Effects of Ativan Use

Ativan (lorazepam) is prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and its effects on a person will vary depending on various factors including age, medical history, and length of taking the medication.

What Are the Effects of Using Ativan?

Ativan, also known by the generic name, lorazepam, belongs to a group of drugs called Benzodiazepines. It is most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders but may also be given to treat insomnia or before surgery. The effects of Ativan on a person will depend on many factors including age, medical history, and length of taking the medication. Similar to other benzos such as Valium, Ativan may lose its effectiveness and medical purposes if taken long term or in too high doses.

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Ativan is only available through prescription and is given by either tablet or IV injection at a doctor’s office. The effects of Ativan are tranquilizing, and the drug is sometimes called a sedative-hypnotic or anxiolytic medication. Benzodiazepines affect the GABA-A receptors of the brain which, when activated, produce calming effects. A person who is experiencing anxiety has an increase in chemicals such as adrenaline and a deficiency in GABA. Ativan begins to work about 15 to 30 minutes after it’s taken and has a peak effect within 1.5 hours. Dosage will depend on several factors including the severity of the condition it is being used for, the form of Ativan that is taken, and other medical conditions. Doctors typically start on a low dosage and adjust it over time until reaching desired effects. People who receive the Ativan injection must have it administered at a doctor’s office. Redness and pain may occur at the injection site but should disappear shortly after. The most common side effects that people on Ativan experience are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

These side effects should disappear within a few days or a couple of weeks but if they become more severe or don’t go away, consult your doctor or pharmacist.

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Serious Side Effects of Ativan

Ativan is not approved for use in children under 12 and is not recommended for older adults. Children are more likely to experience side effects and many seniors are more likely to experience effects such as drowsiness or dizziness. Lower dosages are needed for seniors as they have an increased risk of falling and getting injured. Ativan should not be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as the medication can pass on to the fetus or child and result in birth defects or neonatal abstinence syndrome. Additionally, this drug may not be appropriate for some people who have certain medical conditions such as:

  • Depression: Although sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety and depression, Ativan may worsen symptoms. This medication should not be used by people with untreated depression. The FDA warns against suicidal thoughts, which may occur in people taking Ativan or other Benzodiazepines. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if your depression worsens or you have thoughts of suicide.
  • Breathing disorders: Ativan may slow down breathing. People with breathing problems such as sleep apnea or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should try to avoid taking this medication.
  • Acute narrow-angle glaucoma: Ativan can increase the pressure inside the eye, making the condition worse.

Serious side effects from Ativan aren’t too common but can occur and you should call your doctor right away if you experience any. Call 911 if you experience allergic reactions or symptoms that feel life-threatening. Serious side effects include:

  • Slowed or troubled breathing
  • Respiratory failure
  • Severe rash or hives
  • Swelling of lips, tongue, or face
  • Rapid heartbeat

Long-term Effects of Ativan Use

Ativan is only FDA-approved for short-term use (up to four months) and long-term use of Ativan can cause serious side effects including dependence and rebound effects. Long-term use of this habit-forming drug can result in both physical and psychological dependence. This can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms once the medication is stopped. Withdrawals from Ativan can occur within one week of taking the drug and if taken longer, symptoms are more likely to occur. Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Panic Attacks
  • Depression

Long-term use of Ativan can also lead to the patient experiencing Rebound effects. This include “rebound insomnia” and “rebound anxiety” which means symptoms of these conditions become worse over time, making it harder to stop taking the prescription drug. If you wish to stop taking Ativan, first talk to a healthcare provider who may taper, or adjust dosage, until it is safe to stop treatment.

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Overdose and Drug Interactions

It is possible to overdose on Ativan, and although often not fatal, can increase your risk of harmful or serious side effects. Combining Ativan with alcohol or other drugs can increase side effects or reduce the effects of others. Overdose symptoms include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Coma

Taking Ativan with herbs or supplements such as chamomile, kava, lavender, melatonin, and valerian can cause excessive drowsiness and breathing problems. Taking Opioids with Ativan can cause similar effects and even more dangerous ones like respiratory failure, coma, or death. It is best not to mix this medication with other sedative drugs that include antihistamines, antipsychotics, and other benzodiazepines.

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Some people who take Ativan can become dependent or even addicted to the drug. The risk of this happening increases if the medication is used in higher doses than prescribed, or for long periods of time. Ativan dependence may lead to misuse or addiction and the risk is higher among people with a history of abusing alcohol or drugs. If you or a loved one is struggling with Ativan misuse or abuse, reach out to an addiction provider that can help.

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