with simultaneous use of opioids or other drugs
  • Ativan overdose can lead to respiratory depression, a dangerous condition that may lead to coma or death

Ativan is a commonly prescribed benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety. Even when used as directed, Ativan can be addictive.

Ativan (lorazepam) is commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. However, Ativan can lead to dependency and addiction quickly, even when used as directed. Therefore, it is important to be able to identify common physical and psychological side effects of Ativan abuse.

See Related: Ativan for alcohol withdrawal

Ativan Abuse

Benzodiazepines are the second-most lethal prescription drug in the United States, after opioids. Overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines quadrupled between 2002 and 2015. When used regularly, even for a short amount of time, Ativan tolerance develops rapidly, resulting in the need for ever-increasing doses of the drug to obtain the same effect. This tolerance precipitates dependency and addiction, which can take hold within a few weeks of daily use. Because Ativan has a short half-life, it is among the most addictive of the benzodiazepines.

Signs of Ativan Addiction

Benzodiazepines, including Ativan, are primarily prescribed to calm anxiety and prevent panic attacks. They do this by reducing the level of excitability in the brain (sedation). So, people who take Ativan are calmer and more relaxed than they would be otherwise. Ativan should not be used daily, or for more than a few months at a time. Unfortunately, Ativan is often prescribed in such a way that tolerance, dependency and addiction are common.

Addiction is generally associated with a preoccupation with the drug of choice, and Ativan is no exception. Many people who struggle with Ativan misuse exhibit altered behavior including loss of interest in hobbies, neglecting responsibilities, failure to accomplish tasks and even evasiveness. Particularly high doses of Ativan can cause drowsiness, forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion, muscle weakness, appetite changes and dizziness. Withdrawal can cause irritability, anxiousness, restlessness and mood swings.

Ativan Side Effects

Ativan dependency is associated with a number of physical and psychological side effects, ranging from mild to severe. Individuals experiencing any of these side effects should consult with their physician.

Physical side effects of Ativan dependency and addiction frequently include:

  • Sedation or drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Forgetfulness or amnesia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Sexual side effects

Less frequent side effects include weight gain and headache.

Behavioral side effects of Ativan dependency and addiction may include:

Ativan Abuse Facts and Statistics

While data for the prescription use of benzodiazepines exists, because they are usually co-abused with opioids or other drugs, the prevalence of isolated benzodiazepine misuse is difficult to isolate. However, all data indicates that benzodiazepine abuse (including Ativan) is increasing at an alarming rate.

Data from rehab centers reported that admissions for benzodiazepine substance misuse (in the absence of other substance use disorders) increased by 109% from 2003 to 2013. During the same time period, prescriptions for benzodiazepines increased by 2.5% every year. As Ativan is of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines, it may be inferred that Ativan misuse makes up a substantial portion of overall benzodiazepine abuse.

Statistics for overall benzodiazepine prescriptions in the United States have identified the following:

  • Prevalence in men: 3.6%
  • Prevalence in women: 6.6%
  • Prevalence in seniors: 8.45%

The increase in prescription rates for benzodiazepines to seniors is contrary to the American Geriatric Society’s strong recommendation that seniors avoid all benzodiazepines.

It should be noted that the data was published in 2015, and indications support that these numbers have since increased since then. Although accessible data is scarce, one 2018 publication found that 12.6% of adults used benzodiazepines, with 2.2% reporting misuse.

Prescription drug abuse among teenagers is difficult to estimate and available data are not always congruent. Data does suggest that overall misuse of prescription sedatives (including benzodiazepines) has fallen in recent years. Recent estimates of the prevalence of teen abuse of sedatives range from 0.1% (2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health) to 2.9% (2017 Monitoring the Future Survey).

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Ativan Abuse and Treatment Trends in South Florida

Although data shows that overall benzodiazepine abuse in South Florida decreased by almost half between 2011 and 2015, non-fatal overdoses involving benzodiazepines occurred more frequently than non-fatal overdoses for heroin or opioids. However, whether benzodiazepine overdoses also involved other drugs was not reported. Moreover, Ativan (lorazepam) was not among the commonly abused benzodiazepines. Xanax (alprazolam) was the most commonly abused benzodiazepine in South Florida.

Treatment for benzodiazepine abuse (without concurrent substance use disorders) in South Florida also showed a decrease from 1.5% in 2012 to 0% in 2016. This may reflect an increase in treatment for polysubstance abuse and does not necessarily indicate that benzodiazepines are not a commonly treated substance of abuse.

Ativan Overdose Symptoms

The most dangerous symptom associated with Ativan overdose is respiratory depression, which can lead to coma and death. Other signs of overdose include profound lethargy, uncoordinated movements, confusion and memory loss. Ativan overdose is a medical emergency. If an overdose is suspected, call 911 immediately.

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Olfson, Mark; King, Marissa; Schoenbaum, Michael. “Benzodiazepine Use in the United States.” JAMA Psychiatry, February 2015. Accessed July 27, 2019.

The American Geriatrics Society. “American Geriatrics Society Updated Beers Criteria for

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key substance use and mental

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