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Ativan Addiction: What Side Effects Do You Need to Look Out For?

Medications such as Ativan (lorazepam) can greatly help people with panic disorders. Ativan requires a prescription from a doctor who can properly diagnose your condition, and you must follow the prescribing instructions in to safely take it.

Ativan is a benzodiazepine that helps people feel calm after excess adrenaline makes them panic or overly anxious. However, it has the potential to be misused because it provides a feeling of security that can be easy to get used to.

People may abuse prescription medications because they feel they are safer than street drugs. They may take Ativan that is not prescribed to them or combine it with alcohol or other substances of abuse. Once abuse begins, it’s easy for it to spiral into addiction.

What Exactly is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Most people who have an Ativan prescription will not misuse it. Prescription drug abuse occurs when use veers away from the prescription’s instructions. This means taking more than the dose prescribed or taking the drug more frequently than instructed. Of course, it also means taking a drug that is not prescribed to you.

This recreational use can cause problems because Ativan is a scheduled drug that should only be used how it is prescribed. State and federal governments have different laws that can affect people who use prescription drugs inappropriately.

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Effects on the Brain

Ativan works by slowing down the neurotransmitter in the brain that is in charge of monitoring reactions to anxiety and sleep patterns. This neurotransmitter is called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and many responses to stress are a result of how GABA affects the body’s central nervous system (CNS).

When Ativan starts to affect the brain, it slows down the nervous system so that the user can feel calm and at peace. Drugs that slow the nervous system down are depressants (downers), just like alcohol. Ativan also works fast and exits the system quickly.

Taking drugs creates changes in the brain’s reward circuit. When the reward system is working properly, it allows you to make sound decisions, develop consistent routines, and feel gratification after accomplishing your goals. Using medication such as Ativan for longer periods can result in some changes to the parts of your brain that:

Changes to the Brain After Ativan

  • Make judgments
  • Govern behavior
  • Learn new things
  • Make memories
  • Make decisions
  • Deal with stress

Per the U.S. National Library of Medicine, your doctor will monitor your reaction to Ativan via follow-up appointments. Generally, there is a limit to the amount of Ativan you should take in 24 hours. Some people may be prescribed Ativan as needed, whereas others may be prescribed the medication as an ongoing treatment.

How Addiction to Ativan Begins

Dependence on benzodiazepines can form very easily, and patients who use benzodiazepines for three to four weeks can become physically dependent on the drugs.
Once dependence forms, stopping use suddenly is dangerous. In the case of benzodiazepines, it can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures.

Health care professionals have been concerned about the addiction potential of benzodiazepines since the 1980s when they started noticing patterns of misuse in some patients who had used them for a long time. As a result of these observations, it became standard practice to prescribe benzodiazepines for two to four weeks. If a person needs medication for a longer period, an alternative to benzodiazepines is usually prescribed.
Other factors that increase the chances of misusing a drug include:

Factors that increase the chances of misusing a drug

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Easy access to drugs
  • Lack of social skills
  • Lack parental supervision
  • Temperamental behavior as a child
  • A past personal history of drug or alcohol abuse

Genes can also play a factor in when or how someone becomes addicted to a substance of abuse. In fact, 40 percent to 60 percent of a person’s risk is determined by genes and external influences. People with mental health issues and teenagers are more likely to become addicted than other demographics.

Taking Ativan as directed by your physician will pose little risk of abuse. Taking a drug for recreational purposes or in ways it was not intended, such as smoking or injecting it, can result in dependence forming more quickly.

While dependence can form with legitimate medical use, since benzodiazepines are generally only prescribed for short-term use, dependence on benzos is often a sign of abuse. Again, you need medical supervision to safely withdraw from benzodiazepines like Ativan after dependence has formed.

