In the fight against anxiety, Ativan plays a key role. This benzodiazepine medication can amend chemical imbalances in the brain, providing temporary relief from the distressing symptoms experienced by people who have anxiety disorders. The drug is powerful, but it’s also not considered benign as it can cause chemical changes within the brain that could lead to addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, benzodiazepine abuse is relatively rare, appearing in only 3.2 percent of all substance abuse admissions in 2008, but those who do have this addiction will likely need targeted help in order to heal.
In order to understand why Ativan, also known by the generic name lorazepam, can be so addictive and why therapy might take time to take hold, it pays to spend a little time explaining how the drug works and what it’s designed to do. In essence, Ativan works like a sedative, allowing the brain to fire at a slower pace. People who have anxiety disorders often have brain cells that are flooded with chemicals and information, and they cannot keep up with all of the information coming in.
While Ativan can soothe these cells, it can also cause a spike in pleasurable chemicals within the brain, allowing people to feel a tiny boost of euphoria. This can be important to people dealing with anxiety, as happy feelings might be hard for them to generate in any other way, but the boost of these feel-good chemicals can also be incredibly addictive. In time, people who take Ativan on a regular basis may find that they need to take higher doses of the drug in order to feel the same sensation, and they may be unable to feel joy without Ativan. The drug has hijacked the brain’s pleasure pathway, and compulsive use soon follows.There is some evidence that Ativan is adept at causing these sorts of addictive changes. In one study of the issue, published in the journal Behavioral Pharmacology, researchers gave people a choice of lorazepam or buspirone, another anti-anxiety medication that is not a benzodiazepine. At the end of this study, eight out of nine participants reported a preference for lorazepam over buspirone, and they reported high scores of the drug’s “likability.” In essence, people in this study demonstrated how enjoyable this drug is on a recreational basis and how likely they’d be to take it again. It’s easy to see how people might become addicted to a drug like this.
The first step toward healing might be the most difficult for people with an Ativan addiction: They’ll need to stop using the drug. As mentioned, Ativan can cause a boost of pleasurable signals, and removing the drug from the person’s system can lead to a crushing sense of depression. In addition, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who are going through withdrawal from benzodiazepines can experience other symptoms, including:
- Ringing in the ears
- Involuntary muscle movements
- Changes in perception
These symptoms may disappear on their own in some people but some develop serious complications as they withdraw from drugs, and they might even develop seizures as their bodies adjust. These symptoms can be so frightening that some people come to believe that they cannot survive without drugs, and they may be caught in a cycle of addiction as a result. A formal detoxification program, complete with consulting physicians, can be helpful, as people will have access to medications and therapy that could ease symptoms as their bodies adjust to the lack of drugs. People may be less likely to return to Ativan when the withdrawal process is relatively painless.
While some people develop Ativan addictions as standalone conditions, others combine Ativan with other addictive drugs and they develop complicated poly-drug addictions. In a study of this issue, published in Addiction, researchers found that 44 percent of people who entered a treatment facility for benzodiazepine addiction were also abusing other substances, which seems to suggest that the practice is relatively common.
People with addictions to multiple drugs can recover, but they may need intensive therapies from consulting doctors during the detox process to ensure that they adjust safely. For example, people who take opioid medications, including Vicodin and OxyContin, may need replacement medications during detox, to ensure that they don’t return to drug use. Other addictive drugs might also require targeted medications like this as well.
Dealing With Anxiety
When detox is complete, it’s time to explore the root causes of the addiction. For people who have been abusing Ativan, these discussions may involve anxiety. The underlying mental health issue that caused the doctor to prescribe Ativan will still be there, even when the abuse is no longer taking place, and people will need to learn how to deal with those anxious feelings without resorting to drugs. Therapy can be vital in this effort.
Therapists might use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to help their clients deal with anxiety. Here, people are encouraged to think about the triggers that might cause feelings of anxiety, and they’re asked to come up with tools they can use to handle those feelings when they appear. People might also be asked to perform homework and study anxiety between sessions, providing them with the opportunity to learn more about the condition and how others have handled it in the past. People may feel empowered for the first time, and the urge to use drugs to numb feelings may disappear. In a study of the efficacy of this type of therapy in the fight against addiction, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that this form of therapy was superior to other types of therapy, and it was associated with long-term gains. People who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might benefit from a specialized treatment in which they’re asked to talk about the event that brings them pain, and perhaps even revisit the site where the original event took place. The therapist controls these interactions, making sure that the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed or upset by anything that’s happening, but the person is asked to face these fears and discover that the memory no longer has the power to cause current distress. For some people with PTSD, this can be an intensely powerful way to get rid of feelings of anxiety for good.
Mindfulness techniques might also be helpful. People with anxiety and addictions might be accustomed to reaching for a pill when destructive thoughts appear, and this can be a strong habit that’s hard to break. Mindfulness therapy allows people to simply accept their feelings, no matter what they might be, without choosing to label them or correct them. Instead of medicating, the goal is to experience those thoughts without feeling distress. This can be a powerful tool people can use in their recovery.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and mindfulness therapy can also be helpful in dealing with the cravings an addiction can cause, and a treatment program might also augment these therapies with other options that are specifically tailored to addiction issues. For example, people might be asked to participate in support group meetings.
Here, they can:
- Meet other people who have a similar addiction
- Support people new to recovery
- Obtain support from senior members, who may also act as role models
- Discuss their struggles, hopes and dreams
- Learn how others have dealt with their addictions
Support group meetings can provide a continuity of care, as people can continue to attend meetings in the community, even when their formal treatment programs have ended. These meetings are often free, and no registration is required. Anytime a person needs help, a meeting might be right around the corner.
Addiction treatment programs aren’t only about therapy, medications and talking. Programs might also provide opportunities for clients to explore the outdoors, create art, write plays or interact with therapy animals. All of these exercises could be helpful in the fight against Ativan addiction as they provide people with an opportunity to develop new hobbies, express their creativity and find joy in a life that doesn’t include the abuse of drugs. This is the kind of life the person will need to build moving forward, and that work can begin in a formal treatment program for addiction.
Admitting that Ativan addiction is an issue can be difficult for anyone, and for people who developed an addiction due to a diagnosed mental illness, the process may be even more complicated. Once the issue is out in the open, however, healing really can take place. We’d like to help you to get started.
At Michael’s House, we provide structured treatment programs for people who have both Ativan addiction issues and mental health concerns. We treat the whole person, not just the addiction, and we work hard to ensure long-term success for our clients. We’d like to give you more information about our Ativan addiction programs and help you to start the enrollment process. Just call our toll-free line to find out more.
Speak with an Admissions Coordinator 760-548-4032