Learn About Our Walk-In Process

Ativan Addiction: Symptoms, Signs & Side Effects

Last Updated: September 21, 2023

Ativan, or the generic lorazepam, belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. These drugs work by binding to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, which causes the release of GABA. This is the most common chemical in the brain and helps to stop overactive electrical signaling.

Ativan is used to treat a variety of conditions such as anxiety, insomnia due to stress or anxiety and continuous seizures, known as status epilepticus. It can also be given to calm down nervous surgery patients before anesthesia is given. In all cases, Ativan is used to produce a calming, sedative effect on brain and nerves. However, these effects can lead to addiction and dependence.

The main effect of Ativan is to produce a calming effect in the brain, which can act as a “high.” This high can become highly addictive, and someone may need to use more and more Ativan over time to achieve it; this is known as tolerance. From this, addiction and dependence can develop. Benzodiazepines, like Ativan, are meant to be taken for a short amount of time, typically between two to four weeks; the maximum recommended time length is four months.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists Ativan as a Schedule IV substance,which have “a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence.” However, 23% of benzodiazepine users become addicted within three months of starting use and the overdose rate has increased sevenfold. Misuse of benzodiazepines has also driven up the number of patients treated in emergency departments by 124% from 2004 to 2011. With this, it is critical to know the symptoms, signs and side effects of Ativan addiction and overdose in order to be prepared. In addition, there are treatment options available to help immediately stop an overdose and help in the next steps of recovery.

Symptoms of Ativan Abuse

Using Ativan outside of its intended purpose can be dangerous and there are many symptoms of Ativan misuse and addiction to be on the lookout for. These symptoms are most likely to develop when someone has been using a higher dose of Ativan than was prescribed to them. Perhaps they are taking it longer than recommended or using it in combination with other drugs. People who have a history of substance or alcohol misuse are also more likely to misuse Ativan.

When someone is addicted to Ativan, they may not act like they normally would. Behaviors can include:

  • Cravings that influence thoughts and actions
  • Using the drug despite knowing it causes harm (physical, emotional, psychological)
  • Spending money despite not being able to afford the drug
  • Avoiding responsibilities like work, social activities and more
  • Stealing or other risky behaviors in order to get the drug
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when Ativan use stops
  • Making attempts to stop using Ativan but failing

Physical Symptoms of Ativan Addiction

In addition to the behavioral symptoms, there are some physical symptoms to look out for if someone is abusing Ativan. These can include:

  • Lacking motivation or energy to do things
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination, falling, accidents
  • Difficulty breathing and low blood pressure

When Ativan is used for a long period of time, the body and brain become used to its presence; when it is taken away, the body goes through shock and an adjustment period known as withdrawal. Withdrawal can occur when dosing is stopped after as little as one week of treatment with Ativan. Recognizing the symptoms of withdrawal is important because some can be dangerous and require medical attention.

Some physical Ativan addiction withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness/vertigo
  • Fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Tingling or numbness in fingers and/or toes
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

Psychological Symptoms of Ativan Addiction

Psychological symptoms can also develop as a result of Ativan addiction and prolonged use. If someone has underlying depression, Ativan use and addiction may amplify their condition; if a person is not properly treated with antidepressants, these symptoms may worsen. Some psychological symptoms of Ativan addiction include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Eventually, withdrawal symptoms will also set in after use that can have major mental impacts. Psychological withdrawal symptoms from Ativan can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations or delirium
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

Side Effects of Ativan Addiction

Once Ativan addiction has begun, higher and higher doses are needed to achieve the same effects of sedation and calmness; in other words, this is the high they are looking for. In some cases, Ativan can be combined with other drugs to help amplify these effects. Ativan can be taken with opioids, alcohol and other benzodiazepines or central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which can become dangerous.

These drugs all work by slowing down heart rate; as a result, severe sedation, respiratory depression and coma can occur, all of which can be life-threatening. Someone who uses Ativan together with opioids has an increased risk of dying from these harmful drug interactions.

