Is Lorazepam Addictive? – Lorazepam is the generic for the brand name benzodiazepine (benzo) Ativan. This drug is used to treat several conditions, including anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, epilepsy, and nausea or vomiting related to cancer treatment.
Benzodiazepine medications are frequently used to treat these types of disorders because they are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Drugs in the CNS depressant class function by binding to GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in the brain and reducing transmission between neurons.
Ativan and other benzos can also stimulate the reward system in the brain, which can lead to dependence and addiction. These drugs have a high potential for abuse and addiction. Still, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies lorazepam and other benzos as Schedule IV substances because they also have legitimate medical purposes and use of them is very widespread.
People who are prescribed lorazepam are more likely to become dependent upon or addicted to these medications. This effect is primarily due to therapeutic exposure to the drug in conjunction with existing substance abuse and mental health issues, such as anxiety.
Persons who have experienced substance use disorders in the past are more likely to struggle with abuse of benzos such as lorazepam. This is especially true for those who have suffered from alcohol use disorders because benzodiazepines have effects comparable to alcohol and are sometimes prescribed to mitigate alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Lorazepam is a short-acting benzo, and because the euphoric and sedating effects subside after about two hours, people who use this medication may soon feel anxious again. The unpleasantness of this effect may compel the user to take another dose. This circumstance can lead to a cycle of misuse and addiction faster than with long-acting benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam).
People who use lorazepam for non-medical purposes rarely use this substance alone to get high. One study found that about 80% of benzodiazepine abuse was related to polydrug abuse, most commonly in combination with opioids.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that up to 15% of heroin users have also used benzodiazepines. Other research has revealed that people who struggle with an alcohol use disorder concurrently tend to abuse Ativan and other benzos. In many instances, this abuse begins as an attempt to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Because lorazepam is a CNS depressant, people who use other CNS depressants, especially alcohol and opioids such as heroin or oxycodone, might use this benzodiazepine to amplify the effects of the other psychoactive substances. This behavior is very dangerous, however, and can rapidly result in overdose and other severe health complications.
Is Lorazepam Addictive?: Side Effects
Lorazepam is among the top 100 most prescribed medications in the world. Even when a person uses it as directed, they may experience side effects. However, side effects are more likely to manifest or become more severe if the person has become addicted to Ativan and abuses the drug, or takes it too frequently or in increasingly larger doses. Lorazepam and other benzos can cause several side effects, on both a short- and long-term basis.
Side effects may include the following:
- Impaired equilibrium
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory depression
People who use lorazepam for insomnia may experience parasomnias, which may include sleepwalking, eating, driving, or having conversations while sleeping.
Signs of Lorazepam Abuse and Addiction
As a person battles an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they will exhibit a number of symptoms, including altered behavior and various physical effects.
The effects of long-term lorazepam abuse may include the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Disorientation or confusion
- Cognitive impairments, such as memory loss/amnesia
- Slurred speech or other symptoms that mirror alcohol intoxication
Once tolerance and dependence have developed, the person will no longer experience the desired effects of lorazepam. In response, the user may increase their dose, either with or without a doctor’s permission.
If a user is dependent on lorazepam and they try to discontinue use, they will develop withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can also manifest after just a few weeks of abuse and become more severe when a person tries to stop taking their medication abruptly or “cold turkey.”
Lorazepam withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Rebound anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Impaired memory
- Numbness and tingling
- Stomach cramps
- Heart palpitations
- Rapid pulse
If the person discontinues lorazepam use abruptly, the most severe physical withdrawal symptoms can take up to 10 days to wane. Sudden cessation of use of any benzo is dangerous and never advised, and those who are dependent upon them should only attempt to quit using them under medical supervision.
Is Lorazepam Addictive?: Addictive Behaviors
Also, the unpleasantness of withdrawal combined with drug cravings can result in a relapse to subdue the undesirable symptoms. This dangerous and potentially life-threatening cycle of use can continue indefinitely. For these reasons, medical detox is usually recommended for benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Changes in behavior that may indicate a lorazepam addiction include the following:
- Intense cravings for lorazepam or other benzos
- Obsession with acquiring or using the next dose of lorazepam
- Requiring more of the substance to experience the intended effects
- Prioritizing the use of lorazepam over other important or enjoyable activities, such as school, work, family, or social obligations
- Being deceptive about how much lorazepam one is using
- Stealing to pay for more lorazepam or doctor-shopping in an attempt to acquire multiple prescriptions
- Refilling prescriptions too early or too often
- Spending a significant amount of money obtaining lorazepam
- Irritability, agitation, aggression, moodiness, and depression
- Denying that drug use is a problem despite the incurrence of adverse consequences
Signs and Symptoms of Overdose
A lorazepam overdose is consistent with symptoms characteristic of an overdose on any benzodiazepine, which may include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Stumbling and falling
- Decreased muscle tone
- Low blood pressure
- Increased sedation
- Respiratory depression
People who have overdosed on lorazepam may experience profoundly reduced respiration and shallow breathing, as well as cardiovascular depression that could lead to a loss of consciousness, coma, or death.
Treatment for Lorazepam Addiction
For those who suffer from an addiction to lorazepam, it is crucial to get help to surmount this disorder. Long-term use can result in adverse physical effects and poor health, and changes in behavior can result in loss of social support and a number of adverse consequences.
The best treatment to address a lorazepam addiction is to taper the dose under medical supervision until the brain and body are no longer dependent upon the drug. This process should also include enrollment in a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
Harmony Treatment and Wellness employs a well-rounded approach to addiction treatment that considers how factors such as lifestyle, environment, and physical and emotional health play vital roles in a person’s addiction to drugs or alcohol. By collaborating with you and your loved ones throughout the treatment process, we can equip you for recovery by customizing a program that includes a complete continuum of care.
Our programs include both partial-hospitalization and outpatient options and features evidence-based behavioral therapies, individualized treatment, and aftercare planning services designed to predict the challenges you may encounter on your journey to long-term sobriety and wellness. Our team of compassionate addiction specialists is dedicated to providing people with the resources, tools, and support they desperately need to take back their lives, free from addiction.
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, contact us today!