Ativan is a fast-acting benzodiazepine that treats anxiety by depressing the central nervous system (CNS) to produce a calming and tranquil effect on the nerves. While Ativan can certainly reduce all types of anxiety (both physical and mental), it can also create a host of problems if it is taken too frequently, or for too long. Studies suggest that Ativan may be one of the most addictive benzodiazepines available, which means its potential for misuse is extremely high.
The addictive properties of Ativan have been well-documented for decades. In 1988, a comparison study used 14 participants to show that Ativan is more likely to be abused than Valium (another popular benzodiazepine at the time). Not only was Ativan reportedly more addictive, it also produced a longer “high” than Valium according to all of the study’s subjects. To give some perspective on the potency of the drug, 1 milligram of Ativan is the equivalent of 10 milligrams of Valium. In other words, 1/10th of Ativan will produce more euphoria than Valium can.
Two more studies, each conducted in 1992, shows how Ativan is overwhelmingly preferred by recreational drug users over diphenhydramine (Benadryl), methocarbamol (muscle relaxers), buspirone (another antianxiety medication), and secobarbital (a sleep aid). In each of these studies, Ativan’s “effects were greater and resulted in more prolonged impairment of a motor tracking task, standing steadiness, and memory”. Even though non-prescription abusers will most likely take whatever type of medication they can find at the time, Ativan’s longer high makes it a more preferable drug on the street market.
Despite these studies, a common misconception amongst benzodiazepines is that they are all the same in terms of effectiveness and addictiveness. This is clearly not the case when it comes to dependence and withdrawal. Although all benzodiazepines are inevitably addictive after enough repeated exposures, a 2007 study notes that withdrawal complications are more prevalent with “short-acting benzodiazepines” such as Ativan than with other types of benzodiazepines. The logic behind this is simple: longer-acting benzodiazepines, such as Klonopin for example, have a greater half-life than Ativan, meaning that the drug stays in the body for longer. The longer the drug stays in the system for, the more time can pass before the user begins to experience the effects of withdrawal.
These withdrawal symptoms can come on acutely after a just few weeks of Ativan use, prescribed or otherwise. Withdrawal from Ativan often manifests itself in the form of vision problems, panic attacks, and trouble sleeping. More serious forms of withdrawal, however, can include hallucinations, memory loss, diarrhea, fever, and dangerously high blood pressure levels. The intensity of these symptoms is directly proportionate to the frequency in which the drug was abused and how abruptly treatment ended.
Long-term abuse of Ativan can result in permanent cognitive impairment. It is not uncommon for a person who has been taking Ativan for too long to sleep all day without having any energy or motivation upon waking. Oftentimes, someone in the throes of an Ativan addiction will not be able to think for themselves and identify the problem, so it is important for other people to vigilantly watch over them for signs of abuse. Ceasing Ativan usually reverses its effects, but if the brain has been operating in an altered state for too long, they may not be able to fully recover.
Many people who are addicted to Ativan already have a prescription, but not all. Those with a prescription at least have an opportunity to remain in contact with their doctor, who will hopefully be able to see the signs of addiction and intervene accordingly. Those without a prescription, however, are more likely to continue abusing Ativan until the damage is irreversible.