Guide to Ativan Addiction Treatment

in Drug Insights
Published Oct 21, 2020

This is a comprehensive guide to Ativan Addiction Treatment that includes key facts about Ativan use, risk factors for dependence and substance use disorder, signs to watch out for, Ativan detox and withdrawal symptoms, how to treat addiction to Ativan, and the next steps to take.

What is Ativan?

Ativan (also known as by its generic name, lorazepam) belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. These drugs work by depressing the central nervous system, slowing down brain activity and producing feelings of calm, euphoria, and relaxation. 

Ativan is a medication most commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety. It is also used to treat insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, and other symptoms associated with both cancer treatment and alcohol withdrawal. Due to its relaxant effect, Ativan is prone to abuse, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms. 

Facts and statistics about benzodiazepine use

While Ativan can be effective at managing insomnia, and other conditions, taking it for reasons other than what it was prescribed for increases the risk of addiction — a risk associated with taking any benzodiazepine. 

Benzodiazepine use as a whole is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 30 percent of drug overdoses involving opioids also include benzodiazepine use. NIDA reported that between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) stated that benzodiazepines use is highest among 50-64 year olds. Men are more likely to misuse benzodiazepines than women.

Causes & risk factors of taking Ativan

The effects of long-term benzodiazepine use include:

  • depression
  • disinhibition
  • impaired memory and cognitive skills such as response times and coordination
  • brain damage
  • increased risk of car crashes and hip fractures

Ativan is also prone to misuse. The drug is only medically indicated to be taken for short periods of time (two to four weeks). Continued use (beyond four months) can lead to increased tolerance and dependence. If taken for longer than four months, Ativan can become habit-forming, causing the person to take more than is clinically indicated to feel the euphoric effects, despite the negative consequences, and favoring the drug over the impacts on work, home, and relationships. Continued use can also cause side effects.

Due to its risk of physical and psychological dependence — especially in people prone to substance use disorder — and how it works in the body, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a black box warning for Ativan. In particular, the FDA warns that Ativan should only be prescribed in low doses for short periods of time, and that doctors should be mindful of its use in conjunction with opioids.

Symptoms & diagnosis of addiction to Ativan

Prolonged use of Ativan can lead to increased tolerance and dependence, causing a person to take more than is clinically indicated in order to feel the euphoric effects. Sometimes, in the case of addiction, they can favor the euphoric effects over the consequences of taking an excess of this drug, for example to their home life and relationships. Once dependence occurs, patients experience side effects, some of which are severe. 

Side effects of increased and prolonged Ativan use include weakness, tiredness, changes in appetite, constipation, sexual dysfunction, dry mouth, restlessness or excitement, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, difficulty urinating, and blurred vision. In some cases, severe side effects include difficulty breathing or swallowing, severe skin rash, fever, shuffling walk, persistent, fine tremor or the inability to sit still, irregular heartbeat, tremors, and yellowing of the skin or eyes. If any of these effects are experienced, a patient should seek medical assistance immediately.

Ativan detox & withdrawal

Once a person stops using Ativan, a period of adjustment called withdrawal follows. It can be quite distressing both physically and psychologically, as the body and brain need time to adjust and recover. During this period, a strong support system of medically trained professionals and recovery support is important. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be severe, even dangerous, if the drug is stopped too abruptly.

How long does Ativan withdrawal last?

Ativan has a short half-life. Withdrawal typically begins within 24 hours of the last dose. Initial symptoms include difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

The acute phase of withdrawal, known as benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, is said to last between five and 28 days. The person usually experiences a peak of severity around one to two weeks post-withdrawal, after which symptoms return to a pre-withdrawal phase. In some cases, the person may experience a protracted withdrawal (also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or “PAWS,” for short), which lasts for months and sometimes years. 

What are the symptoms of Ativan withdrawal?

Stopping benzodiazepine medications without professional intervention, such as medical detox, can cause a number of unpleasant and prolonged side effects. Because of the nature of benzodiazepines, which alter the brain’s chemistry causing things to slow down, ceasing long-term benzodiazepine use can cause too dramatic a change in brain activity, leading to unpleasant side effects.

