Ativan (Lorazepam) Detox and Withdrawal
Ativan is a benzodiazepine medication that can cause someone to quickly build a physiological dependence.1 This article will discuss the symptoms, risks, and timeline of Ativan withdrawal.
What is Ativan?
Ativan (lorazepam) is a short-acting benzodiazepine, sedative, and central nervous system (CNS) depressant medication. In 2017, an estimated 26.4 million prescriptions for Ativan were dispensed in the United States.2
Ativan has anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects that can be effective for its intended uses when taken as directed.1,4
Doctors may prescribe Ativan for the short-term relief of:1,3,4
- Anxiety for people with anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety associated with depressive symptoms.
- Anxiety-related or other transient situational insomnia.
- Anxiety prior to anesthesia.
- Prolonged seizures.
Ativan may also be used off-label to treat other conditions, such as alcohol withdrawal syndrome, delirium, and panic disorder.3
Ativan Dependence and Addiction
Regular use of benzodiazepines like Ativan—even as directed—can cause someone to develop physiological dependence.3,5 Dependence is a physical adaptation of the body to a drug characterized by the emergence of withdrawal symptoms when someone reduces or ceases using the drug.6
Due to the high risk of dependence and the potential severity of the subsequent withdrawal symptoms, Ativan is generally intended for short-term (i.e., 2-4 weeks) use only.1
While medical use can lead to dependence in some cases, chronic, high-dose use greatly increases the risk.1
Dependence is one common feature of addiction. However, not everyone who is dependent on Ativan is addicted to it, and not everyone who suffers from Ativan addiction is dependent on the drug.5
Sedative use disorder—the clinical term for benzodiazepine addiction—is a chronic medical condition that occurs when people continue uncontrollable substance use despite serious negative consequences that impact their daily functioning.5
Benzodiazepine addiction can cause someone to continue using Ativan despite it causing problems in their career, academics, relationships, and to their mental and physical health.5
Only a qualified professional can provide a clinical diagnosis of sedative use disorder. Doctors and other licensed healthcare practitioners use criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to guide their diagnoses.5
Ativan withdrawal symptoms can develop when someone who is dependent on Ativan abruptly cuts down their dose or stops using Ativan.7 During withdrawal, the brain and body can’t readjust to functioning without the drug, causing someone to experience a return of symptoms the Ativan was intended to treat (e.g., anxiety and insomnia) as well as symptoms that are often the opposite of the desired effects of Ativan.7,8
Withdrawal symptoms from Ativan can range from mild to severe, and specific symptoms (e.g., seizures) can be dangerous and even fatal without medical support.7,8
Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms
According to the manufacturer’s label, some of the reported Ativan withdrawal symptoms have included:1,5
- Autonomic hyperactivity (such as sweating or pulse greater than 100 bpm).
- Transient tactile, auditory, or visual hallucinations.
- Grand mal seizures.
How Long Does Ativan Withdrawal Last?
Withdrawal from Ativan tends to start within 6-8 hours after the last dose. Symptoms typically peak in intensity on the 2nd day and significantly improve by the 4th or 5th day.5
Some people may develop protracted or post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which can involve lower-intensity symptoms lasting for several weeks to more than 12 months.1,5,7
Is Ativan Withdrawal Dangerous?
Potentially, yes. Seizures caused by Ativan withdrawal can be fatal without medical intervention.1,5
While withdrawal symptoms have been reported to occur in people who have used Ativan at recommended doses for as little as one week, people who chronically use Ativan at higher doses are more likely to develop severe withdrawal symptoms.5
Additionally, convulsions and seizures caused by Ativan withdrawal are believed to be more common in people with pre-existing seizure disorders or who take other drugs that lower the convulsive threshold, such as antidepressants.1
Medical detox can make the Ativan withdrawal process much safer and more comfortable, as well as provide a smooth transition into drug rehab treatment.8
What is Ativan Detox?
Medically supervised detox is often necessary to help a patient safely withdraw from benzodiazepine dependence. Medical detox provides medical supervision, monitoring, and support throughout the withdrawal period.4
During Ativan detox, patients will often be administered a longer-acting benzo in tapering doses to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Decisions about the appropriate dosage and tapering schedule to effectively manage these symptoms are made after evaluating the patient’s needs. In some cases, phenobarbital may be prescribed instead of, or alongside, a long-acting benzodiazepine to reduce the risk and severity of seizures.8
Detox is an important component of recovery, but it is often just the first step in the treatment process. To achieve lasting recovery, most patients need to continue treatment to address the behavioral aspects that contribute to the addiction in order to prevent a relapse or return to drug use.10
Get Help Quitting Ativan
Many people suffering from sedative use disorder benefit from evidence-based drug rehab treatment and go on to live fulfilling lives in recovery.12
- Inpatient rehab.
- Standard outpatient rehab.
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP).
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP).
- Aftercare, such as sober living.
Treatment for Ativan addiction generally involves detox followed by continued inpatient or outpatient treatment.8,10 Some patients go through multiple levels of addiction treatment as they progress in their recovery, such as starting in inpatient treatment and stepping down to an outpatient program.
Treatment in any of the above settings involves various behavioral therapies, peer support, psychoeducation, and if needed, treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety.12
If you have lost control of your Ativan use, Desert Hope Treatment Center can help. Call and get admitted today or learn more about ways to pay for rehab and insurance plans that cover treatment. You can also verify your insurance coverage using the confidential online tool.