Is Lorazepam Addictive?

Benzos such as lorazepam are typically used to treat symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and sometimes, reoccurring seizures.  It is a common medication used in MAT to help treat withdrawal symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Also known by the brand name Ativan, it is a highly effective drug prescribed for short-term usage due to its habit-forming nature. Is lorazepam an addictive substance?

Lorazepam, clonazepam and other benzos are widely popular and prescribed medications. In 2018, research found an estimated 5.4 million people over the age of 12 were misusing prescription benzos such as Ativan. In a more recent study in 2020, over 10.5 million prescriptions for Ativan were written.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 43% of users misused benzos to help them relax. An estimated 22.4% of users abused benzos to treat sleeping disorders. And about 11% of users misused benzos to get high because of a substance use disorder.

A white lorazepam tablet sits on a white table begs the question: is lorazepam addictive?

What is Lorazepam?

Lorazepam is an FDA-approved medication prescribed to lessen the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and panic disorders. Lorazepam is a drug often used to treat mental health conditions associated with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The CNS depressant drug comes in a tablet form (0.5mg – 2mg), an oral solution (2mg) or as an injectable (2mg – 4mg).

The sedative drug is an intermediate-acting benzos that can stay in the body for 10-20 hours. After initially taking the drug, it takes between 45 minutes to 2 hours to begin feeling the effects. And it takes about 20 to 200 hours for the drug to completely leave a person’s body.

Lorazepam works by helping to balance chemicals in the brain that can cause symptoms of anxiety and stress. It slows down brain activity. The drug binds to special receptors in the brain that can produce an intense high followed by an extended sense of calm, muscle relaxation and euphoric high.

Lorazepam Addiction

Generalized anxiety disorder is a common mental health condition that can affect many people. They can also affect those who have a diagnosed substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when a person experiences excessive stress or worry for an extended period of time. Symptoms of anxiety often include restlessness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, sleep disturbances and overall irritability. This type of benzos has been proven to be highly effective in treating symptoms of anxiety. However, even when used as prescribed, physical and emotional dependence can develop. This ultimately leads to an addiction to lorazepam.

Signs you may have a lorazepam addiction:

  • Experience relationship issues with friends and family
  • Failing to follow through with responsibilities with work, school or personal obligations
  • Losing interest in things you once loved
  • Getting involved in dangerous situations
  • Social isolation
  • Financial issues due to drug use
  • Taking more of the medication than recommended and prescribed by your physician
  • Visiting multiple doctors to obtain more prescriptions
  • Taking the drug in an alternative way than intended. Taking the drug to feel high and taking more of it because of a developed tolerance for its effects.
  • Taking the drug without a prescription from a doctor

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Because of its high potential for abuse, lorazepam is only recommended for short-term use. People who have a history of drug abuse or related mental health disorders are at high risk of developing an addiction when taking lorazepam. In fact, 95% of patients admitted into the hospital for benzo abuse, were admitted for Ativan misuse and addiction.

Symptoms and side effects of Addiction to Lorazepam:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hypotension
  • Overall cognitive deficits
  • Overall behavioral changes
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the drug is abruptly stopped
  • Symptoms of overdose

Overdosing on Ativan can also be a serious side effect of abuse and addiction. This can be especially high risk when concurrently used with other types of drugs such as opioids. Both substances are CNS depressants and can cause respiratory depression, extreme sedation and overdose. Ativan overdose symptoms include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Slurred speech and trouble speaking
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of control of body movements and coordination
  • Slowed breathing and heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures

Lorazepam Withdrawal

Medical providers usually prescribe benzos like lorazepam for short-term use. According to NIDA, lorazepam withdrawal symptoms can appear as soon as 3 to 4 weeks after use. Even those who have used Ativan for a few weeks as prescribed can still experience withdrawal symptoms from the drug. An estimated 40% of those on benzo medications like Ativan for more than 6 months, will experience moderate to severe withdrawal side effects.

Withdrawal from a drug occurs when a person abruptly stops using or drastically decreases the usage of a drug after long-term use. At this point, the person has developed a high tolerance for the substance and their brain and body have adapted to the substance. When the drug is suddenly removed, it can produce chaotic effects as the body struggles to recreate the chemicals necessary for basic brain functions.

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Withdrawal symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping and insomnia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Sudden confusion
  • Hallucinations, delirium and psychosis
  • Impaired memory and concentration

Treatment for Addiction to Lorazepam

Benzo prescription medications such as lorazepam are powerful drugs that can become highly addictive even when used per physician recommendation. Its addictive properties have even caused some people to develop substance use disorders. Treating an addiction to benzos is most successful through a professional substance use disorder treatment program. Hotel California by the Sea offers a specialized substance use disorder program specific to people who are suffering from an addiction to prescription medication drugs such as lorazepam.

The first step in recovery requires a complete detox of the substance. Research has found that during detox, using the taper medication management has resulted in the most effective method of drug detox. Intensive therapies such as CBT, DBT and EMDR therapy have also been proven to successfully treat co-occurring mental health conditions associated with benzo addiction.

Hotel California by the Sea provides effective tools and resources to help clients overcome their addictions. Treating the physical and emotional aspects of the addiction gives clients a greater chance at maintaining long-term sobriety.