Imagine having an anxiety or panic disorder and needing additional help. Ativan (lorazepam) can act as a miracle medication for those who deal with the stress of chronic anxiety.
Like all medications, Ativan comes with the risk of short-term and long-term effects. These effects are heightened when the drug is abused.
Ativan is a benzodiazepine, according to MedlinePlus. These types of drugs decrease brain activity and help people relax during a stressful event or when symptoms of anxiety surge.
The medication is sold as an oral solution (liquid) and a tablet. Doctors will typically explain how to take Ativan, and the prescription is usually ingested two to three times per day, as needed.
People should not take Ativan for more than 16 weeks (four months). Those who take the drug may decide they want to quit, but no one should stop taking Ativan cold turkey. This is because Ativan works with neurotransmitters in the brain to control anxiety. It changes the brain and leads to physical dependence.
Some people may begin to feel the negative side effects of Ativan and decide they want to stop taking it.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be intense and even life-threatening. Generally, doctors will gradually wean their patients off benzodiazepines rather than stopping use suddenly.
Ativan should be prescribed for only a few weeks at a time, and it should not be taken for longer than four months.
Psychology Today mentions that doctors have been raising concerns about Ativan’s effects on the brain since at least the 1970s.
Short-term effects of Ativan come as a result of how it works to slow the body’s central nervous system to reduce the fight-or-flight mode that causes anxiety. Some side effects with short-term use include the following:
Ativan can also have severe side effects.
Psychology Today mentions that people also experience withdrawal if they try to quit benzodiazepines even after using them for a short time. Rapid physical dependence and dangerous withdrawal symptoms are some of the primary concerns with regular benzodiazepine use.
Writer Harriet Brown published an article in 2017 for Tonic where she explained what it was like for her to get off Ativan after using it for eight years. Brown mentioned that after a while, she felt her memory was becoming fuzzy. She felt like she was losing her coordination and balance.
Brown described feeling anxiety when she would forget an Ativan dose and knew that quitting was going to be difficult. Per Psychology Today, various medical organizations have expressed concerns about loss of coordination brought on by long-term use of benzodiazepines since 1989.
A 2014 study published in Progress in Neuropharmacology & Biological Psychiatry mentioned concerns about long-term side effects of people over the age of 65.
Taking Ativan for a long time may also cause a person to experience withdrawal.
Harvard Medical School also mentioned that the type of benzodiazepine a patient uses plays a role in their diagnosis. Ativan is considered a short-acting benzodiazepine that poses fewer risks than long-acting medications, such as Valium.
Older adults should avoid using benzodiazepines because of their long-term effects. The loss of coordination they cause can also result in accidents or falls.
Though more research is needed to explain the brain damage potential of Ativan, there are a few things we do know today that could make clear why it causes harm.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that tolerance to a drug is dangerous to health because using drugs to provoke a reaction can make it harder for the brain to reward itself through natural means.
For example, if a person consistently uses Ativan to relax, it will become harder for them to rest on their own without the medication.
It can take between one to six weeks to get rid of Ativan in the body, depending on how much of it was taken and for how long. Harriet Brown mentioned in her account on Tonic that it took a full 10 months to stop using Ativan, and she felt some symptoms of withdrawal for six months after becoming sober.”
Brain damage that results from Ativan and other benzodiazepines still need to be further studied. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains a few things about general brain damage from all types of drugs.
With time and treatment, less severe changes to the brain can be treated.
Tapering off Ativan with a doctor’s help can help people who feel they have become dependent on the drug.
Taking Ativan as directed, not combining it with other substances, and talking to your doctor about your concerns can prevent brain damage and other dangerous effects of long-term Ativan use.
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