Effects of Ativan

Female doctor handing over prescription
Doctor handing patient a prescription (Image: Klaus Tiedge/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Ativan, or lorazepam, is a type of sedative used to treat depression and different types of anxiety disorders. Ativan is from the drug family classification of benzodiazepines. This drug can only be prescribed by a physician and taken only as directed. There is a strong risk for dependency with this drug, and patients should be made aware of this before starting or stopping the medication.

How Does Ativan Work?

Ativan works by depressing brain activity. It is considered a sedative and targets the central nervous system to reduce anxiety and depression. Ativan also works by targeting the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid that is found in the brain. This creates a relaxing effect that helps stress and anxiety sufferers reduce overactive thoughts. It also relays an overall calming effect on the body.

Reasons for Use

Ativan is often prescribed by a physician to treat those who have either an acute case of anxiety or panic rather than someone who has suffered from long-term depression or anxiety. For long term sufferers, physicians may try to prescribe something that is less habit-forming such as an anti-depressant. Ativan is generally not prescribed long term because it can become habit-forming and have severe withdrawal effects. If the drug is prescribed, it is usually combined with some type of cognitive or behavioral therapy so the drug can be slowly weaned from the patient's system.

Drug Side Effects

The side effects while using the drug can be relaxing to some patients as long as the medication is given in small doses. Side effects may include a decrease in muscle tension, enhanced mood, minimized worries and the ability to relax more easily. Anxiety symptoms and racing thoughts are often reduced or eliminated during the peak of the medication's usage. Ativan should never be taken with other medications unless approved by a physician. Other pain medications, over-the-counter allergy medicines and alcohol can increase side effects and lead to slow or labored breathing, low or irregular heartbeat, lack of oxygen to the brain and, in some cases, death.

Drug Dependency

Ativan is a highly addictive drug. Once the body senses the immediate relief from the drug, it can become semi-dependent on it. If the drug is stopped suddenly, the brain can begin to send off signals of depression, anxiety and stress, sometimes twice as worse as the symptoms were originally. Electrical impulses, shaking, nausea and severe flu-like symptoms can also appear. The only way to relieve it is by taking another pill or seeking drug treatment. In drug treatment or rehabilitation, the patient will likely be medically supervised for a period of time until the drug is withdrawn from the system.

Health Issues

One of the biggest health issues related to taking Ativan is overdose. Overdose can occur accidentally or on purpose if the patient has begun to develop a tolerance to low doses of the drug. This can cause an array of health issues such as unconsciousness, coma and delayed respiratory response. Prompt medical care is essential for survival. Over time, anemia, impaired liver functions, slurred speech, impaired or blurry vision, migraine and suicidal thoughts are also health issues that can arise from prolonged use.

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