Ativan is a medication that’s used to treat issues like anxiety disorders. It’s a central nervous system depressant, which means it works by slowing down activity in your brain and nervous system to help ease anxieties and facilitate rest. The drug is generally safe to use and well-tolerated, which means that most people don’t experience severe side effects that are very uncomfortable or life-threatening. Still, other central nervous system depressants can be life-threatening in high doses, like alcohol and barbiturates. Taking a high dose of Ativan may have more dangerous effects than prescribed use.  

It is possible to overdose on Ativan. However, most people that take a high dose and experience Ativan overdose symptoms don’t encounter life-threatening effects. But is it possible to take a fatal dose of Ativan, and what happens if you mix Ativan with other substances? Learn more about Ativan and the dangers of Ativan misuse.

How Ativan Works

Lorazepam is a medication that is best known as Ativan, the brand name under which it is sold.

It belongs to a family of drugs called benzodiazepines. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says benzodiazepines work by relaxing the brain when it is flooded with anxiety.

Other well-known benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.

Often prescribed to help people with anxiety, Ativan has also been criticized because it can cause dependency and even addiction.

What We Know About Who Misuses Ativan

The reasons for misusing any drug vary depending on the person, but an August 2018 report from CNBC provides reasons for the rise in Ativan use.

  • Anxiety is the most diagnosed mental illness in the United States today, with one out of 40 Americans affected by some form of anxiety disorder.
  • Per NIDA, 23 percent of people who overdosed on opioids in 2015 had also taken benzodiazepines.
  • NIDA also mentions that veterans who are prescribed benzodiazepines are at higher risk of overdosing on them.
  • Benzodiazepines are often prescribed by primary care doctors who have little connection to psychotherapy options that could help their patients.
  • Between 2002 and 2015, overdose fatalities involving a benzodiazepine increased fourfold.
  • Between 10 to 15 percent of those who have prescribed a benzodiazepine will develop a psychological dependence on the drug and even addiction.

A 2016 report from the New York Post mentions that some people turn to the dark web — unlawful internet stores — to buy benzodiazepines without the need for a prescription.

It is easy to buy a pill press that can make counterfeit tablets that look like the real thing. This means people often buy counterfeit Ativan that is a different drug altogether.

Can You Overdose On Ativan?

Yes, you can overdose on Ativan, but not every overdose is fatal. An overdose occurs when you take a dose that’s high enough to cause adverse effects. In some cases, an overdose can cause a substance to become toxic, causing damage to certain parts of your body. In other cases, an overdose causes uncomfortable side effects. According to the Food and Drug Administration, an Ativan overdose can cause central nervous system depression that ranges from mild drowsiness to coma, depending on several factors. 

A typical mild overdose may cause drowsiness, mental confusion, slurred speech, and lethargy. It can also cause something called paradoxical reactions, which can cause the opposite of a drug’s intended effect. In this case, a paradoxical reaction to Ativan may cause anxiety, paranoia, or agitation. 

A more severe lorazepam overdose may involve symptoms like impaired motor functions, muscle tension, low blood pressure, a slowed heart rate, slowed breathing, catatonia, coma, and death. Slowed breathing, also called respiratory depression, is one of the most dangerous side effects of depressant drugs. As the drug slows down your nervous system, it can affect unconscious functions like your breathing. If your breathing slows down or stops, it can cause you to pass out, experience brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation and death. 

However, the FDA notes that the majority of severe Ativan withdrawal symptoms aren’t caused by Ativan on its own. Instead, it happens when Ativan is combined with another substance like alcohol. Ativan can potentiate the effects of alcohol, opioids, and other depressants. Potentiation is when similar drugs combine to cause more intense effects than they would individually. Since all of those substances can slow down activity in your nervous system, combining them can lead to severe central nervous system depression.

Correct Ativan Dosages

If you’re given an Ativan prescription, how many Ativan can you take? Finding the right dose for your needs involves working closely with your doctor. The FDA and drug companies that make Ativan recommend specific doses, but your doctor can help you find a dose that is safe and effective for your needs. There are several factors that go into proper dosage, including your size and weight. But when your doctor writes your prescription, there will be dosage information on the bottle. You should never take more than directed. If the drug doesn’t seem to be relieving your symptoms, speak to your doctor before increasing your dose. 

While your doctor can help you find the right dose for your needs, you can get an idea of what is typical when taking a prescription like Ativan. It is important to understand what the correct dosages are for Ativan. Doctors will adjust doses if needed.

The Mayo Clinic Provides a Few Baselines:

  • The use of Ativan for children under 12 should be determined by a physician.
  • Children who are 12 or older and adults who use Ativan for anxiety are usually prescribed:
    • 2 to 6 mg of the oral solution per day, in increments.
    • 2 to 3 mg in tablets per day, in increments.
  • Older adults who use Ativan for anxiety are usually prescribed 1 to 2 mg of either form per day, in increments.
  • A person who uses Ativan without a prescription runs the risk of buying counterfeit pills or tablets with a much higher dose than what doctors would typically recommend.
  • If a person takes a much higher dose than those listed above, it’s possible that overdose could occur. It’s not likely the dose will be fatal, but if it is mixed with other substances of abuse, it could be.

A person who uses Ativan (Lorazepam) without a prescription runs the risk of buying counterfeit pills or tablets with a much higher dose than what doctors would typically recommend.

If a person takes a much higher dose than those listed above, it’s possible that overdose could occur. It’s not likely the dose will be fatal, but if it is mixed with other substances of abuse, it could be.

Some people may try to stop using Ativan suddenly. This could cause them to feel symptoms of withdrawal. Per Psychology Today, withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines could be fatal.

Recognizing Signs of an Overdose

There are some signs a person is overdosing on Ativan.

  • Problems with breathing
  • Seizures
  • Inability to wake up
  • Extreme agitation or confusion

If a person is exhibiting any of these signs, call 911 or Poison Control.

Do not try to force the person to vomit.

How to Help with an Overdose

People may overdose because they take too many pills by accident, or on purpose (as a suicide attempt), or because they take another substance.  A person who has overdosed needs emergency medical help immediately.

If the person is alert, call Poison Control first as they can offer assistance.

If the person is unconscious, having difficulty breathing, or shaking, call 911 immediately.

Gather Information About the Person Who is Overdosing. Better Health Channel Suggests the Following:

  • The amount of whatever they took
  • Any known allergies
  • Any recent trips abroad
  • Any known health issues
  • Any medication the individual has been prescribed
  • If they are pregnant or breastfeeding

Fast action is the best course of action if an overdose is suspected. A fatal dose of Ativan is one that is more than prescribed, taken with alcohol or an illicit substance. If you suspect this of someone, get the person help as soon as possible.

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