Ativan (Lorazepam) Overdose
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Last Updated - 8/16/2022View our editorial policy
An Ativan overdose is a medical emergency and can be fatal, especially when Ativan is mixed with other central nervous system depressants.
Ativan (lorazepam) belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. These are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that are commonly used to treat anxiety, panic and sleep disorders. Doctors may also prescribe Ativan to treat seizures. Although Ativan may be helpful for treating these conditions, people can overdose if they take too much or mix it with other substances.
Benzodiazepines like Ativan work by increasing the activity of a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called GABA, which slows the nervous system and calms the body. While Ativan is a prescription drug with legitimate medical uses, people may develop a physical dependence on the drug, meaning they will experience withdrawal when they stop using it. Physical dependence can occur even when a person uses Ativan as prescribed, but some people may abuse the drug because they enjoy its calming effects.
Patients should always take their prescribed Ativan dosage to prevent a possible overdose, and they should avoid using this drug unless a doctor prescribes it. In the event that someone does overdose on Ativan, it is important to understand the signs of overdose and know where to turn for help.
See Related: Ativan for alcohol withdrawal
Can You Overdose on Ativan?
It is possible to overdose on Ativan or any other benzodiazepine. The risk of overdose is increased if Ativan is combined with another central nervous system depressant, such as alcohol or an opioid.
How Much Ativan Does It Take To Overdose?
Different people can overdose on different amounts of Ativan. Doctors determine the appropriate Ativan dosage based on a person’s medical history and their use of other medications, so it is important that people take Ativan exactly as prescribed to avoid overdose.
Many tests must be performed on a drug before it is determined to be safe, including an LD50 (lethal dose) test. This measures how much of a drug is required to kill 50% of mice that are treated. The LD50 of Ativan is roughly 1,850 mg/kg (milligrams of drug per kilogram of a person’s body weight). The peak amount of Ativan in the blood after a 2 mg dose is 20 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter). This means that the Ativan overdose amount is extremely high for a human. However, lower doses can still be dangerous and cause serious signs of overdose that must be addressed immediately, especially if a person combines Ativan with other substances.
Is an Ativan Overdose Fatal?
If Ativan is taken on its own with no other substances, an overdose will rarely be fatal. However, many people who abuse Ativan combine it with other medications, which significantly increases the risk of death. In 2020 alone, 16% of opioid overdose deaths also involved a benzodiazepine like Ativan.
Signs of Ativan Overdose
Signs of Ativan overdose look similar to overdoses with other CNS depressants, such as other benzodiazepines or opioids. The most recognizable Ativan overdose symptom will be respiratory depression, which causes a person to have abnormally short, labored breathing. Other signs to look for include:
- Severe drowsiness and fatigue
- Extremely low blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of reflexes and coordination
While these symptoms may not seem life-threatening, it is important that people receive immediate medical treatment to prevent complications from Ativan overdose.
Ativan can also create certain side effects with regular use. Common Ativan side effects that are not immediately dangerous can include:
- Slight drowsiness
It is also possible for people to experience memory problems, fatigue and slight confusion when using Ativan. It is important to be aware of any side effects that appear extreme or markedly different from a person’s usual behavior.
Ativan and Suicide
Ativan is used to treat anxiety that co-occurs with depression, but it does not treat the underlying depression itself. That being said, some patients may intentionally overdose on Ativan if they are experiencing depression with suicidal thoughts. In 2020 alone, more than 12,000 Americans overdosed on benzos like Ativan. It is unknown how many of these overdoses were intentional, but people may take high doses of benzodiazepines like Ativan or combine these drugs with opioids in an attempt to take their own lives.
If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Dangers of Combining Ativan and Alcohol
Most Ativan overdoses involve alcohol or another drug taken in combination with Ativan. For this reason, the FDA warns that people should not use alcohol, opioids or other central nervous system depressants while taking Ativan. Doing so can lead to respiratory depression and elevate a person’s risk of experiencing a fatal overdose.
Can Ativan Overdose Cause Brain Damage?
Brain damage can result from an Ativan overdose. This is not caused by the Ativan itself; rather, it occurs due to a lack of oxygen from slowed or stopped breathing. Having little or no oxygen can cause brain damage or even death.
Slowed breathing is much more likely when Ativan is combined with other central nervous system depressants, which is why it’s important to avoid opioids and alcohol while taking Ativan.
Ativan Overdose Treatment
If you suspect an Ativan overdose, contact emergency medical services immediately. At the hospital, there are treatment options available to stop an Ativan overdose. Medical staff will monitor symptoms and provide treatment as needed to address them. They may give activated charcoal to stop the body from absorbing Ativan, and they may also prescribe other medications if necessary.
Flumazenil is a benzodiazepine antagonist that can be given as an Ativan overdose treatment. However, doctors exercise caution when using this medication to treat Ativan overdose. This is because it can cause seizures in people who are withdrawing from benzodiazepines or who have recently taken these drugs via injection. Other common side effects of flumazenil include:
- Chest pain
- Severe dizziness
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Increased sweating
- Blurred vision
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Ativan Overdose Prevention
The most effective way to prevent Ativan overdose is to take the medicine as prescribed by a doctor and avoid using the medication illegally without a prescription. Misusing Ativan for reasons other than a legitimate medical concern is dangerous and can lead to dependence, withdrawal and possible overdose. To prevent any adverse drug reactions that may increase the chances of an overdose, it is also important to talk with your doctor about any other medications you are taking.
Get Help for Ativan Addiction in Florida
Ativan addiction can be dangerous and can lead to overdose and death. If you or someone you love is seeking treatment for Ativan misuse, there are drug addiction and detox centers in Florida available to help. The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health offers evidence-based programs that can treat substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options that can work well for your situation.
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Drugbank. “Lorazepam.” Accessed August 2, 2022.
Food and Drug Administration. “ATIVAN- lorazepam tablet.” February 2, 2021. Accessed August 2, 2022.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Benzodiazepines and Opioids.” April 21, 2022. Accessed August 2, 2022.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” January 20, 2022. Accessed August 2, 2022.
Drugs.com. “Flumazenil.” February 8, 2022. Accessed August 2, 2022.