Can You OD on Ativan?

The fast-paced lifestyles of the 21st century have created a prime breeding ground for stress and anxiety disorders to abound. Prescription remedies like Ativan can help, but only for so long. Unfortunately, stopping Ativan use can be difficult once the drug’s effects start to override your brain’s normal functions. At this point, it’s only a matter of time before you find out the answer to the question, “can you OD on Ativan.”

Ativan’s Intended & Unintended Effects

As one of the most often prescribed benzodiazepine drugs, Ativan can act as a tranquilizer, a sedative, and an anti-anxiety medication, treating a range of conditions, including insomnia, seizures, anxiety, and panic attacks. While Ativan works well at what it does, it should only be used on a short-term basis and no longer than four weeks. Unfortunately, its effects in the brain make it difficult to stop taking it.

Ativan works by increasing GABA production in the brain and central nervous system (CNS). GABA is a key neurotransmitter chemical that reduces brain activity, which accounts for its ability to promote sleep, reduce anxiety, and decrease seizure activity. Since it’s capable of altering brain chemical activity, Ativan can create a state of physical dependency, meaning the brain starts to need the drug’s effect to function normally. The longer you use this drug the higher your risk of developing a physical dependency. These developments set the stage for Ativan overdose to happen.

Can You OD on Ativan?

Ativan’s ability to force the release of GABA triggers the brain’s “auto-adjust” mechanism. The cells that secrete GABA will become less sensitive to Ativan’s effects. When this happens, a larger dose must be taken in order to experience the desired effects of the drug. The brain will continue to adjust its sensitivity to Ativan with each dosage increase. These developments place you at an increased risk of over-sedation and also overdose. An overdose on Ativan won’t necessarily be fatal as long as medical assistance is provided in a timely manner.

Factors That Increase Your Risk of Overdose

When asking “can you overdose on Ativan,” it helps to keep in mind that each person’s physical makeup responds differently to the drug. The likelihood of overdose varies depending on a range of factors, including:

  • Age – older adults face a higher risk of Ativan overdose
  • Overall health – medical problems that compromise the body’s ability to metabolize the Ativan can place you at higher risk
  • Tolerance – based on whether or not you have a past history of taking benzodiazepines

Dosage Amount

Can you OD on Ativan can be answered in two ways: lethal overdose vs non-lethal overdose. The lethal overdose amount is purely theoretical and based on a measurement known as the L50 value. An LD50 value is derived from laboratory tests performed on mice where 50 percent of the mice died at a certain dosage amount. Ativan’s L50 value equals 1,850 milligrams per kilogram of weight. Since a kilogram equals just a little over two pounds, an adult human would have to take several thousand to be at risk of a fatal overdose.

For non-lethal dosage amounts, the rules are a little different. The maximum dose of Ativan prescribed by a doctor caps off at 10 milligrams per day. The commonly prescribed dose averages around six milligrams. When taken as prescribed, there’s no risk of overdose. However, anything over 10 milligrams a day can cause a non-fatal overdose event.

Using Ativan with Other CNS Depressants

Since Ativan’s effects on GABA production slow chemical activities in the brain and CNS, Ativan acts as a central nervous system depressant. When taken with another CNS depressant, Ativan’s slowing effects increase considerably and so does the risk of overdose. Substances like opioids, tricyclic antidepressants, antihistamines, muscle relaxers, and alcohol fall in the CNS depressant category. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, between 2005 and 2011, nearly one million emergency department visits resulted from Ativan-opioid and Ativan-alcohol abuse. In effect, the risk of Ativan overdose increases 24 to 55 percent when mixing benzodiazepines like Ativan with opioids or alcohol.

Ativan Abuse & Addiction

Once physical dependence on Ativan takes hold, an ongoing cycle of drug abuse is likely to develop in the absence of rehab treatment help. Increasing tolerance levels will result as the brain becomes less sensitive to the drug’s effects. After a certain point, Ativan’s effects start to fail, causing rebound effects to develop.

Rebound effects are, basically, an intensified version of the original symptoms that prompted Ativan treatment. So if you’re taking Ativan for anxiety or panic attacks, rebound effects will cause these symptoms to get worse. These conditions make it that much easier to increase your dosage levels. Once you exceed the 10 milligrams per day threshold, the risk of overdose looms larger and larger.

Addiction differs from physical dependence in that drug use becomes a compulsive behavior. Addiction develops as Ativan gradually changes the brain’s chemical system, which ultimately changes how the brain works. In the process, psychological dependence on Ativan begins to drive compulsive drug use. At this stage, Ativan overdose is almost all but certain.

Signs of Ativan Overdose

  • Problems breathing or shallow breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Bluish fingernails
  • Excess sweating
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Comatose-like behavior
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss

Keep in mind that a person can overdose on Ativan and still appear “somewhat” normal. Being able to spot signs of overdose early on can help avoid a more serious outcome. Ultimately, if someone is asking “can you OD on Ativan,” drug abuse or even addiction is likely an issue. The sad truth is Ativan’s hold on the mind and body only gets stronger with time. Ativan rehab treatment can help put an end to this miserable cycle of abuse and addiction. If you or someone you know struggles with Ativan abuse or addiction, it may be time to consider getting needed treatment help.

Sources –

  • tmedweb.tulane.edu – Benzodiazepine Pharmacology Overview
  • rugbank.ca – Lorazepam
  • samhsa.gov – Benzodiazepines in Combination with Opioid Pain Relievers or Alcohol: Greater Risk of More Serious ED Visit Outcomes

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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