You can dig back to your earliest memories in life, and it’s likely some of them will have alcohol instilled within them. It might have been a commercial you remember when you were younger, or family members sitting around on a Sunday afternoon for a barbecue drinking beer, or perhaps an adverse event took place that shaped your life because of alcohol. 

Either way, the substance has become so ingrained in our society that even if you don’t have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it’s hard to escape its broad reach.

When you enter into high school or college, alcohol consumption almost becomes a rite of passage for some. For example, when a young kid in college wants to join a fraternity, a common means of entering is hazing, which could include drinking a handle of alcohol just to join the frat. Extreme drinking is encouraged in some circles, and some people wear blacking out and not remembering their actions from the night before as a badge of honor. 

Some consider alcohol as one of the most dangerous drugs in existence, and what adds to this label is the legality of the substance. It doesn’t matter if you’re in recovery or a struggling addict. If you have a few dollars, you can walk into the store and purchase your drink of choice without any hassle. You can go out to eat at your favorite restaurant and buy beer or cocktails to enjoy.

For the majority, this won’t be an issue. Most will graduate from college and ditch their drinking habits as they adjust to their new lives in the real world. However, for others, the occasional drink on a Friday after a long week might turn into several, or it could become a daily routine that eventually turns into an addiction. Alcohol addiction can be fatal. Once you’ve developed a chemical dependency on the substance, it can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that might also be deadly. 

The prevalence of drinking in our society remains high. According to a 2019 study released by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 85.6 percent of people over age 18 reported drinking at some point in their life. This number shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise because of American culture’s obsession with alcohol. The more shocking number is how prevalent binge drinking and heavy alcohol use are in society. 

Again, for those who aren’t predisposed to addiction or recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), consuming alcohol in moderation can be fine. There have been studies showing that a glass of wine actually has some health benefits. However, for those who drink once a week or less, there can also be issues with binge drinking, which can lead to alcohol poisoning and death—everything in moderation. 

According to the same study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 25.8 percent of people over age 18 reported binge drinking in the past month, and another 6.3 percent admitted to heavy alcohol use in the same time frame. A new trend is something known as high-intensity drinking, where a person will consume alcohol levels two or three times the gender-specific binge drinking threshold. 

Compared to those who don’t binge drink, a person who drinks alcohol at twice the gender-specific binge drinking threshold is 70 times more likely to end up in the emergency room. Someone who drinks three times the threshold is 93 times more likely to have an alcohol-related emergency room visit. 

When someone becomes chemically dependent on alcohol, they will experience alcohol withdrawal if they stop drinking or reduce their standard intake. Of all the drugs in existence, alcohol withdrawal is considered to have some of the deadliest symptoms. For that reason, medical detox is not only encouraged but in some cases, it can’t be done safely without it. During detox, clinicians will provide medication to alleviate symptoms to make the experience more comfortable and mitigate symptoms like seizures. One such drug is Ativan, but is it effective?

Why Is Ativan Used?

Ativan, sometimes referred to by its generic name lorazepam, is a benzodiazepine drug synthesized to treat anxiety disorders. It’s a central nervous system (CNS) depressant highly effective in enhancing the effects of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a chemical our bodies produce naturally. Despite its use to treat anxiety, there are other uses for it, such as calming the body during alcohol withdrawal, nausea from cancer therapy, and some sleep disorders. 

Due to its anxiolytic properties, drugs like Ativan have been found highly effective in helping people overcome alcohol withdrawal symptoms. One of the most challenging steps of getting sober is withdrawal, which is not only painful but can be deadly. Due to its severity, many people will give up on getting sober and turn back to alcohol. 

Benzodiazepines for Alcohol Withdrawal

using ativan for alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol consumption impacts how our brain functions and can lead to permanent changes. The rewiring will continue to worsen the longer someone drinks. At this stage, when a person becomes dependent on alcohol to function properly, the brain is thrown into disarray upon cessation. 

Alcohol withdrawal can lead to unpleasant effects, such as:

  • Restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Heart palpitations

Withdrawal can also lead to delirium tremens (DTs), a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. 

Although Ativan isn’t the only benzodiazepine used to treat alcohol withdrawal, it does help in a number of ways. The following are the most common reasons Ativan is administered to a person in medical detox:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating and chills
  • Headaches
  • Panic

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines 

Benzodiazepines produce a host of side effects and can be addictive themselves. Ativan can also have fatal side effects, so it should only be administered and used under the care of medical professionals in a controlled environment. Ativan can be used safely outside of a medical setting, but for those with a clear substance use disorder, it can lead to substituting one addiction for another. 

One of the most pressing issues with benzodiazepines is that withdrawal effects are similar to alcohol withdrawal, causing a unique challenge to determine the root cause. The most common side effects of benzodiazepines like Ativan include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness and confusion
  • Sedation and drowsiness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Memory loss and constipation
  • Challenges to maintaining balance
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual malfunction
  • Tiredness

Albeit rare, severe side effects can occur as a result of Ativan use, and they include the following:

  • Fainting
  • Movement disorders
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Addiction
  • Suicide
  • Increased or decrease heart rate
  • Respiratory issues
  • Adverse reactions with mixed with other medications

How to Identify Alcohol Dependence

Those with alcohol dependence are identified by assessing how much alcohol they consume and its impact on their lives. The screening instrument includes a “CAGE” questionnaire, AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test), and MAST (Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test). 

The CAGE questions are used in primary care, including four questions: 

Have you thought about cutting down on your alcohol intake? 

Have people ever been critical and annoyed you about your drinking? 

Do you ever feel guilty about drinking? 

Have you ever had a drink of alcohol in the morning to calm your nerves or get rid of a hangover? This is also known as an “eye-opener.”

A person that answers “yes” to two or more of these questions is likely to be alcohol-dependent. 

Women who average more than one drink a day or more than seven a week will be considered alcohol dependent. Alcohol dependence is suspected in women who consume more than four drinks on a single occasion in the past year and men who consume more than five alcoholic beverages on a single occasion. 

Alcohol use disorder will be diagnosed if two or more of the following applies to an individual:

  • Alcohol is consumed in larger amounts than initially intended.
  • Despite a desire to drink less or cut down, it’s unsuccessful.l 
  • A majority of your time is spent using alcohol, looking for more alcohol, or recovering from its effects.
  • A persistent craving and strong desire to use alcohol exist.
  • Drinking causes a failure in completing obligations at school, work, or home.
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur without alcohol.
  • Occupational, social, or recreational activities are altered by alcohol use.
  • A person continues drinking despite issues caused by alcohol.

Fortunately, help is available if you’re struggling with alcohol dependence. Learn more today about what you can do.

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