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Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms: What You Should Know

Home » Our Blog » Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms: What You Should Know

Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on February 23, 2024

Prescription medications such as Ativan—which belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines—can provide relief from several conditions, including anxiety and sleep issues. However, the misuse of Ativan and other sedative/hypnotic/anxiolytic drugs, especially among young adults, has been on the rise in recent years, raising concerns about its high potential for both addiction and a complicated withdrawal process.

Withdrawal from any substance can be a challenge, with the body struggling back towards homeostasis and re-regulation without the constant influx of the drug. Withdrawal from Ativan can be a difficult journey, but recovery is indeed possible with the right knowledge and support. Today, Clear Behavioral Health will help you learn what you need to know about Ativan withdrawal and how to manage it safely to begin your recovery process.

What is Ativan?

Ativan, generically known as lorazepam, is a benzodiazepine medication primarily prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, and certain seizure disorders. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, Ativan works by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that calms brain activity, leading to a sense of relaxation and reduced anxiety.

First introduced in 1977, Ativan is typically administered orally in pill form (typically extended-release), though it can also be injected (concentrate). It’s currently included in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) most recent List of Essential Medicines (from 2019), owing to its clinical application for treatment and as a surgical aide.

Classified as a Schedule IV substance, the effects of Ativan are understood to be much in line with other benzodiazepines and sedative/hypnotic/anxiolytic drugs, which include:

  • Feelings of relaxation and/or euphoria
  • Drowsiness and sedation
  • Slowing your breathing
  • Changes in appetite
  • Decreased psychomotor functioning

Ativan Use in Young Adult Populations

Young adults may be prescribed Ativan for anxiety-related issues or sleep disorders. While the short-term use of Ativan can be effective in managing the symptoms of such conditions, prolonged use or misuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence. It’s essential for healthcare providers to carefully assess the appropriateness of prescribing Ativan to young adults, taking into consideration their medical history, mental health status, and the potential for addiction.

Ativan is a commonly abused drug in young adult populations, often due to its potential to create relaxed and euphoric states almost immediately after ingestion. A total of 30.6 million adults, or 12.6% of the US population, reported past-year benzodiazepine use in 2018, including 5.3 million of those being classified as misusing the medication. People between the ages of 18-25 saw the highest percentage of benzodiazepine misuse, and approximately 2.3% to 18% of Americans have misused sedatives or tranquilizers for nonmedical use in their lifetime.

What Makes Ativan Dangerous?

While Ativan has many appropriate clinical applications it also carries a high potential for both tolerance and withdrawal with either long-term use or misuse. As the body eventually gets used to the presence of Ativan and other benzodiazepines in the system, higher doses will be required over time to obtain the same effects—which can be deadly. Escalating or long-term Ativan use can lead to coma or even death in higher doses, along with a slew of other potential side effects, including:

  • Loss of orientation
  • Weight loss
  • Tremors or other involuntary movements
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Respiratory depression
  • Low energy
  • Blurred vision

Furthermore, combining Ativan with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol or opioids, can be life-threatening due to the increased risk of respiratory depression.

Young adults may also be more susceptible to the dangers of Ativan due to their curiosity, experimentation, and lack of awareness regarding the potential risks associated with benzodiazepine usage. Additionally, the developing brain of young adults is more sensitive to the effects of these drugs, increasing the risk of adverse outcomes when improperly used.

Why is Ativan Addictive?

Ativan and other benzodiazepines are known for their addictive properties. Prolonged use of Ativan can lead to physical dependence, where the body becomes reliant on the drug to function normally. This dependence can make it challenging to stop using Ativan without experiencing challenging withdrawal symptoms.

Ativan enhances the effects of GABA, which leads to the suppression of brain activity and the calming of nerves, leading to a soothing and sometimes euphoric feeling. With prolonged use, the brain adapts to the presence of Ativan by reducing its own natural production of GABA. As a result, when an individual attempts to stop using Ativan, the brain experiences a GABA deficit, leading to uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The treatment properties of Ativan, such as reduced anxiety and relaxation, can also contribute to addiction as well: As individuals experience relief from their symptoms through Ativan use, they may be motivated to continue taking the medication to maintain those same effects over time.

What Are the Symptoms of Ativan Withdrawal?

Ativan withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the individual and circumstance. These can include:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating and chills
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Cognitive difficulties

It’s important to note that the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary based on factors such as the duration and dosage of current Ativan use, individual physiology, and any co-occurring medical or mental health conditions that may also be present.

How Long Will Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The duration and intensity of Ativan withdrawal symptoms can differ from person to person. Generally, acute withdrawal symptoms may start within a few hours to a few days after the last dose and peak in intensity within the first week. However, some individuals may experience protracted withdrawal symptoms that can last for weeks or even months.

How Difficult is Ativan Withdrawal?

Ativan withdrawal can be challenging, and the severity of symptoms can be distressing for most individuals. The combination of physical and psychological symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage, particularly if attempting to cease your usage on your own. Moreover, the fear of experiencing withdrawal symptoms may prevent some individuals from attempting to quit Ativan in the first place, owing to the fear of potential withdrawal difficulties and complexities.

The challenges of withdrawal highlight the importance of seeking professional help and support when attempting to stop your Ativan usage. Medical detoxification, under the guidance of healthcare professionals, can provide a safer and more manageable way to manage the process, along with providing treatment measures to both decrease your discomfort and watch out for any life-threatening complexities that may arise.

How To Begin Detoxing from Ativan

Detoxification, or detox, is the initial step in breaking free from Ativan addiction. However, abruptly stopping Ativan can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening, as sudden cessation can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms and medical complications. It’s always recommended to speak to your doctor or a medical professional before you begin, as they can assist you in creating a plan to safely navigate the process. A medical detoxification center can also help to make the process safer and more comfortable as well.

What is Medical Detoxification?

Medical detoxification is a supervised process that involves gradually tapering off a substance while being monitored by professionals to better manage withdrawal symptoms. In a medically supervised detox program, healthcare professionals provide support and ensure the safety and well-being of the individual throughout the withdrawal process, which can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on the individual’s needs and the severity of their addiction.

During medical detox, your dosage of Ativan will be gradually tapered over time to allow the brain to readjust its GABA levels. This tapering process helps to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of dangerous complications. Healthcare professionals may also provide medications to address specific withdrawal symptoms and ensure your comfort and safety.

Detox is typically the first step in a multi-modal, comprehensive plan for addiction treatment, working in tandem with other providers and modalities (such as individual therapy) to help you build new coping skills and gain new insights into Ativan addiction and the recovery process. Other health issues, including co-occurring disorders, will also be included in your treatment plan.

Break Free from Ativan Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with Ativan addiction—or is currently experiencing withdrawal symptoms—don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. Breaking free from Ativan addiction is possible with the right support and treatment, and it takes courage to seek help. The recovery process is indeed a journey, and you don’t have to go through it alone—Clear Behavioral Health can help you safely detox and provide comprehensive addiction and co-occurring treatment to help you reach your potential and break free from Ativan addiction today. Contact us today to learn more!

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