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Lorazepam, the generic name for Ativan, is a prescription drug that impacts the central nervous system to produce a calming effect. If your doctor has recently prescribed or recommended lorazepam, here’s what you need to know about this medication.


What is Lorazepam?

Lorazepam is a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, as well as certain seizure disorders. In some cases, it is also prescribed to individuals who have trouble sleeping. Doctors might also prescribe it to treat nausea and vomiting due to alcohol withdrawal or chemotherapy.

Lorazepam is typically a tablet, although it may also come as a liquid. Since lorazepam is habit-forming, it is important to only take the drug only exactly as prescribed by a doctor. Taking the drug for longer than a period of four months can increase the risk of addiction. 


How Lorazepam Affects the Mind

Like other benzodiazepines, lorazepam works by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a natural amino acid found in the body that works as a neurotransmitter.

In most cases, lorazepam has a calming effect on the mind by slowing certain activities in the brain. That’s what allows it to alleviate anxiety symptoms and treat specific seizure disorders.

However, other mental health and cognitive effects can also occur, mainly in the form of adverse side effects. These can include:

  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory issues
  • Sedation
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you experience any of these side effects, it’s important to seek medical attention. 


How Lorazepam Affects the Body

Along with impacts on the brain, lorazepam also affects the body. Side effects range from mild to severe and might include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Digestive issues (constipation)
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Sexual dysfunction (decreased desire, trouble reaching orgasm, erectile dysfunction)
  • General weakness
  • Appetite changes

Even more serious side effects might include yellowing of the skin or eyes, an irregular heartbeat, fever or skin rash. If you experience any of these conditions, call your doctor immediately. 


Risks of Taking Lorazepam

Although lorazepam is considered one of the safest benzodiazepine drugs on the market, there are still some risks. Beyond the side effects listed above, lorazepam can lead to liver or kidney problems, respiratory distress or seizures. Some of these conditions can be fatal. People with the following health conditions below should avoid taking lorazepam:

  • Allergy to other benzodiazepines (including alprazolam, diazepam, Klonopin, Valium, Xanax, and others)
  • Myasthenia gravis (an autoimmune disorder)
  • Narrow-angle glaucoma
  • Seizure disorders
  • Respiratory insufficiency (such as COPD or sleep apnea)

Pregnant women should also stop (under the guidance of a doctor) or reconsider taking lorazepam, as it can cause complications. These might include birth defects or even fatal withdrawal symptoms in the newborn. The elderly may experience the drug differently than the general population. For example, side effects may include increased anxiety.

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What to Avoid While Taking Lorazepam

Lorazepam can interact with a number of drugs in a negative way. It’s therefore important to tell your doctor about any other medications you take or any history of substance use. Opioids, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, alcohol, and marijuana can depress the respiratory system, causing drowsiness while slowing your breathing. Unless directed by your doctor, you should also avoid taking lorazepam with other antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Additionally, it is best to avoid any medication – prescription or over-the-counter – that lists drowsiness as a side effect.


Lorazepam Addiction 

Although lorazepam is less habit-forming than alternative medications for anxiety, it can indeed be habit-forming. As a result, anyone with a history of drug addiction or abuse should be cautious if taking the medication. 

Always take your prescription only as prescribed, and be mindful that lorazepam is used only for short-term relief. As mentioned, a typical prescription should last no longer than four months. If you take lorazepam long-term, you risk becoming physically dependent. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other benzodiazepines and may include headache, sweating, nausea and tremors. In rare cases, you may experience seizures.  

If you or a loved one has experienced addiction to lorazepam or any other benzodiazepine, you are not alone. It can often be difficult to recognize addiction to prescription medications, particularly if they have been prescribed long-term. Sprout offers nurturing support for prescription drug addiction with the resources to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and guidance to help you manage your co-occurring anxiety. Call us at the number below to learn how you can break free from prescription drug addiction. 

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.