Powerful benzodiazepine medications are often prescribed for many people who find themselves managing anxiety, depression, panic disorders, insomnia, and other mental health disorders daily. The medication is also used to alleviate vomiting related to chemotherapy and treat other medical conditions including:
- Manic bipolar disorder
- Muscle spasms
- Acute alcohol withdrawal
- Psychosis linked to abrupt withdrawal from alcohol
Ativan, a fast-acting sedative also known as lorazepam, is an intermediate benzodiazepine, which means it can linger in the body for 10 to 20 hours or longer. Its effects can be felt roughly two hours after consuming. It works by depressing activity in the brain and the central nervous system, which results in users feeling calm and anxiety-free.
The Schedule IV medication acts on the brain’s gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and stimulates the release of this neurotransmitter. When Ativan is prescribed, it’s usually for short-term treatment that runs no longer than four weeks, and it can be effective when taken as prescribed.
However, Ativan, along with other benzodiazepines such as Xanax (alprazolam) and Klonopin (clonazepam), is one of the most potent medications on the market. It can be highly addictive and habit-forming, and recreational users as well those who have legitimate prescriptions for it are among the drug’s abusers. Both groups of people risk their health and possibly their lives when they do not use Ativan correctly.
Ativan is beneficial in easing stress and anxiety, but extended use makes the drug ineffective over time. The body no longer produces GABA naturally because it now relies on Ativan to produce it. When Ativan users notice the drug doesn’t work the way it used to, they take more of it, building up their tolerance and increasing their chances of dependence. People misuse and abuse this medication which can cause cognitive impairment and other unfavorable conditions, and possibly affect one’s physical and mental health over time.
Anyone who uses a drug regularly can develop a tolerance for that drug. Tolerance means a person will require higher doses of a drug over time to feel the same effects from it. If a person increases their use of a drug, then dependence has a chance of forming quickly.
If Ativan is consistently used for longer than prescribed or used frequently or in large amounts, users can develop a physical and/or psychological dependence on it, which can pave the way for an addiction that can be difficult to break.
Data show that benzodiazepines commonly turn up in emergency room cases involving people who took more of the medication than directed as well as those who used it along with alcohol and opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin)
It is critical to be aware of the possibility that one can accidentally overdose when misusing or abusing Ativan. This is especially possible when users take too many pills to achieve a stronger high.
What Are Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms?
Ativan users are strongly advised to avoid abruptly decreasing their dosage of Ativan or quitting this medication suddenly. If you or someone you know has noticed changes in how you think, feel, or behave after reducing or stopping chronic Ativan use, then it is likely that you have entered withdrawal. Withdrawal is the period when the body and brain experience uncomfortable or painful physical and psychological symptoms as they attempt to function without the drug.
Suddenly stopping Ativan use sends the central nervous system into a state of hyperactivity. That’s because GABA levels plummet now that Ativan is no longer in the body at the levels it has become accustomed to. These changes can be overwhelming, causing users to experience intense tremors, an increased heart rate, overactive reflexes, and conditions that could cause seizures.
Ativan withdrawal can start within a few hours after the last use. 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
Ativan withdrawal symptoms can be so debilitating that some users will attempt to manage them on their own, something that is dangerous to do without medical supervision. Picking Ativan up after a period of abstinence is setting the stage for a relapse that could end in permanent injury or death. The risks of an accidental overdose increase during relapse because a person’s tolerance is no longer what it was before they stopped using.
It is very common for people who quit Ativan to go back to it to end or manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms come back even stronger than before. These include rebound anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions. High amounts of Ativan can overwhelm the body and lead to a loss of consciousness, coma, and death.
What Are the Stages of the Ativan Withdrawal Timeline?
Part of the reason many people avoid getting help for Ativan withdrawal is they don’t know quite what to expect should they undergo medical detox at a rehabilitation facility. It is strongly advised to get professional help to end Ativan dependence, and knowing what to expect during this process can encourage users to move in this life-saving direction.
