Is Ativan addictive?

YES. Ativan is addictive, even in some cases when Ativan is prescribed by a doctor. We review what Ativan is made of and how you get addicted to Ativan here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS



ARTICLE SUMMARY: Ativan is additive. In fact, the main ingredient in Ativan – called lorazepam – is a benzodiazepine that is known to cause physical and psychological dependence.  In addition to reducing anxiety and inducing sleep, benzodiazepines can cause euphoria and, therefore, are subject to abuse as recreational drugs.  This is why Ativan is a federal controlled substance Schedule IV drug: it can be abused or lead to dependence. In large doses, Ativan can get a user “high.”

The Addictive Potential of Ativan

Ativan, like most benzodiazepines, is very addictive. Doctors try to prescribe Ativan for no more than 3 or 4 months because of the well-known habit-forming potential of Ativan. Still, the Controlled Substances Act rates Ativan as a Schedule IV drug, meaning it has relatively low potential for abuse and addiction. But how addictive a drug is doesn’t just depend on its chemical properties; it also depends on how you’re using it.

Snorting Ativan to get high or taking it with other substsances increase chances of drug addiction. The risk of drug problems also increases with higher doses and longer term use.  Further, people with a history of alcoholism or drug abuse or patients with significant personality disorders may want to avoid Ativan altogether. This is because they may be at higher risk for addiction. People who experience depression, psychosis or lung or breathing problems are also warned to avoid the use of Ativan.

The FDA approved label for Ativan suggests that the drug’s dependence potential can be reduced when lorazepam is used at the appropriate dose for short-term treatment of around a few weeks. Further, anxiety or tension associated with the stress of everyday life usually does not require treatment with an anxiolytic like Ativan. For some people, mindfulness practices like meditation and awareness training can help.

How do you get addicted to Ativan?

 In general, those who are taking Ativan to treat a legitimate anxiety disorder or other medical issue are less likely to get addicted to Ativan than people abusing Ativan recreationally. If Ativan is taken in the doses prescribed by a doctor, a dependence on Ativan may develop, but an addiction may not necessarily occur. However, long-term use of Ativan may not be effective. In fact, the PubChem Ativan drug info states that the effectiveness of lorazepam when used for more than 4 months has not been assessed by systematic clinical studies.

Addiction is more likely to occur when you smoke, snort, or inject Ativan or if you otherwise take Ativan other than prescribed. People with a past history of drug or alcohol abuse are also at a greater risk of developing an Ativan addiction. Some of the ways that people consciously choose to abuse Ativan include:

  • chewing Ativan to release the medication immediately
  • crushing Ativan into a powder and snorting it for a quicker high
  • crushing Ativan to dissolve in water and inject intravenously
  • taking Ativan in higher doses than prescribed
  • taking Ativan more frequently than prescribed

Signs of Addiction

It’s true that Ativan addiction and Ativan dependence can be difficult to distinguish from one another. If you take Ativan to cope with everyday stresses and feel you can’t go without it, you may be addicted to Ativan. Other signs of Ativan addiction include:

  1. Continuing Ativan use or abuse even if it has negative consequences.
  2. Craving Ativan and using it compulsively.
  3. Seeking Ativan to get high in order to stimulate the “reward center” of the brain.

Psychoactive Ingredients

Ativan is an anti-anxiety medication that contains lorazepam, a benzodiazepine. Ativan is generally dispensed in tablet or liquid form, both of which are taken by mouth. It works as a strong tranquillizer to the central nervous system. It is so strong, in fact, that the doctor prescription label for Ativan notes that patients should be warned against operating motor vehicles and dangerous machinery while using Ativan. Further, tolerance for alcohol and other depressants is diminished under the influence of lorazepam.

Main Uses

The main ingredient in Ativan, lorazepam, is used to relieve anxiety and also to treat severe seizures, insomnia, and muscle spasms. While Ativan is indicated for the management of anxiety disorders or for the short-term relief of the symptoms of anxiety or anxiety associated with depressive symptoms, prescription guidelines indicate that benzodiazepines like Ativan should be prescribed for short periods only, or for about 2 to 4 weeks max.

Still, people use Ativan to get high. In truth, lorazepam works by slowing brain activity. Main effects of Ativan include:

  • evelate mood
  • induce sleep
  • motor incoordination
  • provide additional energy
  • reduce anxiety from stressful life circumstances
  • sedation

But using Ativan to get high comes at a risk. People often achieve these effects when mixing Ativan with alcohol, opioids, or other drugs. However, taking Ativan with other drugs accents and amplifies depressant effects. So mixing Ativan with alcohol or drugs increases the risk of respiratory depression, coma, and death.

Dependence vs. addiction

Most people who take Ativan long-term will develop a physical dependence on lorazepam, but this isn’t the same thing as an addiction. An Ativan dependence causes you to develop a tolerance to the medication’s effects over time. Dependence causes withdrawal symptoms when you cut back on Ativan doses or abruptly stop taking Ativan for good. Common withdrawal symptoms of Ativan include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • convulsions/seizures
  • depersonalization
  • depression
  • derealization
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • dysphoria
  • hallucinations/delirium
  • headache
  • hyperacusis
  • hypersensitivity to light, noise, and
  • insomnia
  • involuntary movements
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • myalgia
  • nausea
  • numbness/tingling of extremities
  • palpitations
  • physical contact/perceptual changes
  • rebound phenomena
  • restlessness
  • sweating
  • tension
  • tremor
  • vomiting

Ativan addiction may manifest these same symptoms, but MUST also involves a psychological dependence on Ativan. An Ativan addict will experience strong cravings for the drug and compulsively uses lorazepam, despite negative consequences to social, work and home life.

