How Addictive Is Ativan

When used as directed, Ativan is only mildly addictive. However, prolonged use of this prescription medication can result in dependence and addiction.

How addictive is Ativan?

Ativan is the brand name for a medication known as lorazepam. Ativan’s active ingredient is benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are one of the most commonly prescribed medications to treat depression and anxiety in the United States, with over 15 different drugs in its category, including Xanax and valium.

Benzodiazepines have sedative properties that are most commonly used for anxiety relief, as a muscle relaxant, and amnesiac. Taking Ativan can result in several possible effects. Ativan effects reduce feelings of nervousness or anxiety and increase feelings of relaxation.

Sometimes taking an Ativan can cause side effects. The most common lorazepam side effects include sedation, dizziness, weakness, and unsteadiness. Other lorazepam side effects include fatigue, drowsiness, amnesia, memory impairment, confusion, disorientation, depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts, tremors, vertigo, blurred vision, slurred speech, headaches, coma, respiratory depression, sleep apnea, nausea, changes in appetite, constipation, yellowing of the skin, and allergic skin reactions. It can also cause anxiety, excitation, agitation, hostility, aggression, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, and decreases in blood pressure.

For most people, Ativan is not very addictive. Benzodiazepines are the active ingredient in Ativan and are classified as Schedule IV in the Controlled Substance Act. This means they have a low risk of abuse and dependence. Ativan is only meant to be taken for 2 to 3 weeks. Prolonged abuse of the medication can result in reduced respiratory function, addiction, dependence, and overdose.

Addiction to Ativan

Most people who are prescribed Ativan don’t realize they can become addicted. Over time, a person might start to increase their dose in an attempt to obtain the original effects of the medication. This is known as tolerance. Tolerance typically occurs after prolonged use of a drug because the original, desired effects are not felt anymore. Over time, a person’s tolerance will grow, resulting in more frequent use and higher doses. This can lead to a person developing an addiction to the medication.

Addiction is a brain disease that results from chronic abuse of a drug like Ativan. It causes a person to engage in using drugs repeatedly, regardless of the harmful consequences. Addiction can cause someone you love to act like a completely different person. They might start lying, stealing, or even behaving in ways you have never seen them do before. Addiction alters the chemical balance of the brain, which results in long term consequences. Even after a person is able to get off the drug they were addicted to they can still experience cravings that can result in relapse.

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Dependence and Addiction

Those who become addicted to Ativan and attempt to stop using might experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are often a sign of dependence. Dependence is not addiction, it is characterized by behavioral and other responses that result in the compulsion to take a drug continuously to avoid symptoms of discomfort from the drug’s absence in the system.

Lorazepam half-life is about 12 to 18 hours. This means that after a person takes their last dose of the medication it will take about 2 to 3 days for the medication to completely leave a person’s system. A person who is dependent on Ativan will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms about a day after they take their last dose of the medication.

In the early stages of withdrawal, Ativan withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, headaches, sweating, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, diarrhea, nightmares, poor memory, appetite loss, irritability, tremors, restlessness, depressed mood, trouble sleeping, muscle aches, tiredness, blood pressure changes, rapid heart rate, anxiety, and seizures.

There can also be long term effects of lorazepam. About 10 to 15 percent of people will experience symptoms that can last months to years. This phase involves a slow reversal of the receptor changes that happened in the brain from the medication use. Lorazepam withdrawal symptoms in this stage include anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, cognitive impairment, tingling or numbness in limbs, and depression.


Treatment for an Ativan addiction and dependence typically involves a medical detox. Medical detox can be performed at an inpatient rehabilitation clinic. It will involve a slow taper off the medication. This will prevent a person from experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms. A slow taper is a gradual reduction in dosage until a person no longer needs to take the medication to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Often, medications are used to ease the symptoms associated with the withdrawal process. There are currently no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications to treat a benzodiazepine addiction. However, certain medications are used to target specific withdrawal symptoms. For example, carbamazepine targets seizures, trazodone targets depression, buspirone targets anxiety, and melatonin targets insomnia. Doctors can prescribe these medications to soothe any discomfort caused by detoxing.

Group and individual therapy are often used during the treatment process to help people stay motivated to complete treatment. Behavioral therapy is often used in group and individual therapy to help people engage in the treatment program, provide incentives to remain abstinent, modify their thoughts and behaviors towards drug use, and increase skills to handle stressful life situations that might result in future drug use.

One form of behavioral therapy that is particularly beneficial to a person’s treatment outcome is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy enables a person to deal with any apprehension they have about the treatment process. It is also used to challenge a recovering person’s maladaptive thoughts towards drug use and teach them coping strategies to overcome stressful situations that can result in relapse.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 75 percent of patients reported complete cessation after 12 weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy when combined with tapering off benzodiazepines. Only 37 percent of patients who exclusively tapered experienced successful cessation. The use of cognitive-behavioral therapy when tapering enables patients to completely stop using the medication by providing them with new skills and tools to confront their fears relating to drug use and leaving treatment.

Getting Help

Addiction is not some sort of a character flaw or even something you can control. Addiction can affect anyone no matter how strong you believe your mental will and morals to be. Addiction is a brain disease that affects the way a person thinks and acts. A person who is dependent and addicted to a drug will do anything to get their fix of a drug to ward off painful withdrawal symptoms. If you or someone you love has an Ativan addiction, finding a high-quality rehab can help. Rehabilitation clinics can provide education, support, and a comfortable environment to detox from the drug and overcome your addiction.


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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