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Effects of Ativan Use: Short-Term, Long-Term, Side Effects, and Treatment

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Is Ativan Harmful?

Ativan (generic name: lorazepam) is classified as a benzodiazepine medication used primarily for the short-term treatment of anxiety and seizure activity. It is sometimes used to manage intractable insomnia, and as a sedative for hospitalized or aggressive patients. The drug works to slow down the central nervous system of the person using it by boosting the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA—lowering signs of physical tension and psychological anxiety.

Generally, when it is used as directed by a physician, Ativan is safe and effective. However, when it is misused or taken recreationally, Ativan can be addictive and dangerous.

Ativan is widely prescribed in the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2011, there were more than 27.5 million prescriptions written for Ativan in the US alone.

Short-Term Effects of Ativan Use

Ativan initially produces the following short-term effects:

  • Reduced sense of physical and psychological anxiety, worry and tension.
  • Increased feelings of euphoria.
  • Heightened sense of well-being.
  • Drowsiness.

The ability of the user to achieve these desirable effects is reduced as they develop a tolerance to the drug. Over the course of months, the drug is no longer as effective due to the user’s increasing tolerance level.

Ativan Side Effects

  • Disorientation.
  • Feeling sleepy.
  • Poor motor coordination.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Light-headedness.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Sedation.
  • Dizziness.
  • Weakness.
  • Depressed mood.
  • Decreased seizure threshold in those with epileptic conditions.

Ativan Long-Term Effects

Exaggerated Side Effects

Taking Ativan for an extended period of time may result in certain long-term effects. Generally, these effects will present as extreme or exaggerated versions of the side effects listed above.

For example, rather than experiencing mild sedation, someone may find themselves sleeping for most of the day, with no energy or motivation when awake. Or, rather than occasional misunderstandings, people will find themselves frequently and profoundly confused, or they may even begin to experience delirium.

Cognitive Impairment

Long-term use of Ativan may cause other problems with cognition or thinking impairments in the patient.

For the most part, the issue will resolve with cessation of the drug. However, some level of cognitive impairment may remain, even after treatment. This is especially true for an elderly population, who may already be experiencing a decline in their cognition associated with aging. Additionally, the cognitive impact of substance abuse can accelerate the rate of mental decline that is associated with existing dementia.


A common long-term effect of Ativan use is the development of tolerance to the drug. Tolerance to Ativan is the body’s response to its persistent physical presence. As Ativan becomes a common component of the user’s “everyday” body chemistry, that individual’s system begins to adjust to its presence and chemical influence.

This adjustment serves to lowers the perceived efficacy of the drug, causing the person to need higher doses of the drug to achieve the same high on Ativan as before. Eventually, the user becomes dependent on the drug—further advancing them down the path towards addiction.

Ativan Dependency

Woman Migraine

Ativan is a relatively fast-acting and highly addictive benzodiazepine. Extended use of the drug or use in high dosages can lead to both psychological and physical dependence.

Dependence can develop in as little as one to two months, with withdrawal occurring if drug use is stopped or severely curtailed after the dependency begins. Drug-seeking behaviors—such as illicit purchasing or doctor shopping—may be seen in those for whom dependency has become an issue.

Recreational use of Ativan frequently occurs in the setting of polysubstance abuse—such as in the case of mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol, illicit opiates or prescription opioids. For instance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15% of heroin users were users of a benzodiazepine on a daily basis, with 73% using them weekly. Ativan itself is normally abused by prescription users increasing their dosage for an experience of what the Ativan high is like. For more information on how to help someone addicted to Ativan, give us a call free at .

Effects of Withdrawal

Withdrawal from Ativan occurs soon after the last dose is taken and places an individual at risk of unwanted, possibly dangerous symptoms. The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome can include a rebound of many of the physical and psychological symptoms that Ativan is intended to reduce or eliminate, producing symptoms such as:

  • Heightened anxiety.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Worsening insomnia.
  • Sensory hypersensitivity.
  • Delirium.
  • Seizures and convulsions.

The above symptoms are short-term and may resolve after some length of time. However, in some cases, some short-term symptoms may not improve and may intensify over time to become long-term symptoms—becoming part of a post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Some of these longer-term withdrawal symptoms may continue for several months after last use. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Worsening anxiety.
  • Worsening depression.
  • Continued insomnia.

Withdrawal symptoms vary in severity, with stronger symptoms occurring in users who have taken the drug for longer periods, have taken high doses, or have used the substance concurrently with other drugs of abuse—especially alcohol and/or other sedatives.

Because the drug reduces anxiety, users may be reluctant to discontinue its use due to fear of the anxiety’s return. Adding to this fear is the rebound effect correlated with ending Ativan use. This is when anxious symptoms return with increased severity following last use. With this being true, many will continue the pattern of abuse, addiction, and dependence in order to avoid the perceived risk.

The unwanted and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with substance dependency can be reduced or eliminated with appropriate, professional treatment.

Ativan Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment

Man hospital bed

Treatment of Ativan frequently begins in a detoxification center. The treatment is done commonly on an inpatient basis and consists of controlled detoxification by tapering the level of Ativan the patient consumes. The tapering process involves the slow reduction of drug dosage amounts without bringing on withdrawal symptoms. At times, temporary administration of a longer-acting sedative—such as Valium—can be beneficial in managing seizure activity, if present. When the dosage of a sedative has been tapered down low enough for the patient to quit the drug without withdrawal occurring, drug use is discontinued. This is accomplished with the observation of a medical team tracking vitals to ensure the patient’s health and safety.

Following successful detoxification, formal substance abuse treatment may occur in a rehab center or outpatient program. Rehab tends to occur in various types of residential or inpatient settings, where someone will live for a period of weeks or months with the purpose of focusing primarily on addiction recovery. Mental health counseling approaches—including cognitive behavioral therapy—will assist in uncovering the triggers of addiction, as well as looking forward to measures that will limit or eliminate unhealthy coping skills in the future.

The progress made during inpatient or residential treatment will be carried on post-rehab, when various aftercare approaches are implemented. Aftercare typically entails some form of outpatient drug and alcohol counseling or ongoing mental health treatment. Whether therapy occurs on an individual or group basis, it will focus on returning to life free from the influence of Ativan. Aftercare counselors will work with the recovering addict to establish a relapse prevention plan that outlines a series of behaviors to engage in and supports to contact so that the substance is not obtained or used.

Find Addiction Treatment Programs

If you or a loved one is struggling with Ativan misuse, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional treatment can start anyone battling addiction on the path to a happier and healthier life. Rehab facilities are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and trusted facilities across the country. To learn more about rehab programs and treatment options with AAC, contact one of our caring admissions navigators free at .

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