Ativan Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment
Are You Addicted to Ativan?
Ativan (lorazepam) belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. 1 These drugs have a number of therapeutic uses, including the treatment of anxiety and seizures. However, they also have a high risk of abuse and addiction.
This article discusses the development and treatment of an Ativan use disorder (Ativan addiction), including:
- Ativan’s addictive potential.
- Signs and symptoms that may indicate someone is abusing Ativan.
- Treatment options for people with substance use disorders.
- Potential ways to fund treatment for substance use disorders.
- Long- and short-term effects of Ativan abuse and dependence.
Is Ativan Addictive?
Benzodiazepines such as Ativan are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in America and include familiar drugs such as Valium and Xanax.
Every benzodiazepine drug carries a high potential for abuse or physical dependence. Ativan is no exception and carries a high risk for the development of a substance use disorder for the following reasons.
- High potency. In terms of the effective dose, Ativan is a relatively potent benzodiazepine drug. Tolerance develops quickly when benzodiazepines are used regularly, and with the standard dose of Ativan being in the 0.5 mg to 1 mg range, people might be more prone to doubling or tripling up on their doses very quickly. People who take Ativan for its euphoric effects soon find that they need more and more Ativan to achieve the same effects achieved at lower doses. As they build tolerance to the persistently high levels of the drug in their systems, the risk of experiencing withdrawal when they stop using it increases. 2
- Cravings. Like many sedative drugs, suddenly quitting Ativan can result in strong cravings to continue using the drug. These powerful cravings can lead to drug-seeking behaviors and abuse. 1, 2
- Dependence. Physical dependence may not signify a substance use disorder or addiction to Ativan in people who take the medication according to its prescribed use. However, physical dependence in people who abuse Ativan (e.g., take it for non-medical reasons and in amounts or ways not prescribed) is often considered a sign of a substance use disorder. 3
- Changes in the brain. The habitual use of benzodiazepines such as Ativan results in changes in the central nervous system (CNS) that may foster drug-seeking behaviors. Again, these changes alone don’t necessarily indicate the presence of a substance use disorder in people who only use the drug under the supervision of a physician and take it as prescribed. However, these same changes may contribute to the development of a substance use disorder in people who use Ativan for non-medical purposes and/or without the supervision of a physician. 1, 2, 3
How to Tell If You or a Loved One Is Addicted
A number of different signs and symptoms may indicate that a person has developed an addiction to Ativan. These include: 3, 4
- Using Ativan more often than prescribed or taking higher dosages than prescribed.
- Obtaining Ativan illegally (without a prescription).
- Taking Ativan in conjunction with other drugs, such as alcohol or marijuana.
- Engaging in “doctor shopping” to get more Ativan (visiting different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions).
- Neglecting responsibilities to an employer, family members, or friends.
- Showing up at work, school, or important family functions under the influence of Ativan.
- Often appearing drowsy or slurring words.
- Appearing to be in a daze and having dilated pupils.
- Experiencing problems with attention, concentration, or memory.
- Becoming angry or defensive when someone tries to discuss the person’s Ativan abuse.
- Spending a lot of time using Ativan, recovering from using Ativan, or trying to obtain more Ativan.
- Neglecting personal hygiene or appearance.
- Spending a lot of time alone or with people who are known drug abusers.
If you believe you or someone you know has an Ativan addiction, call to learn more about recovery programs in your area.
Different treatment programs have different price tags. Some of the factors that will figure into the price of the treatment program include:
- Whether it’s outpatient or inpatient treatment. The latter will typically be more expensive than outpatient treatment.
- The length of treatment. The longer you participate in an inpatient or outpatient program, the more it will cost.
- The use of medically assisted treatment. The use of medication to help you detox from Ativan can also add to the cost.
- The location of the treatment facility. For example, facilities in more affluent areas or desirable locations (e.g., private, beachfront, etc.) will typically be more expensive.
- The treatment providers’ credentials. Physicians and licensed psychologists will typically cost more than social workers and volunteers.
- The number of treatment services one engages in. If you require detox, therapy, medical care, and medication, your treatment may be more expensive.
Paying for Treatment
Some people might be tempted to attend a less expensive program or forgo certain services to lower the cost of care. But supervised detox and withdrawal management, counseling, relapse prevention, and support are key components of achieving and maintaining sobriety. Treatment can be paid for in a number of ways. For example:
- Insurance. Most insurance plans will cover a portion of the treatment cost. Typically, you will have a co-pay. If you have insurance, call to learn more about your coverage.
