Lorazepam, also known by the brand name Ativan, is a commonly prescribed medication that is classified as a benzodiazepine. Most often prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders (e.g., generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, etc.), it may also be prescribed to those who struggle with insomnia, those dealing with nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and those who are going through alcohol detox and experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms.
Mild, moderate, or severe side effects can occur with use of Ativan. Many people will experience mild side effects as they get used to the medication but these usually pass on their own. If severe side effects occur, contact the prescribing doctor immediately. If it appears that someone is in an overdose state due to taking Ativan or other benzodiazepines, contact emergency medical help immediately.
Severity Levels of Ativan Side Effects
Common Side Effects of Lorazepam (Ativan)
For some people, even at low, therapeutic doses, the use of Ativan can cause side effects that are uncomfortable and outweigh the “pros” associated with use. In many cases, however, the initial side effects pass in a few days, recurring only when the dose is increased or when the individual uses other medications or substances.
It is normal for people to experience side effects that may include:
- Drowsiness or feeling weak
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Occasional dizziness
These usually pass within a few days on their own but may recur with dosage increases.
Mild Side Effects of Lorazepam (Ativan)
Mild side effects of Ativan may occur in some patients. Though some will fade with the normal effects of using the drug, some will continue and/or worsen and become problematic. If any of the following become intrusive, it is advisable to contact the prescribing physician:
- Irritability or agitation
- Stomach cramping
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Black or tar-like stools
- Dark urine and/or less urine output
- Bleeding gums
- Altered vision
- Cough, sore throat, and/or hoarseness
- Dizziness, especially when standing suddenly
- Dry mouth and increased thirst
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Continued fatigue
- Loss of balance
- Change in appetite
Moderate Side Effects of Lorazepam (Ativan)
It is less common, but sometimes patients who take Ativan experience significant side effects that require immediate attention. If any of the following moderate to severe side effects occur, it is important to contact the prescribing doctor for medical advice right away. If those symptoms are severe or potentially life-threatening, emergency medical help should be sought.
- Itching, rash, and/or hives
- Bluish tint to lips or skin
- Blood in urine or stools
- Aggressive or angry behavior
- Violence or assault
- Confusion or memory problems
- Difficulty speaking
- Feeling discouraged or empty
- Manic behavior, including euphoria or false sense of ability and wellbeing
- Feeling fear or panic
- Irregular or shallow breathing
- Muscle pain or cramps
- Lack of interest in relationships, work, or hobbies
- Muscle stiffness or involuntary jerking
- Swelling of face, eyes, throat, or tongue
Severe Side Effects of Lorazepam (Ativan)
Though it can be effective for therapeutic treatment in most patients who take the drug for a short period of time, Ativan can trigger a host of serious side effects, especially if it is used outside of a doctor’s prescription. That is, if used in higher doses than prescribed, more frequently than prescribed, in combination with other substances, or without a prescription, the risk of serious side effects may be greater. These effects include:
- Tolerance: Building a tolerance to Ativan can occur after just a few weeks of regular use of the drug. Also called physical dependence, this simply means that the patient will require a steadily increasing dose of lorazepam in order to continue to experience the initial therapeutic effects. This is not a problem in and of itself. Most people can simply taper off the dose slowly when it is time to stop using the medication with a doctor’s supervision. However, tolerance is often the foundational step that leads to serious and life-altering side effects such as overdose and addiction.
- Withdrawal symptoms: When there is physical dependence, should the patient abruptly stop use of Ativan, the result can be a withdrawal syndrome defined by both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. These can be life-threatening, and it is not recommended that anyone attempt to undergo the detox process without medical supervision.
- Overdose: The signs of Ativan overdose are serious and life-threatening, and they require immediate medical attention. There is no effective home remedy for the problem, and without medical treatment, benzodiazepine overdose can be fatal. Signs of overdose include:
- Heavy sweating
- Low blood pressure
- Lack of energy or strength
- Extreme difficulty with walking or controlling muscles
- Altered speech patterns and/or difficulty speaking
- Appearing “out of it” and nonresponsive
- Loss of consciousness
- Shallow or stopped breathing
- Addiction: A Schedule IV drug, lorazepam is officially described as a drug with a low potential for abuse and dependence; however, tens of thousands of Americans every year struggle with an addiction to lorazepam and other benzodiazepines. Defined by both a psychological dependence and a physical dependence, it is impossible for the person to moderate use of the drug despite the negative consequences that develop. Because there is no cure for addiction, the only long-term solution is medical detox followed by intensive therapeutic treatment and aftercare support.
Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Ativan use can very easily morph into abuse and, from there, addiction can quickly follow. This is not a character flaw or a moral failing but a brain disorder that requires intensive medical treatment.
Medical detox is not a standalone treatment for addiction to Ativan, but it is a necessary first step to stabilize in recovery without use of any drug. Inpatient care is recommended for the detox process in order to ensure round-the-clock medical monitoring and support.
Therapeutic treatment that includes traditional personal therapy and support groups is essential for those addicted to Ativan. Learning how to implement positive coping mechanisms rather than turn to drugs to manage mental health symptoms and insomnia is an important part of creating a new life without drugs. Long-term follow-up care and support ensure that these coping mechanisms become second nature and that the client is always supported in the process of living a healthy and sober life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ativan is a brand name for lorazepam, a benzodiazepine prescribed to reduce anxiety and panic attacks, overcome insomnia, prevent seizures from epilepsy or other seizure disorders, and ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Prescriptions come as tablets or an injectable solution that is most often found in hospitals, especially the emergency room to prevent seizures.
Like other benzodiazepines, Ativan can be very habit-forming, especially if the medication is taken daily for longer than two weeks. Even when taken as prescribed, Ativan can lead to physical dependence and tolerance, so the person taking it may experience some withdrawal symptoms when they end their prescription. For some people, this can lead to addiction.