In addition to the side effects mentioned above, withdrawal symptoms of Ativan include:

  • headache
  • anxiety
  • tension
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • restlessness
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • sweating
  • rebound phenomenon (a reflex action when one moves against an object that is later removed)
  • feelings of unease
  • dizziness 
  • derealization (feeling like one’s surroundings are not real)
  • depersonalization (when thoughts and feelings seem unreal, or not belonging to oneself)
  • hearing sensitivity 
  • numbness/tingling of extremities 
  • hypersensitivity to light noise, and physical contact/perceptual changes 
  • involuntary movements 
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite
  • hallucinations/delirium 
  • convulsions/seizures (more common in patients with pre-existing seizure disorders, or who are taking drugs, such as antidepressants, which lower the threshold for seizures)
  • tremor 
  • abdominal cramps 
  • muscle pain 
  • agitation 
  • strong rapid heartbeat
  • tachycardia 
  • panic attacks 
  • vertigo
  • short-term memory loss 
  • abnormal body temperature

Symptoms of protracted withdrawal (PAWS) include depression, anxiety, insomnia,

perceptual symptoms, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), tingling, numbness and pain in hands and feet, motor symptoms (muscle pain, weakness, tension, painful tremor, shaking attacks, jerks, spasms), and gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps).

Risks of home detox

In this instance, detox is the process of stopping using substance and detoxifying the body at home, without medical intervention. Due to the number of health risks associated with home detox, it is not advised by medical professionals. It can be particularly dangerous to suddenly stop drinking or taking drugs cold turkey, rather than tapering off.

Home detox is rarely successful because the side effects of stopping are so unpleasant that the risk of relapse is high.

It is strongly advised by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to seek professional intervention, especially if the person has been using substances persistently, to ensure they overcome risks of home detox.

“For alcohol, sedative-hypnotic, and opioid withdrawal syndromes, hospitalization or some form of 24-hour medical care is generally the preferred setting for detoxification, based upon the principles of safety and humanitarian concerns.” SAMHSA Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment Improvement Protocol, TIP 45

Again, there are a number of risks of home detox. This is particularly prevalent with alcohol detox and benzodiazepine detox. Medically-monitored detox centers are a crucial aspect of the recovery process. It ensures that the person is treated safely and reduces the risk of complications that might arise from the detox process. According to SAMHSA, almost 80 percent of professional detoxification uses medication to ease withdrawal symptoms.

Ativan addiction treatment 

There are various types of benzodiazepine detox. Depending on the severity of use, a detox is usually recommended. According to medical experts, treatment for any Ativan dependence should not discontinue the drug too early and a successful withdrawal strategy should be implemented. Ensuring sufficient medical and therapeutic support and effective withdrawal management reduces the risk of protracted withdrawal. 

A medically supervised detox occurs in an inpatient medical detox center or hospital. The benefits of admission are that medically trained professionals are able to closely monitor a person’s progress, administer any medications when necessary, and provide a safe and comfortable environment for the often painful and difficult process of withdrawal.

The Gallus Method of Ativan detox

Gallus Medical Detox provides the comfort of a residential facility, but with clinical expertise that is far superior to most detox facilities. We offer safe, effective, and personalized treatment. In fact, we are so proud of our proprietary method that we named it The Gallus Method.

The key features of Gallus Medical Detox include:

  • Individual treatment plans, with a focus on personalized sobriety
  • Psychological, physical, and social assessments
  • IV Therapy Program
  • 24/7 medical supervision
  • Cardiac telemetry and video technology
  • Ongoing adjustments to treatment plans in order to suit our patients’ needs
  • An individual aftercare plan identifying resources and next steps toward a long-term recovery

Gallus also offers a unique outpatient benzodiazepine taper support program with medical supervision, MD visits, and individual therapy.

We have addiction treatment centers in Arizona and Colorado, with more opening in coming months.

What our patients say about Gallus Medical Detox

Our patients are the best judge of the quality of our care. Here is what they have to say:

“This place is nothing short of exceptional!”

“I can’t be more pleased, impressed, and grateful with the entire Gallus team.”

“I cannot express in words my deep appreciation for the kindness and very individualized care delivered by motivated and professional caregivers.”

“My stay in this facility was by far the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced. The staff was extremely thoughtful, warm, and informative. Thank you very kindly, everyone.”

Next steps

While detox is usually the first step in recovery, it’s not a cure for addiction. Immediately following detox, behavioral therapy and other addiction treatments should occur while the person is ready to engage in recovery. You might find our blog Vital Steps to Take After Detox helpful. 

For more information on benzodiazepine treatment, click here