Other Common Signs of Misuse

Misuse of Ativan can take a toll on many areas of a person’s life. Other signs of drug abuse include:

Signs of Drug Abuse

  • A strain on personal relationships
  • Decreased productivity at work
  • Problems with the law
  • Continual worries about getting a supply of the drug
  • Sudden appetite changes
  • Abrupt weight gain or loss
  • Changes in hygiene or appearance
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased coordination
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Bloodshot eyes

Another sign of Ativan misuse is drug-seeking behavior. This may take the form of doctor shopping, or visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to get multiple prescriptions for Ativan. If this does not work, an individual may also shop around for the drug illicitly.

Buying Ativan on the street can be incredibly dangerous. The drug may be cut with other substances, and ultimately, you don’t know what is in the pills you are purchasing. This greatly increases the risk of overdose and health complications.

People who are addicted may think they can quit whenever they want, but they need help from a trained professional. A comprehensive addiction treatment program will be able to help with the detox process, providing medical supervision during a taper to ensure your safety. For benzodiazepine detox, dosages are generally lowered slowly over several weeks or months until the person has gradually weaned off the medication altogether.
Detox will then be followed with therapy and complementary approaches to address the behaviors related to substance abuse. Generally, clients receive a combination of both individual and group therapy in addition to alternative therapies that suit the person. Each client has input into the structure of their overall treatment plan, and oftentimes, the approach may be adjusted throughout treatment, depending on the person’s progress.

Preventing Misuse

As the National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated, addiction is a disease that can be managed but not entirely cured. While it can be effectively treated, it’s preferable to prevent substance abuse in the first place. Preventing misuse can stop a problem before it starts, and there are many ways to do this. In the medical community, this can mean:

  • Prescribing the lowest possible dose of Ativan
  • Using benzodiazepines for no more than four weeks

Families, caregivers, educators, and other community members can teach teenagers and young adults good habits that discourage them from experimenting with drugs. This may include:

  • Highlighting the negative effects of drug use
  • Providing a network in which adolescents and young adults can feel supported
  • Encouraging them to take part in activities that do not involve drug use, such as clubs, sports, and various hobbies

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Further misuse can be prevented if a person has already misused Ativan or other benzodiazepines. Some states have databases that doctors and pharmacists can check before they give a patient a prescription for a new medication. Local authorities have access to these databases, and they can flag people who may be doctor shopping.

Alternative Approaches

Ativan and other benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to treat insomnia. Physicians and other health care professionals can help their patients develop better habits to prevent misuse. By addressing lifestyle issues, such as those listed below, people may be able to get better sleep at night without using benzodiazepines.

Alternative Approaches

  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
  • Get enough natural sunlight.
  • Avoid caffeine after certain hours.
  • Avoid electronic screens before going to sleep.
  • Engage in daily exercise.

When Ativan is prescribed to address anxiety, physicians may recommend other complementary approaches as well such as:

Other Complementary Approaches

  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Try mindfulness meditation.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • Talk to someone.

Can Your Brain Get Back to Normal After Misuse?

Data from the National Institutes of Health shows there is a lot we still have to learn about addiction and how it affects the brain. The scientific community agrees that therapies and medication can help people recover from addictions of all kinds, including addiction to Ativan.

A high-quality addiction treatment program will develop an overall treatment program for each client. This will start with medical detox and follow through to aftercare planning. A physician should be involved in this process to ensure a safe withdrawal from Ativan.

After a person has tapered off Ativan and is free of all substances of abuse, it’s important to address the underlying issues that contributed to the substance abuse. If these issues are not dealt with, relapse is highly likely.

Simply completing a treatment program is not sufficient to ensure long-term sobriety. Aftercare is an essential component of sustained recovery. Aftercare plans should be tailored to the individual. They often include participating in peer support meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous; engaging in ongoing therapy of some sort; taking part in hobbies and extracurricular activities that do not involve substance abuse; and forming a strong support network made up of family members and friends who support ongoing sobriety.

Again, there is no cure for addiction. As a chronic disease, it can be managed on a long-term basis. Many people who undergo addiction treatment go on to live in recovery for the rest of their lives. Relapse may occur, but it is not a sign of failure; instead, it demonstrates that some component of the treatment approach needs to be adjusted.

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