Few families plan for the day in which they’ll discover than an addiction is unfolding in their midst. In fact, it might be safe to say that most families hope that they’ll never have to deal with an addiction issue at all, and they might even be willing to ignore early signs of a problem, just hoping that it will resolve without any outside assistance at all. Unfortunately, when it comes to an addiction to Ativan (lorazepam), most issues simply don’t fade. Instead, people who have these addictions need the help of their families in order to heal, and they might even need the assistance that only a qualified treatment program can provide.
In order for families to understand the issues that are tearing them apart, they’ll need to find out more about how Ativan works and what it’s designed to do. This knowledge may not help them to assist with the addiction, of course, but it may allow them to understand how the addiction developed and why it might be slow to fade without professional help.
Unlike other addictive drugs that might be made in clandestine laboratories by thick-skinned criminals, Ativan is made by chemists in controlled labs. The pills have been studied for decades, and the chemical composition of those pills is designed to assist people who have very real forms of illnesses.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Ativan is commonly prescribed to people dealing with:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
These conditions might all seem very different, but all of them might stem from unusual electrical activity in the brain. People with seizures are experiencing a firestorm of activity on a regular basis, for example, while people with alcoholism might develop unusual activity when they attempt to get sober. For people like this, Ativan can be a wonderful medication, as it soothes these racing cells and allows activity levels to drop to a more reasonable level. Rather than feeling sped up and unusual, people might feel calm and soothed, and that might allow them to participate in other forms of therapy that could help them to gain control over the long term.
Often, people like this take Ativan for only a short period of time. Manufacturer’s notes indicate that the effectiveness or helpfulness of the drug when given for longer than four months hasn’t been assessed, so doctors are usually encouraged to find replacement therapies rather quickly. But, Ativan can help to provide control during a short adjustment phase, allowing people to feel much better. Unfortunately, there are other changes taking place deep inside the brain, even as Ativan provides help.
When drugs like Ativan are developed, researchers compare their effects against the specific type of issue they’re trying to solve. In this case, researchers looked at how well Ativan soothed electrical activity inside the brain, and how healthy people felt when they were taking the medication, as opposed to how they felt when the drug was not available. Unfortunately, researchers may have missed something about Ativan as their research moved forward.
In addition to soothing the strange signals in the brain, Ativan also seems capable of causing euphoria. The chemistry is complex, but it involves blocking certain types of signals and augmenting others. The brain’s so-called pleasure pathway is the target of these chemical changes, and the results can be dramatic. Instead of experiencing low levels of chemicals associated with pleasure, the brain is simply flooded with these chemicals. The sensations are, not surprisingly, quite intense, and they can be difficult for people to either ignore or forget. The euphoria is not the goal of the medication, but people often report that the drug makes them feel happy, soothed, protected and just a little silly. Often, the sensations are compared to those felt by people who drink alcohol, but Ativan comes with no hangover and no telltale smell. This makes Ativan more portable and much easier to abuse in public places.
This sensation of euphoria could, in theory, take hold in someone who is taking Ativan at a therapeutic dose. However, it’s a much more common response in a person who is taking the drug for recreational purposes, as these people tend to take much higher doses of drugs, and they take their drugs at unusual times, often piggybacking one dose onto another. Since studies suggest that Ativan stays in the body for longer periods of time, when compared to other benzodiazepines, people who take the drug for fun could feel euphoric for hours. That could be the feeling that motivates them to take larger and larger doses of drugs.
Since Ativan produces sensations that many people find pleasurable, it’s common for addicts to believe that the drug is simply harmless. It seems fun, and it seems beneficial, so they may not understand why they should curb their use. Unfortunately, the drug really can cause damage, even though it might be slightly hard for people to see.
A study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that Ativan can disrupt a person’s ability to control his/her muscles, and that same person might find it hard to deal with complicated tasks involving learning and memory. The sedation the pills can cause might be to blame, but the drug also seems to have the capacity to disrupt the brain to such a degree that it cannot handle everyday activities with ease. It’s important to note, too, that the effects of the drug are dependent on the dose people take, meaning that addicts who take extremely high doses of Ativan may be much more impaired than people who just take a few pills each day per the advice of their doctors.
