Ativan, a brand name for the medication lorazepam, is commonly provided for people who have panic disorders. These people might feel perfectly fine one moment, and when the next moment arrives, they might feel overwhelmed, anxious and terrified. Faulty signals within the brain are to blame, and with Ativan, that circuitry can be amended and people can feel much more capable of handling their lives.
A columnist for The California Aggie describes his use in this way: “Before I took the half-milligram pill, I was extremely nervous and sensitive and felt sick to my stomach. But after about 20 minutes I felt fine and perfectly normal… I didn’t feel ‘floaty’ or out of it or forcedly happy. I just felt like all the nerves in my head that were previously tangled and heated were now calm and smoothed out.” For people like this, Ativan serves an important purpose. Unfortunately, Ativan has a darker side, and it’s easy for some people to move from use to abuse to addiction.
A Hidden Agenda
As mentioned, Ativan works by soothing overactive electrical signals within the brain. It sounds like a simple goal to accomplish, but the brain is a very complicated organ and minor tweaks of chemistry can sometimes have unintended consequences. In the case of benzodiazepines like Ativan, a reduction in electrical activity also comes with a boost of pleasurable chemicals. It’s not the intent of the medication, but it could become a trigger that leads to abuse.
In a study in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse, researchers gave 30 recreational users access to a variety of different kinds of drugs, and they asked the users to rate their experiences. Here, they found that lorazepam caused feelings of euphoria, which were stronger than the feelings the people experienced when they took harmless sugar pills. A little boost of happiness like this makes the drug enticing and hard to forget. People might be tempted to take the drug at the end of a bad day, just to smooth out the rough edges. People might also be tempted to take larger doses of the drug, to see if the pleasurable signals could be enhanced. Drugs that cause boosts of pleasure are considered “reinforcing,” because the sensations they cause seem to put people into planning mode, wondering how they can get that drug again.
While pleasure can make people plot and plan, when an addiction sets in, the drug might not even be pleasurable anymore. In a study of the issue, in the journal Cerebral Cortex, researchers found that people who are addicted have unusual activity in the portion of the brain that deals with compulsive behavior. It’s unclear how these changes come about, but it is clear that this portion of the brain becomes augmented, like a muscle that grows bigger due to repetitive use. Each time the person uses drugs, that part of the brain gets a little stronger. Soon, people are taking Ativan because the compulsive part of the brain is in control. It’s very hard for the rest of the brain to compensate.
Ativan addictions sometimes come to light due to behavior. People may snort or chew their pills and run out of their prescriptions much too quickly. They might steal money or steal pills to keep their addictions alive. They might also seem cranky and jittery when they haven’t taken a dose in the morning. Ativan addictions can also become evident through the statements the person utters.
People with addictions might say things like:
- “I don’t have to explain my use to you.”
- “I need my pills. I don’t care what the doctor says.”
- “I can stop anytime I want to do so.”
- “I don’t have a problem.”
It’s frustrating to hear these sorts of comments, and often, talks about addiction turn into fights where both parties feel upset, anxious and angry. It can seem as though there is no solution, but in fact, there is a good way to break through denial and help the person to get better. It is a long-term solution, however, and families might need to be patient.
How to Help
In a study about an Ativan dependence syndrome, published back in 1984, doctors documented the withdrawal process of a man who had been taking the drug for longer than six months. He was using a moderate dose of the drug, but when he attempted to stop, he felt headaches, aching muscles and a feeling of nervousness. This lasted for more than a week, until the man returned to a normal level of functioning. People who are addicted to Ativan may take doses of the drug that are much larger than the doses this man took, and they may have withdrawal symptoms that are much more severe than those this man felt. The drug causes longstanding changes in the brain, and ripping the drug out of the person’s body could lead to dramatic feelings of anxiety. In some cases, people who take this drug can develop seizures if they try to stop their use too quickly. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that withdrawal symptoms were greatest in people who had taken benzodiazepines for more than five years, but anyone who has been taking the drug on a repeat basis could have physical discomfort when they attempt to stop their use.
Confronting a person with an Ativan addiction and demanding that the person stop using drugs now is not only unreasonable, it could be dangerous. Instead, it’s best to talk to the person about how addictions tend to form, and how they are treated. With this kind, calm approach, people might be more likely to enter treatment programs and get the help they’ll need.
- Outline the changes they’ve seen since the person started using Ativan
- Discuss their worries about the abuse
- Express their love and support, promising to help
- Provide information on treatment programs
- Offer to take the person to the treatment program for help
Conversations like this can be difficult, and sometimes, people behave badly when they’re talked to about the addiction. But in time, as healing begins, people might come to thank their families for their concern and their bravery. By speaking up against the addiction, they may be helping the person to improve in real and dramatic ways.
How Therapy Works
In a formal treatment program for Ativan addiction, people have access to counselors who can explain the chemistry that lies beneath an addiction. They can also learn how their lives may have changed due to the addiction, and they can develop the strength to fight back and overcome these challenges. They may build up skills that could help them resist the temptation to return to use, and they might mend the damage in the family the addiction can cause. Treatment might take months to complete, and the person might spend years in followup care, but with this kind of help, a full recovery really is possible. If you need help, please contact us at The Orchid. We’re happy to schedule an intake appointment just for you or someone you love.