Long-Term Effects Of Ativan (Lorazepam) Abuse

Long-term Ativan (lorazepam) abuse can cause harmful effects to both the mind and body. The longer someone abuses this medication, the more difficult it becomes to stop.

Ativan (lorazepam) is a benzodiazepine medication prescribed for anxiety. Anxiety is one of the most common psychiatric conditions in the United States. Because of this, prescription medications like Ativan have become widely used. In 2012, lorazepam was 48th on the list of the 200 most prescribed drugs.

This medication is not meant to be used for prolonged periods and is typically only prescribed for two or three weeks of use. Taking Ativan for longer than this can cause serious harm to the body and brain.

Physical Effects Of Long-Term Ativan Abuse

Prolonged Ativan (lorazepam) exposure may cause changes in a person’s appetite, weight, and sexual desire. The sedative effects of the medication may also cause someone to experience sensations of vertigo, weakness, muscle spasms, and lack of coordination.

When large doses of Ativan are taken chronically, it can cause extreme stress on the liver. To break down Ativan, the liver must produce enzymes. These enzymes can cause a toxic reaction which damages the liver. Liver damage may then cause a condition called jaundice—a yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Mental Effects Of Long-Term Ativan Abuse

Ativan (lorazepam) can be helpful in the management of anxiety disorders, but it comes with an extremely high potential for abuse. Over time, Ativan abuse can cause chemical and physical changes in the brain, which lead to cognitive issues.

Individuals can experience an array of symptoms, depending on their unique biology, including the inability to form words or speak properly and issues with short-term memory. Benzodiazepine medications have also been linked to an increased chance of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

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In some cases, these adverse effects may not be reversible. Even if someone does not experience mental symptoms, the longer they abuse Ativan, the more likely they are to become addicted to the medication.

How Is Ativan Abused?

Ativan (lorazepam) comes as a tablet, liquid, or injection solution, depending on the condition it is intended to treat. The tablets may be dissolved beneath the tongue or in the cheek for more effective absorption. Most commonly, Ativan is abused orally, but some people may crush and snort Ativan tablets, in hopes of a more immediate effect.

Snorting (insufflation) Ativan causes it to reach the brain more quickly compared to oral consumption. However, because Ativan needs the liver to break it down to become active, this route of administration may not be any faster. Snorting Ativan powder can also cause damage to sensitive nasal tissues.

Ativan can also be administered intravenously or intramuscularly. If someone abuses Ativan by injecting it, bacterial infections can occur from unclean needles and an increased risk of contracting blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

Long-Term Ativan (Lorazepam) Abuse And Overdose Risk

A person who takes too much Ativan for their body to process at once can experience an overdose. Overdose can happen any time they abuse the drug. However, abuse of Ativan alone rarely causes a fatal overdose.

Fatal overdose is more likely to occur when Ativan is combined with another sedative like alcohol. When more than one depressant is taken at once, in high doses, the drugs can have compounding effects and cause people to experience difficulty or stopped breathing.

Benzodiazepines are stored in fatty tissues when there is too much of the medication in the body to be processed by the liver. If too much Ativan accumulates, it can reach toxic levels in the body.

Mixing Ativan with stimulant drugs can also be dangerous, as these substances have counteracting effects. Since Ativan and stimulants can interfere with one another, it can be challenging to gauge a “safe” dose, which significantly increases the risk of overdose.

Dangers Related To Long-Term Ativan (Lorazepam) Abuse

If used in excess, long-term Ativan (lorazepam) abuse can worsen anxiety symptoms. When Ativan is used to regulate brain function for a long time, the brain stops naturally producing a chemical called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) because it now depends on the medication to do this.

If someone who has taken Ativan for more than six weeks stops taking the medication, their brain activity can surge and cause intense anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. These over-stimulating effects may cause someone to take more Ativan for relief.

This psychological dependence, also known as addiction, can be difficult to overcome. As an individual’s tolerance increases, they will take more and more Ativan to continue to feel the effects of the drug.

People who become addicted to Ativan are not able to control their drug use and may continue to abuse Ativan despite the problems abuse may cause.

How Long-Term Ativan (Lorazepam) Abuse Affects Withdrawal

With each use, an individual’s body becomes more and more tolerant to the effects of Ativan. After a while, they will need more substantial and frequent doses to feel the same effects. Because tolerance to benzodiazepines develops so quickly, research indicates that after six months of regular use these drugs are no longer effective.

It is likely that anyone abusing Ativan for this long will develop a physical dependence on Ativan. When this happens, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be unpleasant and potentially dangerous.

Long-term abuse can cause Ativan withdrawal to be prolonged due to the increased accumulation of the drug throughout the fatty tissues. Medical professionals recommend tapering off Ativan slowly to limit or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawing from Ativan can be life-threatening because it can disrupt brain activity and cause seizures. Gradually tapering gives the body more time to adjust to being without the drug.

Regaining Control After Long-Term Ativan (Lorazepam) Abuse

Individuals who wish to stop taking Ativan after long-term abuse should first start by detoxing from the drug. Detoxification is the process of removing the drug from the body. Medically supervised detox programs can help individuals avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms and remain physically comfortable throughout the process.

After detoxing from Ativan, it is recommended that individuals continue treatment in an inpatient or outpatient program, as detox is not a complete addiction treatment. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that takes over the mind. Evidence-based treatments like individual and group counseling in combination with medication-assisted treatment can help individuals regain control over their addictive behaviors.

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine - Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Lorazepam

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