Ativan is the brand name of lorazepam, a short-acting prescription benzodiazepine medication. This drug is prescribed to treat serious health issues like seizures, epilepsy, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea or vomiting related to cancer treatments, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It is also prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, like many other short-acting benzodiazepines since they begin to take effect almost immediately after ingestion. However, their half-life is very short, so the positive effects of the medication do not last very long.
Like other benzodiazepines, especially short-acting ones, Ativan is prescribed for two weeks or less. Exceptions include long-term treatment of seizure disorders such as epilepsy, which may require consistent treatment for years. However, Ativan is most often prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and insomnia, so it should not be used for more than one month. It is possible for a person to become both physically dependent on, and tolerant to, Ativan. The drug is also very habit-forming, meaning it can become addictive quickly, particularly in people who are predisposed to struggle with addiction.
Although anyone can experience side effects from taking Ativan. These are more likely to occur in people who take large doses of Ativan for nonmedical reasons or who abuse the drug for a long period of time.
Mental Side Effects of Ativan
Ativan and other benzodiazepines are psychiatric medications, so many of the side effects are mental and emotional. These include:
- Loss of inhibitions
- Memory difficulties
- Trouble concentrating
- Issues with cognition
- Euphoria or feeling high
- Intense sense of wellbeing and relaxation while intoxicated
Benzodiazepines, including Ativan, can also cause “rebound side effects.” These are recurring symptoms of the underlying mental health condition and can include panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.
Ativan is one of the few benzodiazepines that can produce other “paradoxical” effects. These include:
- Increased aggression
- Depression with suicidal ideation
- Personality changes
Even after a person detoxes from Ativan, psychological and emotional changes can last for a long time and may even be permanent. Small personality changes, fatigue, depression, aggression, or irritability can remain with the individual for months or years after overcoming an addiction to Ativan.
Physical Side Effects of Ativan
Abusing Ativan can also cause physical side effects. Some of these include:
- Physical weakness
- Low blood pressure
- Reduced breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal or digestive problems
- Changes in appetite and weight, especially weight loss
- Blurred vision
Long-term abuse of Ativan can lead to liver and kidney damage. A person who struggles with Ativan addiction may develop jaundice, which displays as a yellowish tint to the skin and eyes. This is a sign of liver damage or failure. Frequent or difficult urination can be a sign of kidney damage.
Dependence and tolerance are also long-term effects associated with Ativan addiction. The body becomes dependent on a consistent supply of the drug to feel normal and to maintain stable brain chemistry. At the same time, however, the body also becomes used to specific quantities of the drug, so the same dose does not work as well on a long-term basis. For people who struggle with Ativan addiction, these two physical conditions in combination mean that the person typically increases how often they ingest the drug and how large the dose is.
However, even people who take Ativan as directed, for a short period of time, may develop a dependency on and tolerance to the medication. They may experience withdrawal symptoms when their prescription is finished, but this is less likely to happen if they do not continue to take Ativan for nonmedical reasons.