Ativan acts quickly in the brain and its effects have a rapid peak and someone who misuses multiple substances together with Ativan can prefer this effect. Opioid users can also use Ativan to manage withdrawal symptoms on their own rather than through a medically-assisted detox program.

Long-Term Side Effects of Ativan Abuse

There are around four million people who use benzodiazepines daily, and many of them fall into the category for having substance dependence. This dependence can develop over time and eventually people will display long-term side effects of Ativan use.

Cognitive impairment can develop with long-term Ativan abuse, because the drug causes changes to the brain’s neurons. Symptoms of impairment include drowsiness, uncoordinated movements, amnesia and slow reflexes. Many other side effects from short-term use can continue to occur long-term as well, including decreased heartbeat and blood pressure, insomnia and anxiety. Ativan is effective in treating anxiety disorders and insomnia for only the short, recommended time of use (a few weeks.)

After this, it loses its power to help these conditions, but the body is reliant on the drug and someone may continue to take it. They also may take higher doses to compensate for the loss of effectiveness.

Ativan is metabolized by the liver and damage is possible as a result of long-term use; patients who are elderly or who have decreased liver function from disease or alcohol use need to be monitored.

Signs of Ativan Overdose

If too much Ativan is taken at one time, an overdose can occur. Knowing the signs of Ativan overdose can help a person get the medical attention they need. Signs of overdose can include:

  • Slurred speech or trouble speaking
  • Shakiness, trembling and problems with coordination
  • Excessive sweating
  • Unusual tiredness, weakness or drowsiness
  • Loss of energy or strength
  • Difficulty breathing

Side Effects of Ativan Overdose

In the event that an overdose occurs, there are treatments available to help immediately that may save someone’s life. Flumazenil is a benzodiazepine antagonist that can reverse the effects of Ativan overdose. In the brain, flumazenil competes with Ativan for binding sites in the brain; when flumazenil binds, it is able to stop the effects of GABA and reverses sedation and calming effects. It can also reverse respiratory depression (slow, labored breathing), memory impairment and motor associated with benzodiazepine overdose.

Although it is highly effective as an immediate treatment for Ativan overdose, flumazenil does not address the underlying addiction and associated misuse.

If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for Ativan withdrawal, help is available. Contact the Orlando Recovery Center to speak with a representative about professional addiction treatment that is available to address substance use disorders and any co-occurring mental health conditions. It is important to address all conditions along with Ativan use and withdrawal, including possible underlying depression or anxiety. Take a step towards a healthier future and call today.


Paulozzi, Leonard J.; Strickler, Gail K.; Kreiner, Peter W.; Koris, Caitlin M. “Controlled Substance Prescribing Pattern[…] Eight States, 2013.” Surveillance Summaries, October 16, 2015. Accessed November 6, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Agency. “Drug Scheduling.” Accessed November 4, 2019.

Food and Drug Administration. “Ativan Label.” Accessed November 4, 2019.

Food and Drug Administration. “ROMAZICON (flumazenil) INJECTION.” Accessed November 6, 2019.

Johnson, Brian. “Risks Associated with Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use.” American Family Physician, August 15, 2013. Accessed November 6, 2019.

Louvet, Steve; Ischayek, Michelle; Danoff, Rob. “The Current Role of Long-Term Benzodiaze[…] Generalized Anxiety.” Osteopathic Family Physician, January 5, 2015. Accessed November 6, 2019.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Lorazepam (Ativan.)” Accessed November 4, 2019.

Thompson, Dennis. “Xanax, Valium looking like America’s next drug crisis.” Chicago Tribune, February 26, 2018. Accessed November 6, 2019.

Tsao, Jackie. “Discouraging Use of Benzodiazepines for Anxiety and Insomnia.” Family Medicine Clerkship Student Projects, July 2018. Accessed November 6, 2019.

Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.