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Is Ativan Addictive in Small Doses?

Prescription bottle with ativan pills spilled around the opening  

Yes. Ativan is highly addictive when taken regularly, even in small doses.

Ativan is a brand name for the generic benzodiazepine lorazepam and is one of the most popular prescription anti-anxiety medications in the United States. Like other benzodiazepines, Ativan is strongly associated with a high risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction, even when taken in low doses and as prescribed.

When taken daily, small doses of Ativan can be addictive. The only safe way to take Ativan is intermittently, short-term and at the lowest effective dose. Prescribing guidelines clearly indicate that Ativan is not suitable for daily or prolonged use. Unfortunately, prescribers have not adhered to prescribing guidelines, which has led some medical professionals to refer to benzodiazepines as America’s, “other prescription drug epidemic.” Benzodiazepine prescribing rates have skyrocketed in recent years, more than doubling between 2003 and 2015.

Dangers of Taking Ativan Daily

Ativan is addictive, even when taken as directed. Unfortunately, medical professionals have been far too willing to prescribe Ativan to treat insomnia in teens and as a band-aid for youth mental health concerns, which has resulted in teen dependence and addiction.

Benzodiazepines are the second most common medication initially prescribed to treat anxiety disorders in children and teenagers.

Co-using Ativan with alcohol, opioids or other drugs significantly increases the risk of death due to overdose. Benzodiazepines are involved in 31% of fatal overdoses, second only to opioids in their lethality. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), benzodiazepine-related deaths increased 4.3-fold between 2002 and 2015. This risk is especially relevant to teenagers, who may consume excessive alcohol without supervision.

Making matters worse, serious Ativan dependence is associated with dangerous, even lethal detox and withdrawal symptoms. While many popular drugs are associated with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, they are rarely life-threatening. Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, can rapidly cause profound changes in brain chemistry and the abrupt cessation of use can be fatal. Ativan should never be quit “cold turkey.” The only safe way to overcome an Ativan use disorder is to gradually taper the dose.

Even though Ativan prescribing guidelines indicate that Ativan can be safely prescribed to teenagers for “brief treatment of severe anxiety,” the first-line treatment for teenagers facing anxiety or other mental health struggles should be cognitive behavioral therapy or similar non-pharmaceutical treatment.

Ativan Tolerance vs. Ativan Addiction

Drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction are related, but not identical, concepts:

  • Tolerance is characterized by a reduced response to a regularly administered drug over time. In order to achieve the same effect that was initially achieved, higher doses are required.
  • Dependence is characterized by physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms that become present if a drug dose is reduced or eliminated.
  • Addiction is an extension of dependence and is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior in spite of likely negative health or social consequences.

Regular, low-dose Ativan use, even as prescribed, is associated with tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Furthermore, teen addiction, even in the context of prescribed drugs, is particularly dangerous and can have lifelong ramifications including increased risk of future substance use and mental health disorders. Unlike the adult brain, the teenage brain is undergoing substantial development changes that are profoundly influenced by external chemicals.

If you are concerned that your teen is misusing or abusing Ativan, or any other drug, now is the time to take action. Next Generation Village provides evidence-based rehab programs for benzodiazepine use disorders, including Ativan. We are dedicated to providing exceptional care for teens ages 13 through 17. Our experts understand teen substance use disorders and have demonstrated excellence in helping them. Contact us today to learn more.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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