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Ativan for Anxiety and Depression: Is Addiction Likely?

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People have struggled with anxiety and depression for decades. Treatments for these common mental health concerns have ranged wildly from century to century. In the 21st century, various prescription medications are used to treat both conditions. Ativan is one of them.

Ativan is a popular prescription drug that is used to treat anxiety. It is sometimes also prescribed to treat anxiety stemming from depression. This drug can cause addiction if it is misused or abused.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Ativan for use. In 2012, it was ranked No. 48 on a list of 200 of the most frequently prescribed medications.

Since Ativan can be used for anxiety, can it also be used for depression? What is the link between Ativan, anxiety, depression, and addiction?

What Is Ativan?

Ativan (generic name lorazepam) is a prescription medication that falls under the class of drugs called benzodiazepines. These types of drugs have a calming effect on the central nervous system (CNS). Benzodiazepines work by increasing the brain’s response to the neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which reduces the excitability of nerve signals in the brain by slowing them down. 

This leads to feelings of relaxation and results in feeling calmer. It has similar effects to other drugs in its class, such as Xanax and Librium. It is meant to be used on a short-term basis for anxiety symptoms. It is not meant to be used for anxiety related to everyday stresses in life.

Ativan is prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. It can also be prescribed to treat:

  • Insomnia
  • Catatonia
  • Agitation
  • Tremors
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Spastic disorders, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and other spastic disorders
  • Certain kinds of seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
  • Used in IV form to put a patient to sleep before surgery

Ativan Side Effects

Ativan causes some side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and weakness. The drug also produces some less frequent and more serious side effects, as noted by Medical News Today:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Headache

Severe Side Effects

Ativan can also cause cautionary effects, which might need immediate medical attention. These are:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Respiratory failure
  • Physical and psychological dependence and addiction, if misused or abused
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nightmares
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe allergic reactions, including severe rash or hives, swelling of lips, tongue, or face, rapid heartbeat

If Ativan is taken for an extended time, dependence and addiction are possible. Rebound effects are also possible, which means that “rebound anxiety” might be felt. Ativan can make the symptoms it is meant to manage worse over time. 

ativan for anxiety and depression

Ativan and Depression

Benzodiazepines, as a whole, list depression as a potential side effect, and this includes Ativan. When the drug is taken in higher doses, the risk of depression and suicidal ideation becomes greater. The drug’s intended uses do not include the treatment for depression. However, it can be used to treat anxiety caused by depression.

There have been some news reports alluding to Ativan causing a person to take their life. However, subsequent findings from an autopsy found that even though the drug was found through toxicology tests to be equivalent to four doses of it, the drug did not alone cause the person to take their life.

In addition, Drugs.com reports that, “Ativan may increase the risk of depression or unmask depression or increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.” Ativan is not prescribed to treat symptoms of depression.

Is Ativan Safe to Take?

This medication is usually prescribed to use for only two to four weeks. If it is taken as prescribed, it is safe. When it is abused and taken In higher doses than the prescription indicates, it comes with the real possibility of experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you stop abruptly using it. Withdrawal is often a sign that you have become psychologically and physically dependent on a drug.

Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Muscle cramps
  • Profuse sweating
  • An altered sense of reality
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Increased sensitivity to light, pain, and/or sound
  • Seizures, convulsions, tremors
  • Tingling, burning, or “skin-crawling” sensations

Ativan Precautions

The Mayo Clinic states that “the presence of other medical problems may affect the use of this medicine.”   These include:

  • Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, dependence, or history of addiction
  • Lung or breathing problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or sleep apnea
  • Seizures or history of seizures, as it may make these conditions worse.
  • Depression or psychosis as use is not recommended in patients with these conditions.

Ativan and Addiction

If you are taking Ativan for anxiety or anxiety stemming from depression, the possibility of addiction is present. It is one of the most abused drugs in the country. It can be life-threatening to those who don’t know or understand its dangers. Ativan abuse can result in adverse behavioral changes like agitation, aggression, insomnia, and hallucinations.

The longer someone takes the drug, the greater the risk of developing a tolerance to it. As the body becomes used to Ativan, it needs more of it, so the person taking it feels the same effects as when it was originally consumed. This also occurs when it is taken recreationally so someone can get “high.”

Tolerance soon leads to dependence and addiction.

Ativan Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment of 90 days or longer is considered to be an effective treatment for substance use disorders or severe addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Treatment usually begins with medical detox and progresses to inpatient or outpatient treatment. Vista Pines health provides treatment for depression, anxiety, and mental health treatment for panic disorders and others.

Our experienced, licensed therapists are on hand to help you or someone you care about turn the page on substance use, including Ativan abuse, and forge a path to recovery and life without substance use. Those who are struggling to manage symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly called PTSD, will also find caring help and guidance at Vista Pines Health, located in South Florida.

Addiction is defined as “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences” by the American Society of Addiction (ASAM). The well-respected organization created a continuum of care for those struggling with substance use, which is the defining level of care that all accredited addiction treatment centers utilize.

Sources

RxList. Ativan. (2020, June 1) Ativan. from https://www.rxlist.com/ativan-drug.htm

Medical News Today. (2019, August 31) Ativan (lorazepam). Ativan side effects. MNT Medical Network. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326015

Rolling Stone. (2017, June 2) Chris Cornell Autopsy Report: ‘Drugs Did Not Contribute’ to Death. Kreps, D. from https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/chris-cornell-autopsy-report-drugs-did-not-contribute-to-death-116538/

Drugs.com. (2020, November 6) Ativan: 7 things you should know3. Downsides. Fookes., C. BPharm. from https://www.drugs.com/tips/ativan-patient-tips

Verywell Mind. (2020, November 19) Benzodiazepines Uses, Indications, and Side Effects. Purse, M. from https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benzodiazepines-378909

NIDA. (2020, December 2). Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/there-difference-between-physical-dependence-addiction

NIDA. (2020, June 3). How long does drug addiction treatment usually last?. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment-usually-last

American Society of Addiction Medicine. Definition of Addiction. from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/definition-of-addiction

American Society of Addiction Medicine. ASAM Criteria. What is the ASAM Criteria? from https://www.asam.org/asam-criteria/about

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