Ativan is a sedative anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety medication, with effects similar to those of other drugs in its class, such as Valium and Xanax. Ativan is the trade name for lorazepam, which is part of a class of drug called “benzodiazepines” (also known as “benzos”). These drugs work to dampen excitatory brain signaling—essentially depressing the nervous system and sedating the user.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these drugs can lead to addiction just like many other abused substances, including the opioids. Aside from being used to treat anxiety disorders, they are also useful in managing the effects of acute alcohol withdrawal. They are effective in this capacity because they share many similar effects with alcohol, which may be why someone with a history of alcohol abuse has a higher chance of abusing Ativan (Licata & Rowlett, 2008). The sedative effects of each separate substance are increased when combining the two, making concurrent alcohol and Ativan abuse extremely dangerous. Without question, using alcohol and Ativan together increases the risk for an overdose.
Alcohol and Ativan Facts
- Both are central nervous system depressants, acting in concert to slow down various physical and neural processes.
- Users can quickly develop tolerance to the effects of the drugs.
- A physiologic substance dependency may also quickly develop to both substances.
- The combination of both increases the risk of fatal outcomes.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol with Ativan
Abusers of alcohol and benzodiazepines have a limited capacity to judge dangerous situations around them—presenting a danger to themselves and others. When combining the two, the user can become extremely intoxicated, and it should be clear that something is wrong to both the user and to those observing the combined effects.
Ativan works by modulating GABA neurotransmission in the brain in order to provide anxiety relief. Alcohol acts on similar neural receptor sites as benzodiazepines, and influences overlapping neurotransmitter activity, which is why it commonly causes sedation and anxiety relief as well. When the two substances are combined, the sedation effects are enhanced, increasing drowsiness and decreasing motor skills. The combined effects of alcohol and benzodiazepine drugs are quite similar across the range of different specific benzos, therefore the signs and symptoms of someone who has mixed Ativan and alcohol will be quite similar to someone mixing Xanax and alcohol.
Users will have clouded thoughts and may behave similarly to someone who is drunk. It should also be noted that Ativan belongs to the same class of drug as the so-called date rape drug flunitrazepam—aka, Rohypnol. Both substances depress the central nervous and respiratory systems, leading to lower functioning and lowered inhibitions.
Abusers have limited capacity to judge dangerous situations around them and are a danger to themselves and others. When combining the two, the user can become extremely intoxicated, and it should be clear that something is wrong to both the user and to those observing the combined effects. Signs of concurrent alcohol and Ativan abuse include:
- Memory impairment.
- Intense drowsiness.
- Coordination problems.
- Slurred speech.
- Blurred vision.
- Unsteady gait.
The onset of withdrawal symptoms when this combination of substances hasn’t been used for a certain time could be another signal of concurrent abuse. Some withdrawal symptoms that result following prolonged alcohol and Ativan abuse are as follows:
- Rapid heart rate.
- Hand tremors.
Alcohol and Ativan can exert similar effects on the body. Abuse of either drug alone can lead to serious injury and death. Combined, the risks grow exponentially.
Further, a review of the literature on benzodiazepines like Ativan was published in the Journal for Clinical Psychiatry. It found that long-term use of these drug can disrupt the brain’s normal functioning permanently. Short-term, Ativan and other benzodiazepines affect the memory and ability to think clearly. The physical effects of overdosing on alcohol and Ativan are even more serious. Problems that may be caused by the concurrent use of alcohol and Ativan include:
- Increased risk of accidents, violence, and suicide.
- Liver cancer.
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Irregular heart beat.
- Mouth and throat cancer.
- Breast cancer.
- Dangerously low breathing.
- Lowered heart rate.
- Increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease .
Treatment for Co-occurring Alcohol and Ativan Addiction
Alcohol and Ativan abuse, while dangerous, is treatable. As stated, withdrawal from alcohol and Ativan can be life-threatening, which is why it is highly recommended that you receive medically-supervised detoxification. The body is allowed to remove the harmful substances from your system, while access to pharmaceutical intervention for safety and comfort is provided, should it be required.
Various formal treatment options for poly-substance abuse include:
- Inpatient treatment: You reside at the rehab center for a set period of time and receive comprehensive care that typically include an intake evaluation, monitored detoxification, individual therapy, group counseling, and aftercare planning. Residential or inpatient treatment allows you to remove yourself from the toxic situation in your life and focus solely on your recovery without the added stress of triggers.
- Outpatient treatment: You live at home while you receive treatment that works with your schedule. Outpatient treatment is known to be a highly effective recovery option for those who have a good social support network in place, who demonstrate insight into their disease, and show predicted compliance with the treatment program (Barthwell and Brown, 2009). On average, it is much less expensive than inpatient treatment and may be a valuable option for those who have home, school, or work responsibilities.
- 12-step programs: Fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous and Pills Anonymous host meetings that are free to join and provide a safe, supportive environment in which members can listen to one another and share experiences. They typically have a sponsorship program in which you choose a fellow member as your confidant throughout the recovery process.
- Individual therapy: You will meet one-on-one with a therapist who will uncover the underlying reasons for your Ativan and alcohol addiction and teach positive coping skills to use in the presence of triggers.
- Group counseling: A certified mental health professional facilitates a group counseling session in which patients share their experiences with others and develop useful coping skills.
Statistics for Alcohol and Ativan
- Over a 13-year period (between 2001 and 2014), the amount of benzodiazepine deaths multiplied by 5, according to NIDA.
- The Treatment Episode Data Set reports that most people who are treated for benzo abuse are young adult white men, and that 95% of those entering benzodiazepine treatment report co-occurring substance abuse.
- The amount of treatment admissions for benzodiazepine addiction almost tripled between 1998 and 2008, while overall treatment admissions only rose 11%.
NIDA reports that:
- Nearly 84% of young adults (ages 18 to 25) have consumed alcohol.
- About twice as many men than women engage in binge and heavy drinking.
- More than half a million emergency room visits in 2009 involved alcohol, and alcohol was most frequently used with painkillers, sedatives or stimulants.
Teen Drinking and Ativan Abuse
Teens may be particularly vulnerable to benzodiazepine abuse because of the misconception that prescription drugs are safe since they are legal. They may be able to obtain these prescription sedatives fairly easily if they are present in the family household or their friends have access.
Adolescents may be unaware of the dangers of abusing these central nervous system depressants, especially while drinking.
NIDA reports that an estimated 7% of high school seniors have abused prescription depressants and an estimated 64% have reported drinking alcohol. While this may seem alarming, current alcohol use and binge drinking by underage people has declined since 2001.
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