Ativan, the trade name for lorazepam, is a prescription medication that is part of the benzodiazepine class (which includes Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium) used to treat anxiety disorders, seizures, and acute alcohol withdrawal. It has also been used to treat a slew of other medical conditions including:
- Chronic sleep disorders
- Manic bipolar disorder
- Muscle spasms
- Psychosis associated with abrupt withdrawal from alcohol
- Vomiting associated with cancer drugs and chemotherapy
It is prescribed as a short-term treatment (generally three to four months) for anxiety. However, Ativan does possess addictive traits and chronic use that extends past four months can lead to physical or psychological dependence.
Ativan works by suppressing the central nervous system, inducing calm and relieving anxiety. It acts on the brain’s Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and stimulates the release of the GABA neurotransmitter.
It’s important to note that, despite the reported health benefits of Ativan, long-term use nullifies them. Most users realize the drug isn’t helping the way it initially had and choose to take stronger doses simply to feel the same effects.
What are Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms?
Like many drugs, this drug can cause severe physical dependence with two specific scenarios: developing a high tolerance requiring high doses to feel “high” and experiencing intense Ativan withdrawal symptoms immediately after quitting the prescription.
The average half-life for Ativan is approximately 12 hours. So, it may take about 2.75 days after the last dose for the substance to be fully eliminated from one’s body.
The Most Common Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms Include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irregular heartbeat
- Involuntary movements
- Hallucinations, delirium
- Hypersensitivity to light, noise, and physical contact
- Appetite loss
- Numbing/tingling of extremities
- Panic attacks
- Rebound phenomena
- Short-term memory loss
- Suicidal Thoughts
Can Ativan Withdrawal Kill You?
Accidental overdose is a very real concern when regarding Ativan use, especially in relapse, as many experienced users may take too many pills to achieve the same high. If you have become addicted to a benzodiazepine like Ativan, seek help immediately. Ativan withdrawal can cause deadly symptoms like Delirium tremens which can be fatal without treatment.
What are the Stages of the Ativan Withdrawal Timeline?
It’s worth noting that the various stages along the Ativan withdrawal timeline depend entirely on the individual’s:
- Genetic makeup
- Dose used
- How long the drug was taken
- Age, health, medical history, environment
However, below is the general withdrawal timeline that can differ among users:
24 TO 48 HOURS
Symptoms of withdrawal can start as early as 24 hours following last use or after the first two days of quitting Ativan. Some of the common symptoms experienced at this time are anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.
ONE TO TWO WEEKS
This second stage of the Ativan withdrawal timeline is when people will find themselves experiencing full-blown mental, emotional, and physical symptoms including insomnia, muscle pain, nausea, and tremors. Reports have shown that the combined efforts of patience and professional medical assistance will help minimize the symptoms—so long as drug use does not relapse in an attempt to stave off Ativan withdrawal symptoms.
THREE TO FOUR WEEKS
A few months into the withdrawal period, people who were once active users may start to feel their symptoms have become more manageable.
FIVE WEEKS AND BEYOND
Reaching this milestone in the Ativan withdrawal timeline is not easy. People at this stage who once had a heavy dependence on Ativan can develop a condition called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). This means that the withdrawal symptoms are likely to reappear at random for months or even years after the five-week mark.
Prevalence of Benzodiazepines Like Ativan
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are a commonly prescribed because so many Americans struggle with anxiety disorders. According to studies,up to 33 percent of Americans have been affected by an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime. Benzos were made available to the public in 1960, and by 1977, they became the No. 1 most prescribed medication in the world. In 2008, aroundfive percent of the Americans between the ages of 18 and 80 used benzos.
Despite the fact that benzos aren’t recommended for use in older patients, the 65- to 80-year-old age bracket is the largest demographic to use the drug. The side effects of benzo use are typically more dangerous in older people. Symptoms of drowsiness may be more acute in people older than age 65, and older adults are more likely to experiences auto accidents or dangerous slip and falls. The American Geriatrics Societydiscourages the use of benzos in older adults unless it is a last resort.
Because benzodiazepine withdrawal is so dangerous, and prescriptions are so prevalent, people who are taking or considering taking Ativan should know the risks and what to do if they become dependent.
What If I Become Dependent on Ativan?
When benzodiazepines are used for more than four weeks, the risk of developing a tolerance and dependence grows. If you have been taking Ativan regularly for several weeks and you notice that it seems to take more to achieve the same effects or if you skip a dosage and notice that you feel negative side effects, you may be becoming dependent on the drug. Your brain is growing accustomed to the influx of GABA activating neurotransmitters and subsequent effects. Here’s what you should do if you feel like you may be developing a tolerance and dependence on Ativan:
- Take it seriously. Even if you have only taken Ativan as directed by a doctor, developing an addiction is serious. Some people assume legal prescription drugs are harmless but benzos can lead to significant addiction and health risks.
- Talk to your doctor. Let your doctor know that you’ve been feeling side effects and ask what you can do to wean off of the drug or switch medications. Recognize that doctors are not infallible and get a second opinion if necessary.
- Learn more. Recognizing the symptoms of dangerous withdrawal and what you can do to avoid them is important. Call Maryland House Detox to learn more about safe detoxification.
- Don’t supplement with other substances. If you are taking Ativan to treat anxiety or insomnia, tolerance may mean some of your symptoms returning. However, you should never add other substances into the mix to make up for it without first speaking to a doctor. Alcohol and opioids are especially dangerous when combined with benzodiazepines.
- Don’t panic and stop cold turkey. Some of the worst symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal occur when a person becomes tolerant and quits suddenly.
Why Should I Detox for Ativan Withdrawal Treatment?
Quitting Ativan suddenly, or going “cold turkey,” is strongly discouraged. As withdrawal symptoms from Ativan can be dangerous, high dose and long-term users are advised to undergo medically supervised detox.
Detoxing from any benzodiazepine is difficult and can be dangerous. However, there are some medications like longer-acting benzodiazepines that are available to ease the often painful and even deadly Ativan withdrawal symptoms.
During the medically supervised detox, people in active addiction are monitored by medical professionals around the clock as they are safely weaned off the drug. This process may include tapering off Ativan to allow the body time to adjust to not having the drug in its system.
Detox can last anywhere from three to seven days or longer if needed, depending on your Ativan withdrawal timeline.
What is the Next Treatment Step?
It’s imperative that people who have successfully completed Ativan detox understand that detox is not enough to keep the urges to relapse at bay. Instead, they are encouraged to enroll in an inpatient, residential, or outpatient treatment program where medical professionals can focus on various elements of their addictions.
Outpatient treatment programs are the most flexible for those who aren’t in a position to press pause on their work, educational, or family responsibilities. However, for those who can, inpatient and residential programs are the best routes to take. These typically require a 30-day or longer stay but allow for a more thorough treatment.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved medications to treat addictions to benzodiazepines like Ativan, other treatment methods are available.
Some common treatment techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Motivational Enhancement Therapy can help people in active addiction help identify the root of their problem. Experts and those who have overcome addiction have reported that altering the thought processes and underlying motivations for substance abuse can help achieve lifelong sobriety.
Additional methods like the well-known 12-step program, holistic therapy (acupuncture, art therapy, yoga), group counseling, and individual counseling also help people sustain their journey to recovery.