If you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States and affects an estimated 40 million people annually, or 18.1 percent of the adult population.
Anxiety disorders stem from a complex set of risk factors that include personality, brain chemistry, and life events. Although it’s common to experience anxiety from time to time, like before a test or a first date, anxiety disorders are much more severe.
To attempt to return to normalcy, many people will seek all options to stabilize their anxiety. When natural attempts fail, a person could turn to their doctor to seek chemical relief. One such drug that’s used in the treatment of anxiety is Ativan, also known as lorazepam. It falls under a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which are used to treat seizure disorders, insomnia, and anxiety. With so many available, is lorazepam a good treatment for anxiety disorders?
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are five major types of anxiety disorders. These include the following:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by chronic anxiety that’s exaggerated by tension or worry, even when little or nothing provokes it.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive-compulsive disorder (COD) is an anxiety disorder stemming from recurrent or unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors that include counting, checking, hand washing, or cleaning are performed in the hopes of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these rituals will only provide temporary relief, and individuals report a significant increase in anxiety if they don’t serve them.
- Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by repeated and unexpected episodes of intense fear that are accompanied by physical symptoms. These include heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or abdominal distress.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a terrifying ordeal or event where grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that might trigger the condition include natural or human-caused disasters, violent personal assaults, accidents, or military combat.
- Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder): Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a condition characterized by excessive self-consciousness or overwhelming anxiety in conventional social situations. Social phobia may only be limited to one type of situation, including a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, drinking or eating in front of others, or in the most severe form, a person could experience it anytime they’re around others.
What Is Ativan?
Ativan, also known as lorazepam, is a prescription tranquilizer. You may have heard it referred to as a sedative-hypnotic or anxiolytic medication. As was mentioned above, it belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. The medication is used for those who have trouble sleeping, epilepticus (a type of severe seizure), anxiety, and it’s also given before surgery to help you sleep.
Ativan comes in two different forms:
- Ativan solution used in intravenous (IV) injections
- Ativan tablets
Ativan also comes in a generic form known as lorazepam. Generic drugs are typically less expensive than brand-name versions. In some cases, brand-name drugs and their generic counterpart might be available in different strengths and forms.
Ativan for Anxiety
Ativan is most frequently used to treat anxiety disorders. It’s usually prescribed to treat anxiety symptoms that accompany psychiatric conditions, including other illnesses that may not be approved by the FDA. For example, doctors prescribe the medication for alcohol withdrawal, insomnia and to prevent nausea and vomiting during chemo.
Ativan treats panic disorders by reducing the excess agitation and excitement in the brain, including a relaxing and calming effect. By depressing the central nervous system (CNS), Ativan can lessen the intensity of panic attacks and anxiety. Since Ativan works fast, it’s an effective solution to temporarily manage panic symptoms. The drug enters your system rapidly and lasts several hours.
Ativan Side Effects
Ativan may lead to mild or severe side effects. Below we’ll discuss some of the key side effects that could arise when a person uses Ativan. The list does not include all of the side effects. If you want more information about the potential side effects of Ativan, speak to a double or pharmacist.
Common Ativan side effects include:
Others may experience less frequent Ativan side effects that include:
- Lack of coordination
For those who use Ativan intravenously, redness or pain at the injection site is a common occurrence. These side effects typically go away after a few days or a couple of weeks. If they’re more severe or don’t subside, talk with a doctor or pharmacist immediately.
Severe Side Effects
Fortunately, severe Ativan side effects aren’t too common, but in some instances, they do occur. You should call your doctor right away if you experience any adverse effects. If you feel they could be life-threatening if you encounter a medical emergency, you should immediately contact 911.
Serious side effects and other symptoms include the following:
- Slowed breathing
- Respiratory failure (not common but can occur)
- Psychological & physical dependence (more likely in those who abuse the drug)
- Muscle weakness
- Body aches
Serious allergic reactions could occur and include:
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Severe hives or rash
- Rapid heartbeat
- Swelling of the lips, face, or tongue
- Suicidal thoughts (Ativan should not be used by those with untreated depression)
Long-Term Side Effects
Ativan is FDA-approved for short-term use of up to four months. Long-term usage of the drug should be avoided because it can lead to the following long-term effects:
- Dependence: Ativan can be habit-forming, meaning that long-term use can lead to psychological and physical dependence. It may also lead to severe withdrawal symptoms if the medication is stopped.
- Rebound effects: Long-term usage of Ativan for anxiety can lead to rebound anxiety, meaning that Ativan will make the symptoms you set out to treat worse over time. It makes it all the more challenging to stop using the drug.
If you’ve taken Ativan regularly for anxiety, speak with your doctor about other options and how you can stop taking Ativan.
Ativan and Addiction
As you’ll find with most benzodiazepines, Ativan is considered a controlled substance, meaning that possession and use are regulated by the government. Ativan has a solid potential to be abused, which could lead to psychological or physical dependence. Prolonged use of the drug may lead to withdrawal symptoms that include irritability, sleep disturbances, muscle cramps, and increased nervousness.
As they are so often called, benzos are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that sedate and relax the user. Unfortunately, long-term use can also lead to tolerance and dependence.
Ativan is one of the most prescribed benzodiazepines, and in 2017, doctors wrote nearly 26.5 million prescriptions for the drug alone. In 2018, almost 5.4 million people over age 12 misused prescription benzos like Ativan. If you’ve been using Ativan for more than a few weeks, it’s common to develop a chemical dependency, even when used as prescribed.
Additional Precautions for Using Ativan
If you’ve been diagnosed with specific medical conditions by a doctor that we’ll list below, you should avoid using Ativan unless directed otherwise. You should always consult with your doctor about the following:
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Liver disease
- Lung disease
- Sleep apnea
Ativan Drug Interactions
As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol and other medications like opioids that produce similar effects should be avoided when using Ativan. Make sure that your doctor is up-to-date on all the medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter medicines.
Ativan may cause feelings of being lightheaded and tired, so until you know how it affects you, certain precautions must be taken, especially if you’re prescribed other medications. You should wait to drive or perform tasks that require your full concentration or attention.
Older adults are especially vulnerable to benzodiazepine side effects, and to limit these effects, doctors may need to adjust the dose.
If you’ve become dependent on Ativan, you should never try to stop alone. Speak to your treating physician to determine the next steps and how to safely stop using Ativan.