Ativan (or lorazepam) belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Ativan is primarily used to treat anxiety disorders. Not only is the use of Ativan for anxiety common, but using Ativan for treating seizures is also common.
Benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, work by enhancing the effect of the brain’s critical neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). When GABA is enhanced in the brain, it has anti-anxiety and anti-seizure effects and causes sedation, sleepiness and muscle relaxation.
However, a major problem with Ativan, as well as with benzodiazepines in general, is that it is highly addictive. When someone takes benzodiazepines regularly, their brain begins to depend on them because it slows down its own production of the GABA neurotransmitter. This shift results in severe withdrawal symptoms if an individual stops taking the drug.
What is Ativan Withdrawal?
Withdrawal is the process the body goes through when it suddenly doesn’t have a chemical or substance it is used to having. If Ativan dependence develops, individuals will go through withdrawal when they stop taking the drug. The same is true in cases of Ativan abuse. People may desire professional help when it comes time to detox from Ativan use, as the withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage.
How Long Does Ativan Stay in Your System?
The half-life of Ativan is about 14 hours, meaning that the drug takes 14 hours for half of the dose to be out of your system. This rate means that it takes about three days for a single dose of Ativan to be completely out of your body. However, personal factors (e.g., height and weight or genetics) can affect how long a substance is detectable in your system.
Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms
So what are the signs and symptoms of Ativan withdrawal? People’s experiences will vary, but generally, Ativan withdrawal symptoms include:
- Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms
Restlessness or agitation
Fatigue or lethargy
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Poor concentration or poor memory
Headaches from Ativan use
Muscle aches or stiffness
Depersonalization or derealization
The withdrawal symptoms of Ativan will differ from person to person. Factors that affect the type of symptoms are the Ativan dosage taken, the frequency at which Ativan was taken, and physical factors such as an individual’s metabolism.
Acute vs. Prolonged Withdrawal
Withdrawal from Ativan usually occurs in two stages: acute and a prolonged stage.
Acute withdrawal symptoms are the side effects of Ativan addiction that come on quickly after discontinuing Ativan use. This period of withdrawal lasts for a few days. Symptoms tend to include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, agitation, nightmares, anorexia and seizures. Less common symptoms include nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, depersonalized feelings, delirium and hypersensitivity to visual and auditory stimuli. If you abruptly stop taking Ativan, there is also a serious risk of seizures occurring.
Prolonged withdrawal symptoms occur as a result of high-dose or long-term Ativan use. In the case of prolonged withdrawal, individuals experience severe distress for extended periods
following the acute withdrawal period. During this period, common symptoms include anxiety, cravings, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and depression. These prolonged symptoms can disappear and then emerge at seemingly random points up to about one year after stopping Ativan use. However, these symptoms will eventually fade.
Ativan Withdrawal Timeline
Every individual’s Ativan withdrawal timeline will differ depending on factors such as metabolism, Ativan dosage, the length of time Ativan was taken for and if an Ativan taper schedule was used.
However, the withdrawal will generally occur in two phases:
- Ativan Withdrawal Phases
Acute withdrawal starts approximately three days after quitting and lasts about two weeks. This is the most dangerous phase of the withdrawal process, as the acute phase is when seizures are most likely to occur.
Prolonged withdrawal emerges later and can last for a long time (upwards of a year).
Factors Impacting Ativan Withdrawal
There are several factors that can influence the Ativan withdrawal process. The biggest factor is Ativan tolerance. Benzodiazepine tolerance, in general, will impact Ativan withdrawal because of all benzodiazepines act similarly within the brain. If you were using Ativan for a long time, your withdrawal experience will differ from someone who only took Ativan a few times.
Additionally, abusing drugs such as alcohol can impact Ativan withdrawal because alcohol acts on the GABA within your brain. If you already are prone to anxiety or have an anxiety disorder, Ativan withdrawal effects may be more profound than in people without anxiety.
How to Cope with Ativan Withdrawal
The side effects of Ativan withdrawal are not pleasant, but there are treatment methods you can utilize to help cope with withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Ways to Cope with Ativan Withdrawal Side Effects
Tapering your dose of Ativan. You can avoid the worst withdrawal symptoms by tapering your dose. Tapering is when you take progressively smaller doses of Ativan over a long period (weeks to months).
Exercise. Exercise can be therapeutic and reduces stress and anxiety.
Practice mindfulness or meditation. Focus on and acceptance of the present moment through mindfulness techniques or meditation. This method can help you cope with cravings and urges that occur during withdrawal.
These treatment methods may help someone treating withdrawal at home, but professional detox is the safest way to go through the withdrawal process.
Professional Ativan Detox
Long-term or high-dose Ativan use greatly increases the risk of seizure and death during withdrawal. Professional detox is the best option for withdrawing from Ativan safely.
When you are in a professional detox facility you have access to 24/7 medical assistance during the worst and most dangerous phases of withdrawal. Then, when psychological symptoms are more prominent, you can utilize therapy services offered by the detox facility.
Where to Find Help in Florida
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to Ativan or other benzodiazepines, there are many addiction treatment facilities in Florida. Whether you are a Florida resident or live out of state and wish to receive treatment in Florida, treatment options are available to cater to your specific needs.
Call The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to find out how professional addiction treatment can address a substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Take the first step toward sobriety, call today.
RxList. “Ativan (Lorazepam): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses.” Accessed September 16, 2019.
Arya, Ravindrya; et al. “Intranasal versus intravenous lorazepam for control of acute seizures in children: A randomized open‐label study.” Epilepsia, April 2011. Accessed September 16, 2019.
Tan, Kelly; et al. “Hooked on benzodiazepines: GABA receptor subtypes and addiction.” Trends in Neurosciences, April 1, 2011. Accessed September 16, 2019.
Schweizer, E; Rickels, K. “Benzodiazepine dependence and withdrawal: a review of the syndrome and its clinical management.” Acta Psychiatr Scand, 1998. Accessed September 16, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.