How to Taper off Ativan | Ativan Withdrawal and Detox Guide

Ativan (lorazepam) is a prescription medication that is often used to treat anxiety, insomnia, continuous seizures, and as a medication used right before anesthesia. Ativan’s active ingredient is benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines have sedative properties that are most commonly used for anxiety relief, as a muscle relaxant, and amnesiac. Benzodiazepines work by producing a tranquilizing effect on the central nervous system. The drug can be addicting because it results in a surge of dopamine in the brain resulting in feelings of pleasure.

Taking ativan for prolonged periods of time can result in addiction and dependence. If a person becomes dependent on ativan they could experience painful withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit.

What Is Ativan Withdrawal?

People who abuse ativan and become dependent and addicted to it will experience withdrawal if they try to quit or reduce their dosage. Even those who only take their prescription as prescribed by their doctor have the potential to develop an addiction to ativan. Most people develop physical dependence within 2 to 3 weeks of use. However, the longer a person is on ativan the higher their chances are of developing an addiction to it.

Withdrawal happens because a person’s body becomes accustomed to taking the medication and the drug has altered the brain’s chemical balance to adjust for the drug’s presence. When a person attempts to stop taking ativan, their body will not function properly without it. When the drug is removed from the body it has to go through a period of readjusting to get back to how it used to be. This is known as withdrawal and results in painful withdrawal symptoms. The severity and duration of these symptoms will vary from person to person depending on a person’s age, how long they have been on the medication, what dose they take, and other factors such as medical history and co-occurring substance abuse problems.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Due to the painful withdrawal symptoms and the potential for seizures that occur when stopping ativan abruptly, doctors recommend a slow taper to reduce the chances of these effects.

The acute withdrawal stage typically happens within 1 to 3 days after the last use of this medication. It is characterized with ativan withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, headaches, rebound anxiety and insomnia, 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.

The protracted withdrawal stage typically involves psychological withdrawal symptoms after the acute stage. Only a small amount of people actually experience this stage. These withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, depression, cravings, memory issues, sleep difficulties, inability to feel pleasure, and constant fatigue.

Rebound Anxiety and Insomnia

Abruptly stopping a medication that contains benzodiazepines can induce seizures. Extremely rapid tapers can result in rebound anxiety and insomnia. Rebound symptoms are a temporary return of greater symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia, after withdrawal from the medication. A lot of people relapse from their inability to quell these symptoms.

Rebound anxiety is when a person experiences higher levels of anxiety than those before they started the medication. Rebound insomnia is when a person experiences higher levels of insomnia than those before they started the medication. Rebound insomnia is characterized by a delay in the onset of sleep with frequent awakenings throughout the night.

Rebound anxiety and insomnia are often caused by too large of a reduction of medication at one time. The rebound has been known to trigger relapse in some people. About 10 to 35 percent of people will experience rebound anxiety symptoms such as panic attacks if they discontinue benzodiazepines too quickly.

Duration of Withdrawal

The duration of withdrawal varies from person to person. Many factors contribute to the time it will take to reduce the dose of medication and completely stop it. Some people who are on lower doses of ativan are able to reduce their dose in weeks. While others who are on higher doses or using the medication with other substances can take months to complete the process.

How to wean off ativan? A slow taper is the best way to wean off ativan. A person attempting to taper off ativan should not attempt to do it on their own. If a person tapers to quickly, it can result in seizures and other painful withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, the best thing to do is to seek help from a medical professional or enroll in a rehabilitation clinic. A person’s doctor can assist in reducing the dosage and eventually stopping the medication. Seeking the help of a doctor is suitable for people who have not been on ativan very long or are on a low dose. For those who have been using ativan for a long period of time or on a high dose, finding a rehab clinic can provide them with the best chances of success.

Ativan Withdrawal Timeline

How to get off ativan? The best way to get off ativan is with a slow taper. For most people, the ativan withdrawal timeline is about 3 to 4 weeks. Ativan has a particularly long half-life of 12 to 18 hours. Therefore, acute lorazepam withdrawal symptoms typically start within 1 to 7 days after the last use of the medication. These symptoms tend to include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, depression, poor memory, dizziness, tremors, muscle pain, night sweats, and cravings. Rebound anxiety and insomnia often occur 1 to 3 days after discontinuation of the medication. Symptoms tend to peak in intensity after 5 to 14 days and significantly improve by 3 to 4 weeks.

In some patients withdrawal symptoms can last for months or even years. This is known as protracted withdrawal syndrome. According to the Comprehensive Handbook of Drug and Alcohol Addiction 2004, about 10 to 15 percent of people will experience symptoms that can last years. This phase involves a slow reversal of the changes the medication made to the brain. Withdrawal symptoms in this stage include anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, cognitive impairment, tingling or numbness in limbs, and depression.

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Ativan Detox

How to taper off ativan? People who are addicted to ativan should undergo a medically-assisted detox. Medical detox will involve a slow taper off the medication. The length of the tapering process will vary from person to person. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to many months.

Medical detox will provide a person with medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and make the withdrawal process more comfortable. Medical detox is the safest option because doctors are available to monitor vitals and can intervene if any withdrawal symptoms become unbearable or life-threatening.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common form of therapy that is often used in conjunction with a slow taper during medical detox. A recent study published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology stated that 75 percent of patients were able to completely stop using benzodiazepines after 12 weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy when combined with tapering off benzodiazepines. Compared to only 37 percent of patients who exclusively tapered experienced successful cessation. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is proven to greatly help people overcome their ativan addiction when combined with a slow taper.

Treatment for Ativan Addiction

If you or someone you love has an Ativan addiction, finding a high-quality rehab can help. Treatment connects a person with other people who are going through the same recovery journey. Peer support has been proven to be extremely beneficial to helping people stay in treatment and experience life-long abstinence.

Treatment for an ativan addiction can be performed at either an inpatient or outpatient setting. These clinics will enable a person to have their best chances of overcoming their addiction. Recovering addicts will be provided with medications to target withdrawal symptoms as well as mental health counselors to teach them coping skills to overcome stressful situations that could result in relapse and continued drug use.


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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