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Ativan (Lorazepam)

An Overview of Ativan for Panic Disorder

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Updated May 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Ativan is a type of anti-anxiety medication often used to treat panic disorder.

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Anti-anxiety drugs are one of the most frequently prescribed medications for panic disorder. Ativan (lorazepam) is a common type of anti-anxiety medication used for the treatment of panic disorder and other conditions.

What is Ativan?

Ativan is the trademark name for the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam, a medication that is classified as a benzodiazepine. Due to their calming and relaxing effect, benzodiazepines are also often referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers. Other common benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Valium (diazepam). Ativan and these other anti-anxiety medications can help lower the intensity of panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms.

Ativan is often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia). It can be used to treat anxiety associated with depression or bipolar disorder.

Ativan is also used for other medical purposes, including epilepsy, seizures, sleep disturbances, alcohol withdrawal, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, restless legs syndrome, and other conditions.

How Does Ativan Treat Panic Disorder?

Neurotransmitters in the brain, known as gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABA), are partly responsible for regulating sleep and feelings of relaxation and anxiety. Ativan works to affect these receptors and slow down the central nervous system (CNS). This action reduces excess agitation and excitement in the brain, inducing a calming and relaxing effect. Through slowing down the CNS, Ativan is also able to help lessen the intensity of anxiety and panic attacks.

Ativan works quickly to elicit a sedating effect, making it an effective solution to temporarily managing panic symptoms. Ativan enters your system relatively rapidly and lasts a few hours. This means that Ativan may need to be taken a few times a day to control your anxiety and other symptoms.

What Are the Side Effects of Ativan?

Some of the most common side effects of Ativan include:
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Lack of coordination or unsteadiness
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Blurred vision

These side effects typically will lessen or go away over time. Consult your doctor if side effects worsen or become unmanageable.

Is Ativan Addictive?

Ativan, along with all benzodiazepines, is classified as a controlled substance. It has the potential to be abused, leading to a physical and/or psychological dependence. If dependence develops, it can be extremely difficult for a person to discontinue Ativan, as withdrawal symptoms may occur. Typical withdrawal symptoms include sleep disturbances, irritability, increased nervousness, and muscle cramps.

Your doctor will likely discuss strategies to minimize the risk for addiction issues. Never attempt to stop your medication on your own. Should you decide to discontinue your prescription, your prescribing doctor will assist you in gradually decreasing your dosage.

What Other Precautions Are There to Taking Ativan?

There are several precautions to consider when taking Ativan:

Medical History: Caution should be taken if you have a history of certain medical conditions. Before taking Ativan, consult your doctor if you have been diagnosed with these or any other medical condition:

Drug Interactions: Ativan depresses the central nervous system (CNS). Alcohol and certain medications that have a similar effect on the CNS should be avoided. Make certain that your doctor is up-to-date on all of your current prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Drowsiness and Dizziness: Feeling tired and lightheaded are common side effects of Ativan. Until you are used to how this medication affects you, caution should be taken while driving or performing other tasks that require your full attention and concentration.

Pregnancy and Nursing: It is possible for Ativan to be passed to a child during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about the risk of using Ativan while pregnant or nursing.

Older Adults: The side effects of Ativan are often more noticeable to older adults. To limit these effects, your doctor may need to adjust your dosage.

Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide a general overview of the use of Ativan for panic disorder. This summary does not outline every possibility, such as potential side effects, outcomes, complications, or precautions and contraindications associated with taking Ativan. Any questions or concerns you may have about your prescription should be addressed with your doctor or pharmacist.

Sources:

Batelaan, N. M., Van BalkomStein, A. J., and Stein, D. (2012). Evidence-based Pharmacotherapy of Panic Disorder: An Update. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 15, 403-415.

Hoffman, E. J. & Mathew, S. J. (2008). Anxiety Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of Pharmacotherapies. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 75, 248–262.

Silverman, Harold M. (2010). The Pill Book. 14th ed. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

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