Ativan (Lorazepam) Addiction

Ativan is one of several benzodiazepine medications commonly prescribed for the short-term management of anxiety.1 On this page, you can learn more about the drug, including Ativan’s uses, side effects, risks of misuse, and how to find treatment for Ativan withdrawal and addiction.

What Is Ativan?

Ativan, a brand name formulation of the generic drug lorazepam, is a type of drug known as a benzodiazepine.1 This class of prescription drugs includes other drugs such as:

Benzodiazepines fall into a broader category of sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic drugs. By acting upon the central nervous system (CNS), benzodiazepines are able to calm an over-excited nervous system.3,4

Ativan and other benzodiazepines are meant to be used on a short-term basis. Long-term use increases the risk of significant dependence, an associated withdrawal syndrome, and addiction development.1,4

What Is Ativan Used For?

In oral tablet form, Ativan is prescribed for the:1

  • Treatment of anxiety disorders.
  • Short-term relief of anxiety symptoms, as well as anxiety associated with depressive symptoms.

While Ativan is intended to be used as prescribed, it is also a drug that is commonly misused. Examples of benzodiazepine misuse include:4

  • Taking medicine that is not prescribed to you.
  • Taking medicine in a way other than how it is prescribed or in a dose other than prescribed.
  • Taking medicine to attain the pleasurable effect or high it causes.

Ativan Side Effects

As with many medications, there are side effects that can occur when taking Ativan. Some of the most common side effects include:1

  • Sedation.
  • Dizziness.
  • Unsteadiness.
  • Weakness.

Although rare, serious Ativan side effects can include the following:1

  • Paranoia
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Breathing difficulty

When Ativan is misused, it is often taken in doses higher than the recommended dosage or at the same time as alcohol, other medications such as opioids, or illicit substances. This type of misuse is associated with an increased risk of serious adverse effects.1

How Addictive Is Ativan?

Ativan has a known risk of misuse and addiction and is listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule IV drug under the Controlled Substance Act. 1,6

 In 2019, Approximately 1.2 million people in the United States met the criteria for a substance use disorder that involved benzodiazepines and similar types of sedatives and tranquilizers.7

Ativan and other benzodiazepines are sometimes misused to elicit a sense of euphoria.3 Such pleasurable sensations are thought to be accompanied by release of a brain signaling molecule known as dopamine.8

It is thought that this temporary increase in dopamine activity helps to reinforce the behaviors associated with the pleasurable sensation—in this case, benzodiazepine use.8

These changes in brain chemistry can motivate a person to repeatedly seek pleasurable experiences from drug use and may be instrumental in the development of an addiction, or the compulsive use of substances despite negative consequences.8

It is important to note that some people may be more at risk of developing an addiction than others. While there is no one factor that determines whether a person will become addicted to substances, there are several issues that may contribute to the risk of addiction development, including:8

  • Genetics.
  • Concurrent mental health issues.
  • Environmental factors such as family and peer group.
  • How early drug use started.

Signs of Ativan Addiction

Doctors and other treatment professionals may diagnose someone with a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder—the clinical term used for an Ativan addiction or addiction to another benzodiazepine.

Overdosing on Ativan

It is possible to overdose on Ativan, especially when people misuse it and take more than is prescribed.1 There are several symptoms that can indicate someone is having an Ativan overdose, and these include:1

  • Drowsiness.
  • Lethargy.
  • Confusion.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Decreased blood pressure.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Furthermore, overdose toxicity and other adverse reactions may be more likely when Ativan is used at the same time as opioids, alcohol, or other CNS depressant drugs.1 Combining Ativan with opioids or alcohol may increase the risk of:1

  • Profound over-sedation.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

An Ativan overdose can be fatal.1 If you suspect someone has overdosed on Ativan or any substance, call 911 immediately. If you think that the person may have also overdosed on opioids, you can administer naloxone to reverse the opioid’s effects.5

Giving a person naloxone when they are overdosing on drugs other than opioids will not hurt them, so it’s best to administer it anytime you suspect an opioid overdose.5

Ativan Withdrawal and Detox

Ativan misuse increases the likelihood of significant physical dependence on the drug.1

Physical dependence develops as an adaptation to the presence of Ativan. As dependence develops, should you stop using Ativan abruptly, or significantly reduce your usual dose, you may experience symptoms of Ativan withdrawal.1

The timeline and severity of withdrawal vary from person to person and depend on several factors. However, the approximate timeline for Ativan withdrawal is as follows:2

  • Day 1: Withdrawal symptoms begin within 6-8 hours after the last use of Ativan.
  • Day 2: Typically, withdrawal symptoms tend to peak around the 2nd day of withdrawal.
  • Days 4/5: Withdrawal symptoms begin to improve and subside.

Ativan withdrawal symptoms can include:1,2

  • Headaches.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irritable mood.
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Muscle aches and stiffness.
  • Involuntary body movements.
  • Tremors.

In some cases, Ativan withdrawal symptoms can be serious and even life-threatening.9 People may experience:1

  • Delirium tremens.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Seizures.

There is a greater likelihood of severe withdrawal for those with co-occurring disorders, concurrent alcohol use, or the use of other sedative-hypnotics, like sleep medications.9

The more severe, adverse reactions to Ativan withdrawal, such as seizures, can occur without warning.9 Therefore, it is not recommended that a person try to stop their Ativan use or use of other benzodiazepines on their own.

Instead, medical detox programs can provide the necessary supervision and support to manage any serious withdrawal complications, should they arise. During detox, every effort is made to keep a person as safe and comfortable as possible during the withdrawal process.9

Getting Help for Ativan Addiction

Ativan addiction is a serious but treatable condition. The first step for many people is a supervised medical detox to safely manage Ativan withdrawal symptoms.10

Detox can prepare you for further addiction treatment that includes behavioral therapies. Such evidence-based therapies can help you modify your behavior and gain the skills necessary to maintain your recovery.10

If you or someone you love need help with Ativan addiction, call Recovery First today to speak with an admissions navigator at . Our drug rehab near Miami offers multiple levels of addiction treatment and customized care to ensure your individual needs are met.

Our admissions navigators can answer your questions and help you start the admissions process right away. We’ll help you find out if using insurance to pay for rehab is an option for you or your loved one. Admissions navigators can also explain other ways to pay for rehab.

Another way to start the admissions process is to instantly . There’s no need to battle addiction alone. We’re available 24/7 to help you start your recovery.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Recovery First is located in Hollywood, Florida, which is easily accessible from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Our small groups means you get more one-on-one support and make stronger connections with the community. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Florida's Atlantic coast or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.