Ativan and Brain Damage

Ativan, a drug commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia, carries little risk when prescription guidelines are followed. Not following prescription guidelines opens the door for any number of health problems to develop. With long-term use or chronic abuse of this drug, a very real link between Ativan and brain damage starts to unfold. Interestingly enough, it’s the side effects of Ativan that have the potential to develop into full-blown medical problems.

Ativan and GABA – The Good and The Bad

Ativan belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which are commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizure-based conditions. Ativan works by slowing or calming brain activity and it also produces calming, euphoric effects that you can feel. It does this by stimulating GABA production in the brain.

GABA is a neurotransmitter chemical that keeps brain chemical activities and electrical activities in the brain from running too fast or too slow. Conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and seizures develop when brain activities move too fast. Ativan works by slowing things down.

GABA also plays a critical role in keeping your central nervous system (CNS) running smoothly. Areas of the CNS affected by GABA output include:

  • Sleep cycles
  • Body temperature
  • Pituitary gland activities
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Heart rate
  • Regulates stress levels
  • Regulates your perception of pain

The pituitary gland, in particular, affects all hormone activities throughout the body. Since hormones regulate every bodily function, this means any fluctuations in GABA output can impact your health in any number of ways. For these reasons, Ativan should only be used on a short-term basis.

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Toxic Effects of Ativan

Any drug capable of interfering with the brain’s chemical system has the potential to produce toxic effects. Since the brain’s chemical pathways work as an integrated system, changes in one chemical pathway, such as GABA output, can have a domino effect on other neurotransmitter processes. The potential for toxic effects to develop out of these changes. While Ativan and brain damage don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, Ativan’s effects on GABA output can warp the brain’s ability to keep the systems under GABA’s control running normally.

Ativan’s ability to force cells to release GABA creates a state of imbalance in the brain. To correct for this, the brain makes adjustments, reducing its natural output of GABA to restore balance. Unfortunately, these adjustments weaken the therapeutic effects of Ativan, so someone using has to increase the dosage amount to feel the desired effects of the drug. Once again, the brain readjusts its output and so the cycle of Ativan abuse begins.

As abuse progresses, side effects develop. Common side effects of Ativan abuse include:

  • Memory lapses
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Problems concentrating
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Coordination problems

The side effects of Ativan mark the beginnings of any potential brain damage that develops. Side effects reveal the state of imbalance and brain dysfunction caused by Ativan’s effects. With long-term use, Ativan and brain damage creates a vicious cycle of their own as increasing dosage amounts continue to weaken the brain’s response to Ativan’s effects.

Increased Risk for Older Adults

Ativan’s effects on the central nervous system in adults over the age of 65 may be compounded depending on a person’s overall health. As the body ages, the CNS may become more sensitive to benzodiazepines, which can worsen Ativan side effects. Also, the body’s metabolism tends to slow with age, causing a dangerous buildup of Ativan in the body. These conditions only increase the risk of developing brain damage.

Treatment Considerations

If you or someone you know struggles with Ativan abuse, the time to seek treatment help is now. The relationship between Ativan and brain damage unfolds over time, causing different degrees of damage and impairment along the way. Ativan abuse also tends to take on a life of its own, making the likelihood of addiction all the more likely. Ativan rehab programs are designed to help wean you off the drug’s effects and restore a normal chemical balance in the brain. Taking steps to deal with an Ativan problem, sooner rather than later, offers the best chance of making a full recovery.

Sources –

  • – Role of GABA and Glutamate Circuitry in Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenocortical Stress Integration
  • – When Medicine Makes You Sick
  • -Benzodiazepine Use and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • – Practical Geriatrics: Use of Benzodiazepines Among Elderly Patients


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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