- Medicaid. Alternatively, people who don’t have insurance may qualify for programs such as Medicaid, which many treatment programs accept.
- Payment plans. Some treatment programs offer payment plans for those who do not have insurance. It never hurts to ask the treatment facility if they offer these.
- Credit cards. Many substance use treatment providers accept credit cards. This may not be the best way to pay for treatment since interest will accrue, but it is an option.
- Crowdfunding. People who need treatment can also try crowdfunding, which involves seeking contributions through websites such as GoFundMe.
- Borrowing. One can also ask to borrow money from family and friends.
- 12-step programs. These programs are free, and anyone can attend them. Groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Pills Anonymous, and even Alcoholics Anonymous can help people with an Ativan use disorder.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a free hotline to help those who don’t have insurance find a program or find insurance that will pay for substance abuse treatment. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357), anytime, for assistance.
Getting Treatment and Starting Recovery
The most common types of treatment for Ativan use disorder include:
- Inpatient. These are residential programs where the person lives at the facility while participating in a treatment program. Inpatient programs can vary in cost and amenities, but they usually include a thorough pre-admission assessment of your addiction and your medical and mental health history, as well as detox services, therapy, medical care, and aftercare planning.
- Outpatient. Outpatient care is provided on a part-time basis. People in these programs do not live at the recovery center. Instead, they come to the center for treatment on certain days of the week for a few hours at a time. Outpatient often frequently incorporates both individual and group therapy.
- Dual diagnosis. Many people who abuse Ativan suffer from a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. A dual diagnosis treatment center can provide integrated treatment for both the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder, which can greatly reduce the risk of relapse.
People with Ativan use disorders will most likely need: 4
- Medically supervised detox. A person in Ativan withdrawal can experience hallucinations, confusion, and even seizures (which can be fatal), so a physician should monitor the withdrawal process. Typically, a physician administers decreasing amounts of the drug to help the person get used to having less of the drug in his or her system (this is known as tapering). Some withdrawal symptoms can be managed by other medications, and the person can slowly detox from Ativan without serious repercussions. Inpatient treatment will most likely include withdrawal management and detoxification. Tapering is a safe and effective means of benzodiazepine detoxification, but it may prolong recovery efforts somewhat.
- Therapy. People with Ativan use disorders will need some type of counseling to address the issues that drove them to substance abuse. Therapy may include helping the person develop coping strategies, providing a relapse prevention plan, addressing psychological issues/disorders, and offering support and education. The person may participate in group and/or individual therapy. Therapy and support should continue after the withdrawal process and detoxification period, which is only the first step in the recovery process.
- Follow-up or “step down” care. Counseling may begin as a form of inpatient treatment and be continued in outpatient treatment. Some people also attend 12-step meetings or live in a halfway house after they complete a treatment program.
Additional types of treatment that may be useful but are not essential include: 4
- Family therapy, which is often useful in substance abuse treatment and helps resolve anger, guilt, and other issues that may contribute to addiction. A therapist meets with the substance user and his or her family and attempts to improve communication and reduce the impact of substance abuse on the user and the family members.
- Support groups, which can be useful because people interact with others who have similar problems. These groups often have structured programs of recovery, and they are ongoing, so a person can use them for long-term aftercare treatment.
Short- and Long-Term Side Effects of Ativan Dependency
Some of the short-term side effects of an Ativan use disorder include: 2, 3, 4
- Side effects from using the drug (nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, rapid heartbeat, memory impairment, and flu-like symptoms).
- Issues with work, personal relationships, and the pursuit of goals.
- A physical dependence on Ativan.
- Financial issues, loss of credibility, and even legal issues.
Longer-term side effects of an Ativan use disorder include:
- The development of a substance use disorder, which can be costly and lead to relapse.
- The loss of a job or a long-term personal relationship.
- Long-term health effects on the heart, lungs, central nervous system, and/or liver. Chronic Ativan abuse may also result in persistent chemical and even structural brain changes.
- The development of serious psychological issues, such as chronic depression, and, in rare cases, psychosis. These may lead to self-harm, such as a suicide attempt.
How to Find a Treatment Program for Ativan Addiction
Anyone who is interested in more information about Ativan addiction treatment can call to speak to a treatment support representative. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and a representative can confirm your insurance coverage over the phone.
. Stahl, S. M. (2013). Stahl’s essential psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific basis and practical applications. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
. Longo, L. P., & Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines-side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. American Family Physician, 61(7), 2121-2128.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders – Fifth edition. Washington, D.C: Author.
. Doweiko, H. (2011). Concepts of chemical dependency. Stanford, CT: Nelson Education.