What kind of drug is Ativan?

Ativan is a brand-name for the drug, lorazepam, which is in the benzodiazepine family. It is used to treat anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, and it is used as a sedative. While it is a close relative of Valium, it is not as widely prescribed by general practice and family practice doctors as an anti-anxiety drug. Psychiatrists and neurologists are more likely to prescribe Ativan for its sedative effects.

What are the side effects of Ativan?

Sedation and drowsiness are common side effects of lorazepam as well as other benzodiazepines. When stopping Ativan after long-term use, there may be withdrawal symptoms. These can include anxiety, panic attacks, and even life-threatening seizures. Excessive use of benzodiazepines and combining them with other drugs or alcohol can lead to serious side effects, such as memory loss and respiratory depression.

Are there other uses for Ativan besides for anxiety?

In fact, Ativan is used for more than just anxiety. Doctors prescribe lorazepam as an anti-seizure drug. In addition to helping to prevent seizures in conditions such as status epilepticus, it is also sometimes used by oncologists to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea. Ativan could also possibly be used off-label as a muscle relaxant. 

Is Ativan habit-forming? Is it possible to get addicted?

Drugs in the benzodiazepine class are thought to have relatively low abuse potential. However, it is definitely possible for people to abuse lorazepam and become addicted. While respiratory depression is not common when lorazepam is abused by itself, when it is combined with other drugs, the risk of respiratory depression is greatly increased. When stopping Ativan, there is a risk of dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Are there alternative treatment options if a patient cannot take Ativan?

If a patient is unable to take lorazepam or other benzodiazepines, there are other options to treat anxiety disorders. Some anti-depressants can help with anxiety. There are also anti-histamine drugs, such as Vistaril that can help for short-term treatment. Additionally, there are non-controlled anxiety medications, such as Buspar (buspirone) which will not cause drowsiness. For some patients though, the sedative-hypnotics in the benzodiazepine class, such as Valium and Ativan, work best.

How does Ativan work to relieve anxiety and also cause CNS depression?

Similarly to other CNS depressants in the benzodiazepine class, lorazepam works at the GABA receptors in the brain. It is believed that the drug enhances the activity of the GABA molecule itself at the receptor to help reduce anxiety as well as resulting in drowsiness. This results in sedation as well as potential amnesia at high doses. Amnesia, slurred speech, and loss of coordination are among the adverse effects of taking excess benzodiazepine.

How is Ativan taken? Is there an Ativan pill or shot?

Unlike some of the other benzodiazepines, lorazepam is available in both forms. There is an Ativan pill and an Ativan injectable as well. The Ativan shot can be given in a patient’s muscle, such as the shoulder or butt, or it can be injected into an IV. Outside of the hospital, doctors prescribe oral Ativan tablets, often in monthly supplies.

What are the treatment options for lorazepam addiction?

When a patient does become addicted to a benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam, the doctor treating the addiction should consider the possibility that the patient suffers from anxiety and was self-treating their own panic disorder. Even if this is the case, it does not mean that continued benzodiazepine prescribing is appropriate. There are other options for treating anxiety, including behavioral therapy. If a patient is addicted to a sedative, it is probably not a good idea for a doctor to continue supplying a sedative-type medication to that patient. Also, the doctor must consider carefully detoxing the patient to avoid dangerous drug-related seizures. This can be done by using anti-seizure medications and careful observation of the patient. Finally, long-term support of the patient is important, including ongoing therapy. Support groups can be helpful as well.

How can I help to reduce the problem of addiction to lorazepam?

If you have been prescribed a short-term supply of lorazepam, be careful to keep it hidden in a safe place. Avoid storing medications with abuse potential in your bathroom medicine cabinet. When you have finished taking lorazepam, you should dispose of the additional supply if there is any. There are drug take-back programs that will collect your lorazepam or any other benzodiazepine. You can find such programs at fire stations and pharmacies.

Are there other concerns related to the abuse of lorazepam and other benzodiazepines?

In addition to the risk of becoming addicted or overdosing on a high dose of lorazepam combined with other drugs or alcohol, there are other dangers to taking the drug in excess or inappropriately. There is the risk of dangerous accidents due to drowsiness and sedative effects of the drug. Motor vehicle accidents can occur as well as other heavy equipment and work-related accidents. For new mothers, breast-feeding is not a good idea when drug abuse is a problem for the mother. It is important to get help as soon as possible if you are addicted to a benzodiazepine such as lorazepam or other potent CNS depressant because there can be serious consequences.