Sedation like this could be detrimental, as it could cause people to perform poorly at work. Unemployment might quickly follow, if the person cannot handle workplace tasks or remember instructions from bosses and peers. Similarly, sedation like this could lead to accidents and injuries, as a lack of muscle control could make walking, biking or driving difficult.
This sedation could also lead to death, particularly if people combine the pills with another sedating substance, including alcohol or prescription painkillers. Mixing and matching in this manner is common, as it allows people to customize their experience and feel intense sensations that might not be possible if only one substance is in play, but the slowed breathing and slowed heart rates that this activity can cause can quickly and effectively lead to death.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some people feel revved up and manic while on Ativan. It’s unclear how often this takes place, but case studies indicate that at least some people experience manic episodes while taking Ativan. People like this might not be at risk for losing their lives due to slow breathing, but they might still encounter serious problems due to:
- Delusions of danger
- Criminal activities
- Law enforcement action
In addition to all of this, people who have Ativan addictions often feel encased in cotton, as though they simply cannot react to the world around them. They’re incapable of expressing real emotions when something horrible happens to a family member, and they might not even be emotionally present when people come to them and ask for help. Their relationships may fall away and break apart, simply because they cannot react authentically due to the drugs they’re taking on a regular basis. Without help, they may become so insulated and so isolated that they feel as though they’re all alone in the world, with no one available to help them. Thoughts of suicide might quickly follow.
Dangers of Recovery
While people who have an Ativan addiction are certainly on a dangerous path, unless they agree to get help and get sober, they may face even more pronounced problems if they attempt a cold-turkey withdrawal process. The changes Ativan produces inside the cells of the brain are so prominent and so severe that removing the drug abruptly can lead to a serious and terrifying withdrawal syndrome. Some people feel unusually stimulated, and those feelings grow and grow until seizures develop. Other people, according to a case report published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, develop symptoms of mania as they attempt a cold-turkey withdrawal. These people might also be at risk of losing their lives.
Thankfully, people don’t have to choose between settling for death due to addiction or dealing with death due to recovery. By enrolling in a formal treatment program that provides supervised withdrawal, people may be able to overcome their addiction issues and slowly transition into a life that doesn’t involve drugs. Often, therapy involves substituting Ativan for another benzodiazepine, and then providing a tapering dosage of drugs until people aren’t taking any at all. But there are a variety of different approaches treatment programs can use in order to start the healing process off right and ensure the best outcomes.
At Black Bear Lodge, for example, we offer a supervised program that allows people to step away from their everyday concerns, so they can really focus on their addictions. Our master’s-level counselors provide the therapeutic support people need in order to understand the root causes of their addictions, and we augment that care by providing a number of innovative treatments, including adventure therapy and art therapy. The help and supervision we provide, as well as assistance from consulting physicians, can ensure that the initial recovery is safe, and that the gains made really stick.
Reading about the recovery process can fill family members with hope, as they may see that addiction really is treatable and that there is hope and help ahead. Even so, it can be difficult for addicted people to think about enrolling in a program like this. They may believe that they simply don’t have a problem, or they may feel as though enrolling in care would damage their reputations and end their professional lives.
Sometimes, hiring an expert can help. An interventionist can develop a structured conversation about addiction, highlighting how the problems usually develop and how they can be successfully addressed. The conversation the professional develops is typically free of emotional attacks and other damaging data. Instead, it’s a supportive, helpful conversation that provides the addicted person with the insight and strength needed in order to enroll in an Ativan addiction treatment program.
If your family would like the help of an interventionist like this, please call. We can connect you with a professional who can plan the talk you must have, and that person might even be willing to help transport the person you love to Black Bear Lodge so Ativan addiction treatment can begin. Please call us to find out more.