Basics on Taking the Benzodiazepine Ativan (Lorazepam)

Indications, Precautions, Side Effects, and Withdrawal Symptoms of Ativan

Pharmacist
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Ativan, generic name lorazepam, is an anti-anxiety medication in the benzodiazepine family. It has a tranquilizing or quieting effect on the central nervous system. 

What is Ativan Used to Treat?

Ativan is FDA approved for the treatment of anxiety disorders and for the short-term relief of anxiety symptoms — short term being 4 or less months. Ativan is also used to treat anxiety associated with depression.

 It's not meant to be used for the anxiety associated with everyday life stresses and worries.

Examples of anxiety disorders Ativan is used to treat include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Social Anxiety
  • Panic Disorder

Ativan is also frequently prescribed for other conditions. These include:

What Precautions are Considered When Taking Ativan?

As with all the benzodiazepines, prolonged use of Ativan may lead to physical and/or psychological dependence, especially when used at higher doses for longer periods of time. There is also the potential for abuse in patients with a history of alcohol or drug problems.

These patients should be monitored carefully while taking Ativan.

Because Ativan acts as a central nervous system depressant, the usual warnings about not driving or operating heavy machinery until you know how it affects you apply to this drug.

In patients with depression, Ativan should only be prescribed along with antidepressant treatment, as there is concern for possible increased suicide risk.

In addition, if you have liver or kidney problems, your doctor should monitor your health very carefully while you are taking Ativan. The same is true for those who have any breathing problems such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or sleep apnea.

Finally, Ativan may cause a paradoxical reaction, which causes a person to become more agitated, not less. This is more commonly seen in children and the elderly.

Can Ativan Interact with Other Medications?

Yes. Ativan should be used with caution in patients who take other drugs that depress the central nervous system. These include:

Can Ativan be Taken During Pregnancy?

Ativan is not recommended for use during pregnancy. Also, Ativan is secreted in breast milk, and should not be taken by nursing mothers unless the benefit of taking the drug is considered greater than the risk to the baby.

What are Common and Serious Side Effects of Ativan?

Ativan depresses or quiets down the nervous system. The most common side effects are sedation, dizziness, weakness, unsteadiness and cognitive changes.

At higher doses, a person may develop respiratory depression. This means their breathing becomes inadequate, so not enough oxygen is getting into the body. This can be dangerous, even fatal. 

Other Ativan side effects are possible — this list is not all-inclusive. If you have any worries or new symptoms while taking Ativan, please contact your healthcare provider. 

What Does it Feel Like to Withdraw from Ativan?

Withdrawal symptoms may occur in some people who stop taking Ativan, especially if they have used them for 8 weeks or more. Tapering the Ativan dose down, instead of stopping it abruptly, helps eliminate or minimize any potential withdrawal symptoms. 

Possible withdrawal symptoms include:

  • irritability
  • rebound anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • seizures

What Should I Do if my Doctor Recommends Ativan?

Ativan can provide great relief when given for the right purposes. If your doctor prescribes it, please discuss any worries you have and be sure to get all your questions answered. Also, be sure to follow closely with your doctor  — that way you can ensure the greatest benefit and safety, while minimizing any undesirable side effects.

Sources:

Bostwick JR, Casher MI & Yasugi S. Benzodiazepines: A versatile clinical tool. Current Psychiatry. 2012 April;11(4).

FDA. (2007). Ativan (lorazepam). Retrieved November 12th 2015. 

Lohr L. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Cancer J. 2008 Mar-Apr;14(2):85-93.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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