First, it’s important to know that a timeline for Ativan withdrawal timeline will look different depending on each person’s needs and situation. Several factors are considered when determining a timeline for each individual who experiences Ativan withdrawal. Among them are:
- Age, sex, health, medical history, and lifestyle
- Weight and body fat percentage
- Duration of Ativan use
- Frequency, amount of Ativan consumed
- Ativan tolerance
- How Ativan has been used
- If Ativan has been used or cut with other drugs and substances
- Co-occurring disorders (when substance use disorder and mental health disorder are present at the same time)
The following is a general overview of what happens when a person experiences withdrawal from Ativan. Consult with a doctor to get the clearest understanding of your situation.
24 to 48 hours – During this stage, withdrawal can start as early as 24 hours after one’s last use or after two days have passed after quitting Ativan. Common symptoms users experience include anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty with concentrating.
One to two weeks – This period is when users are likely to experience extreme mental, emotional, and physical symptoms now that regular Ativan use has stopped. These symptoms include insomnia, muscle pain, nausea, and tremors. Having patience as well as professional medical assistance will help to minimize the harrowing symptoms as long as users don’t succumb to them and relapse to alleviate Ativan withdrawal symptoms.
Three to four weeks – Recovering Ativan users may start to feel their withdrawal symptoms have become more manageable.
Five weeks and beyond – This milestone in the Ativan withdrawal timeline is not easy to reach, but it is possible with professional addiction treatment. Heavy users who reach this stage may enter post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which can last for months or years. During this time, withdrawal symptoms can reappear at random. PAWS symptoms include:
- Appetite changes, inconsistent sleeping schedules
- Extreme fatigue
Ativan users do not have to endure these symptoms on their own. Consistent professional treatment can make recovery manageable. Getting the proper amount of rest, following a lifestyle that promotes health and wellness, and getting help from a supportive network of people can lessen the burden of living with PAWS. It is best to meet with your physician and therapist to set up a plan that works for you.
Why Should I Detox?
As mentioned previously, the quitting Ativan “cold turkey” approach is not recommended. High-dose and long-term Ativan users are advised to undergo a professional medical detox to end Ativan dependence and addiction. A medically assisted detox, which can last three to seven days (or longer if needed), offers multiple benefits that can start and sustain the recovery period.
During the detox process, you or your loved one will be safely weaned off Ativan by addiction treatment professionals after reviewing your health history and other factors. A tapering process may be used to minimize the effects of Ativan withdrawal and allow the body to stabilize and get used to the drug not being in its system.
A medical detox ensures that all traces of Ativan and other drugs and toxins are removed from the body to bring about physical and psychological stability. The process is also monitored by medical professionals, which ensures the removal of Ativan is done safely.
Having experienced addiction specialists on board helps to ease and prevent the complications that arise with withdrawal and excessive Ativan use. This is a dangerous period where anything can happen. In the case that it does, medical professionals are on-site to address emergencies right away.
What Is the Next Treatment Step?
Medical detox, once completed, clears the way for recovering Ativan-dependent users to enter the appropriate treatment setting and participate in the therapies and treatments needed to help end their Ativan abuse and prevent relapse.
Chronic Ativan users will need more than detox alone to end their addiction to Ativan. Only a change in behavior and lasting support can help users stay on the path to achieving and maintaining sobriety. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) advises that a comprehensive addiction treatment program is the place to go once detox has ended.
According to the federal agency, a solid treatment center program:
- Offers medically supervised detox services that can help with withdrawal symptoms
- Customizes addiction treatment to your specific needs
- Conducts a formal intake assessment
- Teaches users how to manage triggers to abuse substances
- Offers activities that teach users new skills
- Provide dual diagnosis treatment as needed
People who wish to recover from Ativan dependence and addiction have many treatment options to choose from. They can enroll in an inpatient, residential, or outpatient treatment program where they receive customized care from professionals who can help them address the causes of their addiction and map out a plan for lasting sobriety.
Programs such as these also help to minimize the possibility of relapse. Different treatment programs last for different lengths of time. While there is no set time for addiction treatment, NIDA advises that people in recovery spend at least 90 days, or three months, in treatment to give them the best chance at recovery that lasts.
During the time in treatment, techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy can help people in active addiction help identify the root of their problem and address it. Changing one’s thought processes and underlying motivations for substance abuse can help end abusive behavior and achieve lifelong sobriety.
Additional methods such as the widely used 12-step program, holistic therapy (acupuncture, art therapy, yoga), group counseling, and individual counseling also help people chart their path to recovery.