Ativan, with the generic name Lorazepam, is a benzodiazepine drug used mainly to treat anxiety disorders and seizures. It is also used as a muscle relaxant. Similar drugs in the benzodiazepine class include Valium (Diazepam) and Xanax (Alprazolam).
Ativan and related drugs work by modifying the concentration of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a molecule in the brain that inhibits nerve activity. As a result, the drugs decrease the level of excitation in the brain and spinal cord, effectively reducing symptoms of anxiety and seizures.
As with most benzodiazepines, Ativan has the potential to make you physically dependent on it. In turn, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit using this drug.
If you’re wondering what Ativan withdrawal symptoms are and how long they last, read further.
When do Ativan withdrawal symptoms begin?
Ativan has a particularly short half-life of 10 to 12 hours. With that, withdrawal symptoms can begin to show up within 10 to 24 hours of your last dose. On average, most people report developing withdrawal symptoms within 3 to 4 days.
When you already have a physical dependence on Ativan, you are more prone to experiencing withdrawal. If you are on medication, taking Ativan strictly as prescribed reduces your risk of developing withdrawal. But it’s still possible even if you follow your prescription. Some patients have reported becoming dependent on Ativan after just one week of taking it.
Why does withdrawal occur?
Withdrawal occurs when your body relies too much on Ativan to function normally. When the drug is removed, your brain, nervous system, and organs must go through an adjustment period as they “relearn” how to function normally without the drug.
At this time, you will experience varying degrees of physical and psychological discomfort, which is exactly what withdrawal symptoms are. The severity and duration of these symptoms depend largely on factors like dosage and frequency of Ativan use. Your medical history and the presence of any mental health disorders also exert a big influence on how bad your withdrawal becomes.
What are the symptoms of Ativan withdrawal?
There are two phases of withdrawal from Ativan: the acute phase and a protracted phase. The acute phase is what begins 1 to 4 days after your last dose. Symptoms of this phase include:
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Abdominal cramps
- Seizures (in rare cases)
If you were on Ativan to treat anxiety or panic disorders, and the symptoms come back after you stop taking the drug, these are known as “rebound” symptoms. Rebound anxiety is common in people experiencing acute withdrawal from this drug.
After the acute phase, you may progress into a more prolonged withdrawal syndrome. This phase often persists for 10 to 14 days, but if you have taken high doses of Ativan, it may last for much longer. The symptoms of this stage are:
- Drug cravings
- General feelings of discomfort
In some cases, depression, discomfort, mood swings, and other psychological symptoms may linger on for months to years after Ativan use has been stopped. This condition is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS.
Once you have become physically dependent on Ativan, quitting will be much harder. The withdrawal symptoms may get too uncomfortable that your only recourse would be to take the drug again.
What affects the duration and intensity of Ativan withdrawal?
Not everyone will experience the same level of Ativan withdrawal. How long and how severe your symptoms are depend on a number of factors, such as the following.
Dosage and frequency of Ativan intake
If you take Ativan as prescribed by your doctor, your chances of developing withdrawal are low. But if you misuse the drug, you are more vulnerable to withdrawal. Your risk is higher if you have been misusing Ativan for a long time already. Misusing or abusing this drug often refers to taking higher doses than what is prescribed to you.
The more Ativan you take, and the more often you take it, the higher your chances of developing more protracted and more severe withdrawal symptoms.
Underlying physical and psychological conditions
If you have any physical or mental health conditions alongside Ativan dependence, the withdrawal will be longer and more intense. Also, if you have a previous history of substance addiction, you are more prone to having severe withdrawal symptoms.
Using Ativan along with other drugs
If you take Ativan in combination with other addictive substances like alcohol, narcotics, sedatives, or other benzodiazepines, you will experience more intense withdrawal symptoms. It’s also possible to experience withdrawal from more than one substance at a time, making matters more complicated.
What can I do to prevent Ativan withdrawal?
The best way to avoid withdrawal is to avoid taking Ativan in the first place. But if you really have to take it, such as if you are on medication, make sure to follow your prescription to the letter. Take Ativan only at the dose and frequency that your doctor instructed. If you feel the effects of the drug wearing off, do not adjust your dose by yourself. Consult your doctor first so he can recommend the best course of action. He may either increase your dose slightly or switch you to a different medication.
If you already suffer from Ativan withdrawal, your best option is to seek professional help. Treatment often involves medically-assisted detox as a first step. Here, medical personnel will assist you in safely withdrawing from Ativan. They will gradually decrease your dose of the drug until all traces of it are flushed out of your system. You may be given certain medications during the process as well, which can help ease some of the withdrawal symptoms.
After detox, you may need further behavioral treatments to deal with the mental aspects of Ativan dependence. These therapies may take up to three months or more, depending on the severity of your case.
But after these treatments, you can expect to live a sober life once again.