Ativan (Lorazepam) Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, and Treatment Options

Ativan is a prescription medication used to treat anxiety. Ativan can be addictive, and misuse of it can increase the risk of potentially serious side effects.

Read on to learn more about Ativan addiction and how to get help if you or a loved one has lost control of their prescription drug use.

What Is Ativan?

Ativan is a brand-name formulation of the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam. Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are a class of widely prescribed sedative-hypnotic medications.1

As central nervous system (CNS) depressants, benzos help manage conditions like anxiety by inhibiting abnormal levels of excitation throughout the nervous system.

Ativan is one of the most used benzodiazepines on the market, with pharmacies dispensing more than 18 million prescriptions of the drug in 2019. Ativan is also frequently sold on the street for illicit or non-medical use.2,3

Other medications in this drug class include:1,3

Ativan is available as an oral tablet or injectable solution.4

What Are the Medical Uses of Ativan?

As an oral tablet, Ativan is indicated for the treatment of anxiety disorders and for the short-term relief of anxiety symptoms or anxiety that can occur with depression.4

Side Effects of Ativan

Ativan can have a range of different effects on a person’s health. The most common side effects of Ativan use are:4

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

Can Ativan Be Addictive or Abused?

Yes, Ativan use—even when taken as directed by a doctor—carries the risk of abuse, misuse, and addiction.4

A 2021 national survey found that 3.9 million Americans over age 12 had misused benzos like Ativan in the past year. That same year, approximately 2.2 million Americans met the criteria for a sedative use disorder, the clinical term for addiction to sedatives like benzos.5

Misuse of benzodiazepines refers to any use that is:1

  • For recreational purposes (i.e., to get high).
  • Other than how it’s prescribed (e.g., more frequently or bigger doses).
  • Without a prescription (e.g., using someone else’s medicine or buying it on the street).

In addition to swallowing the pill as normal, people who misuse Ativan may sometimes crush the tablet up and snort it.1

Misuse of Ativan or other benzodiazepines often occurs with misuse of other substances, such as cocaine, opioids, and alcohol. Mixing benzos with any other medications or drugs—also known as polysubstance use—is dangerous and can increase the risk of overdose and death.3,4

Recognizing Ativan Addiction

Certain signs of Ativan addiction may be noticeable to other people. Professionals use the term “sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder” to diagnose people with an addiction to CNS depressants like Ativan.

Ativan Overdose

Ativan overdose is possible, though most fatal benzodiazepine overdoses involve the use of benzos like Ativan with other substances that can cause respiratory depression, such as opioids or alcohol.4

This mixture can result in slowed or stopped breathing, which may cause hypoxia, or a decrease in the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. Hypoxia can result in coma, permanent brain damage, and death.1

If you think someone is overdosing:7

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Administer Narcan if available.
  • Place the person on their side to prevent choking.
  • Try to keep them awake and breathing.
  • Remain with the person until help arrives.

Signs of an Ativan Overdose

The signs of an overdose on benzodiazepines like Ativan, without the involvement of other substances, include:4

  • Extreme sleepiness or drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Diminished reflexes.
  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Coma.

Other overdose symptoms, particularly those of significant respiratory depression (slowed or stopped breathing, loss of consciousness, bluish fingernails or lips, etc.) often suggest Ativan was used with other substances.4,9

From January–June 2020, 92.7% of benzodiazepine-related overdoses also involved opioids, and 66.7% involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.10

When purchased on the street, counterfeit benzos can be cut with lethal doses of fentanyl, and people may not realize they are taking this deadly combination.11

Ativan Withdrawal and Detox

When someone has been using or misusing Ativan regularly for longer than several weeks, they will likely have withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking it or significantly reduce their dose.4,6

Withdrawal results from physical dependence on the drug. This is when the body adapts to the presence of a drug or medication, so much so that a person needs the drug in their system to function normally.12

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines like Ativan can be severe and is one of the withdrawal syndromes (along with opioids and alcohol) for which a supervised medical detox may be needed to keep a person safe and limit the risks of potentially serious withdrawal reactions such as seizures.13

Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms associated with Ativan withdrawal can range from mildly uncomfortable to serious and life-threatening. These symptoms may include:4,6

  • Elevated vital signs (e.g., increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature).
  • Sweating.
  • Hand tremors.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

Ativan Withdrawal Timeline

The withdrawal timeline for Ativan may vary depending on the individual.

Generally, withdrawal symptoms for relatively short-acting benzodiazepines like Ativan will appear within 6–8 hours of the last use, peak in intensity on the following day, and begin to resolve by the fourth or fifth day.6

Some less intense symptoms can linger for several weeks or months, and sometimes even longer.4,6

Getting Help for Ativan Addiction

If you or someone you love has developed an addiction to Ativan, other drugs, or alcohol, professional treatment can help.

At Sunrise House Treatment Center, we believe each person is unique and that treatment should be tailored to meet the individual needs of each patient. That’s why we offer personalized care and various levels of addiction treatment.

People with Ativan addiction may also be struggling with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Our inpatient rehab in New Jersey specializes in the treatment of co-occurring disorders, addressing both conditions at the same time, rather than separately.

At Sunrise House, we strive to make addiction treatment accessible and offer different ways to pay for rehab. We are also in-network with many major health insurance companies and can provide assistance if you’re planning on using insurance to pay for rehab.

To find out whether your benefits cover treatment at Sunrise House, simply fill out this quick and confidential .

To learn more about our programs or start the admissions process, call us at today.


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