What is Ativan?

Ativan – the generic name “lorazepam” – is a drug that doctors prescribe regularly for a range of brain and nervous system-related conditions. However, as you’ll discover in this post, it can be addictive. While the medication is suitable for patients short term, it can be difficult to let go if used for an extended period. 

What is Ativan?

Ativan is a proprietary name for a commonly prescribed tranquilizer called lorazepam. It is a benzodiazepine – a class of drugs that act on the brain and central nervous system, producing a sedative or calming effect. 

Ativan works by enhancing the potency of GABA, an important neurotransmitter in the brain. Researchers believe that when levels of GABA rise, it has an anti-anxiety effect, allowing patients to feel calmer. 

How should it be taken?

Patients take Ativan via the mouth, with or without food. Physicians prescribe dosages based on patients’ age, the severity of their condition, and response to treatment.

After taking Ativan, patients often find that their symptoms begin to improve within a few hours or days of the first dose. 

Usually, lorazepam is taken on a regular schedule – perhaps twice per day. Anyone taking the medication should do so at the same time each day to avoid unwanted side effects. It is less effective when used infrequently and unpredictably. 

If you miss an Ativan dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you are getting close to your next dose, then wait and take your next dose as normal. Don’t double your dose or take more than prescribed in a given period. 

Because Ativan is addictive, health professionals recommend that patients regularly return to their doctor for dosage reviews. Physicians can then evaluate symptoms and determine whether it is worth continuing the course or trialing a different type of drug. 

Patients taking Ativan should also read the medication guide. This document provides information on side effects, dosages, and which symptoms require immediate medical attention. Documentation may also describe how you’re likely to feel, both as you go onto the drug, and when you come off it.

What to avoid while taking Ativan

If you are taking Ativan (lorazepam), avoid taking any drugs or alcohol. Drinking may eliminate its benefits and could increase the adverse side effects of the medication, such as drowsiness and sedation. Alcohol also puts you at a higher risk of overdose – something that we discuss at the end of this post. 

Lorazepam is also known to interact with other medications, leading to potentially serious side effects. Do not take it if you are on: 

  • Antihistamines, including Benadryl®
  • Opioids, including cough medications that contain codeine syrup
  • Narcotics, such as hydrocodone (Vicodin® and Lortab®), morphine and oxycodone
  • Sleeping pills, such as zolpidem
  • Gabapentinoids, a type of antidepressant drug
  • Methadone, a mostly illegal street drug 
  • Certain tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants and antipsychotic medications

If you have the following conditions, you should not take lorazepam: 

  • Narrow-angle glaucoma
  • Allergies to any benzodiazepine, including diazepam and alprazolam

Physicians also recommend against taking lorazepam if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant as it may harm the unborn baby. Avoid taking this medication during the first trimester as it may create life-threatening dependency and withdrawal once the baby is born. 

Side Effects of Ativan

Physicians classify lorazepam side effects into two groups: common and rare. Common side effects are generally quite mild and usually abate the longer you stay on the drug. Rare side effects can be both unusual and dangerous, requiring immediate medical attention. 

Common side effects of Ativan are: 

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired cognition
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you are taking lorazepam, the above symptoms should start to improve after a week or so. However, if they persist, get in touch with your doctor. 

Serious side effects of taking Ativan include: 

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Memory impairment
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Passing out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble speaking
  • Depression and low mood
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Disinterest in life
  • Allergic swelling of the face

Some clients on benzodiazepines report strange behaviors while they are asleep, such as making phone calls, sleep driving or preparing and eating food without being fully conscious of their activities. 

The FDA puts a Black Box warning on lorazepam because of the dangers it poses when used in combination with opioid-containing medications. 

Ativan and addiction

Even when clients use lorazepam as instructed, it can lead to addiction. Physical dependency can begin in as little as two weeks after starting a daily course. Clients may notice that they need to take Ativan in ever higher doses to get the same tranquilizing effect. 

Physical dependence and addiction are not the same. Dependency is common in addiction, but not everyone who is dependent on a drug will become addicted. Those who are addicted to Ativan also display behavioral signs of addiction. These include preoccupation with the drug, spending more money on it, and taking it more regularly than prescribed. 

Symptoms of Ativan withdrawal include panic attacks, depression, anxiety, vertigo, confusion, short-term memory loss, sweating and insomnia. In severe cases, clients may also experience derealization and seizures. Therefore, it is critical to withdraw in a controlled setting, such as a rehab center. 

Ativan overdose

Symptoms of excessive lorazepam intake include slowed reflexes, impaired coordination, and confusion. Some clients may enter a coma or die. 

If you suspect you may have taken too much Ativan, call 911 immediately for urgent medical care. Treatments are available that can reverse the damaging effects of excess lorazepam on the body. Flumazenil, for instance, can stop an overdose from progressing to a life-threatening stage but can only be administered in the hospital via an IV drip. Clients should not take this medication themselves. Only a doctor can assess their situation and determine whether they need it.

**This article is not to be taken as medical advice. Always consult your physician before taking/stopping any prescribed medication.**

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Ativan substance use disorder can progress to the point where it stops individuals from living a normal life. If you or someone you love has a problem with this drug, then contact us today to speak to one of our admissions specialists

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