Side Effects and Long-Term Risks of Ativan (Lorazepam)
Ativan, also available under the generic name lorazepam, is a commonly prescribed benzodiazepine medication. Mild, moderate, or severe side effects can occur with the use of Ativan.
Read on to learn more about the various effects and risks of Ativan use and how to get help for an Ativan addiction.
Common Side Effects of Ativan (Lorazepam)
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.
The most common side effects of Ativan use include:
- Drowsiness or sedation.
These usually pass within a few days on their own but may recur with dosage increases or if the person uses other medications or substances.
Mild to Moderate Side Effects of Ativan
Mild to moderate side effects of Ativan use may occur in some patients. Though some will fade with the normal effects of using the drug, some may continue or worsen and eventually become problematic.
- Slurred speech.
- Poor concentration.
- Dry mouth.
- Problems with movement and memory.
- Low blood pressure.
Severe Side Effects of Ativan
Though it may be an effective therapeutic treatment in many patients who take the drug for a short period of time, Ativan can trigger a host of severe side effects, especially when it is misused or abused.
That is, if taken in higher doses than prescribed, more frequently than prescribed, in combination with other substances, or without a prescription, the risk of overdose and potentially serious side effects may be greater.
The potentially serious effects and risks of Ativan use include:
- Extreme drowsiness.
- Slowed or stopped breathing (respiratory depression).
Using Ativan with other substances that can cause respiratory depression, like opioids and alcohol, increases the risk of experiencing these dangerous side effects.
In rare cases, the use of Ativan can also worsen pre-existing depression or cause it to reappear.
Long-Term Effects and Risks of Ativan
Like other benzodiazepines, there are risks associated with taking Ativan for a long time. Ativan use can cause physical dependence and withdrawal reactions and may eventually lead to addiction.
Physical dependence: 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. Once dependence develops, a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the drug or reduce their dose.
Although physical dependence and addiction often occur together, they are not the same thing. A person may develop a dependence on Ativan, even when taking it as directed by a doctor.
Withdrawal symptoms: These occur as a result of physical dependence. When a person has been using Ativan regularly for several weeks, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the drug.
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 to limit the risks of withdrawal complications such as seizures.
Addiction: A Schedule IV drug, Ativan has a known risk for misuse and dependence.
Benzodiazepines like Ativan can be very habit-forming, especially if the medication is taken daily for longer than 2 weeks. A 2021 national survey found that 2.2 million Americans met the criteria for a sedative use disorder, the clinical term for addiction to benzodiazepines like Ativan.
Treatment for Ativan Addiction
Ativan use can very easily morph into misuse and, from there, addiction can quickly follow. This is not a character flaw or a moral failing but a chronic and complex mental health condition that requires professional medical treatment.
Medical detox is not a standalone treatment for addiction to Ativan, but it is often a necessary first step in the recovery process. Through around-the-clock medical monitoring and support, medical detox can help manage acute withdrawal symptoms and minimize the risk of medical complications, such as seizures.
Medical detox helps pave the way for more comprehensive addiction treatment, where patients can address the underlying issues, thoughts, and behaviors that drive addiction and learn how to implement more positive coping mechanisms.
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