Do I Have a Problem?

Non-medical use of Ativan is the first indicator of a problem. Using drugs to get high or for euphoric effect is an indicator that you could be addicted. Also, when you use Ativan OTHER THAN PRESCRIBED, this indicates a drug problem. Addiction is characterized by four specific (psychological) symptoms.

1. Drug craving.

2. Obsessive or compulsive thinking about a drug.

3. Continued drug use despite negative consequences to home, social, or work life.

4. Loss of control of drug use.

If you have a problem with Ativan, you are not alone. There are ways that you can quit safely, and live a drug-free life!

What Next?

If you think you’ve got a problem with Ativan, you probably do.

In these cases, we recommend that you speak with a trusted person: a doctor, a friend, or a partner. Your next step should be diagnosis. Your family doctor can provide you with a brief screening for addiction, or you can proceed directly to any of the following:

  • A licensed  addiction counselor, psychologist, or clinical therapist.
  • An addiction treatment center.
  • A psychiatrist.
  • A clinical social worker.

Any of these behavioral healthcare professionals can help you figure out the exact nature and severity of the problem…and chart a course for recovery.

REMEMBER: You are not alone!

Ativan addiction potential questions

Do you still have questions about Ativan addiction potential? Please leave them here. We are happy to help answer your questions personally and promptly. If we do not know the answer to your particular question, we will refer you to someone who does.

Reference Sources: Medline Plus: Lorazepam
Treatment for Abuse of Anti-Anxiety Drugs Tripled Over 10 Years
DEA – Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines
Abuse and Dependence Liability of Benzodiazepine-Type Drugs: GABAA Receptor Modulation and Beyond
Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2008 Jul; 90(1): 74–89.
Published online 2008 Jan 12. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2008.01.001  
Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse
Yale J Biol Med. 2015 Sep; 88(3): 247–256.
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the Texas Healt...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.


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  1. I am 75 and have used Xanax .2 for over 30 years. I only take it for anxiety and that’s on a now and then basis. i might go weeks without taking any and at times take one every day for a week if under some kind of duress. I have not needed to take a higher dose all these years but a few times would take .5 when I’m very anxious. I get a prescription for 30 and can go 4-5 months before needing a refill. I now have a new Doctor in his 40’s and he is against folks taking tranquilizers because of dependency ….huh at my age! Wouldn’t you think after all these years If depended I would need higher dosage and need a daily dose?!?! What are your thoughts…..

    1. Hi Linda. It seems to me that you are using Xanax only as needed. If you refill your medication only once in 4-5 months, then you are neither dependent not addicted to Xanax. I suggest that you speak with your doctor about your medical history, and explain him/her your situation and Xanax use.

  2. I have a profound high range hearing loss so hearing aids offer limited support.
    I have learned to use my lip reading skills to support my ability to communicate since I only hear vowel sounds
    I have been using 5 mg Ativan for 10 years because my brain is always running on high. I have tried many other options with no luck.
    Once I get to sleep even if I wake during the night I can get right back to sleep and keep an eight hour sleep schedule.
    I’m not sure if I am somehow damaging myself and have concerns

    1. Hi Jan. If you have questions about addiction treatment and your options, immediate assistance is available. Call our free hotline to speak with a trusted treatment consultant.

  3. Hello Harold. Yes, Ativan dependency can develop after daily use of the CNS depressant after a couple of weeks or more; in fact, it’s not recommended for more than 4 months usage at a time. Speak with your pharmacist for a full picture of the risks and your concerns about physical dependence. Addiction occurs when you start to crave the drug, so be on the lookout for this psychological symptom.

  4. Hello Does. This is a question for your prescribing doctor or pharmacist, who have much more information about your personal history and medical situation.

  5. Does 0.5 mg twice a day will get dependence to Ativan if taken occasionally. Only????? And for how long I am taking to get dependence on 0.5 mg. says:

    Does 0.5mg taken twice a day for my spastic leg will get dependence if taken only occasionally and for how long taking it before getting dependent on Ativan….thanks

  6. Hello Deloris. It’s possible that there is confusion with the term “addictive”. Addicts crave drugs for their effects. While the line can get a little blurry in terms of medicine vs. harm…it’s possible that you didn’t develop physical dependence on Ativan and that Ativan may help you relax enough to fall asleep. But still, you may not want to depend on Ativan in order to fall asleep. If you were to return to daily doses of Ativan, you would develop a reliance on it for sleep. Instead, perhaps lifestyle changes can help.

    Sleep is a very misunderstood human behavior. It is a time for rest and inspiration. Maybe you can look into different ways to manage sleeping problems so that you can integrate the feelings of anxiety, fear, or resentment that keep you awake at night. A sleep or meditation course can help. I benefited from a sleep course offered by the Institute of Applied Meditation this winter. It’s really helpful!

    To learn more about why doctors do not prescribe 1 mg Ativan for sleep, consult with the doctor who would NOT prescribe it to you, or ask a local pharmacist.

  7. My doctor gave me 1mg Ativan for sleep aid and I took it for years.
    I move to FL and doctors treated me as a drug addict when I asked for perscription so I quit cold turkey with no side effects. Do you consider 1mg at bedtime addictive? I still have trouble sleeping and have found nothing to help me sleep. I do not want sleeping pills.
    I woke with no sleeping pill problems with the ativan . What is the reason for not being able to use 1mg for sleep help?

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