In 2020, Health Canada updated its guidelines for benzodiazepine labelling. The organization’s goal was to reduce the problematic use of benzodiazepines (“benzos”) and prevent addiction and overdose.
This update happened due to increasing concerns about polysubstance abuse. Polysubstance abuse occurs when someone misuses two or more types of substances, such as alcohol and benzos like Ativan (lorazepam). Sadly, abusing drugs like Ativan and alcohol causes most benzo-related fatalities. Why? This guide will explore the risks of taking these substances together, so keep reading to learn more.
Table of Contents
What Is Ativan?
Ativan is a brand-name benzodiazepine doctors prescribe to treat anxiety and insomnia. It is also an effective treatment for chemotherapy-related nausea, vomiting and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The active ingredient in Ativan is lorazepam. Lorazepam is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning it reduces activity in the brain. The aim of using this substance is to help people relax.
Other brand-name drugs that contain lorazepam include Lorazepam Intensol and Loreev XR. People can only access these drugs and Ativan with a valid doctor’s prescription.
Ativan Side Effects
Ativan is an anxiolytic, meaning it can reduce anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation. However, like many drugs, lorazepam-containing medication also causes side effects.
Common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, and weakness. Rarer but more serious symptoms of using Ativan that require a trip to the doctor’s office may include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Mood shifts
- Visual disturbances
Benzodiazepines like Ativan also present the risk of addiction. Using this substance according to a doctor’s prescription is crucial to avoid this risk. Also, avoid using lorazepam with alcohol to lower the risk of addiction and overdose.
Mixing Ativan and Alcohol
Mixing Ativan and alcohol can be dangerous because they are both CNS depressants. Drinking alcohol while on drugs containing lorazepam may worsen Ativan’s side effects and increase the risk of addiction or overdose.
The risk of taking these substances together is even higher in certain groups. Older adults are less able to process lorazepam and alcohol. As such, they may experience more severe side effects when mixing these two substances.
Women are also prone to more serious symptoms when using benzos and alcohol together. However, even people outside these two groups should avoid combining Ativan and alcohol.
Why Do People Mix Ativan and Alcohol?
People mix Ativan and alcohol for many reasons, but the most common ones are because they are addicted to Ativan or alcohol and to get high. Some people may also accidentally combine these substances if they do not know the risks.
People in the first group may have an alcohol addiction. When they receive a prescription for Ativan, they cannot stop drinking. They continue to drink while taking their new medication.
Other people may become addicted to their Ativan prescription. Or they may develop a benzo addiction from illegally using someone else’s prescription. They may then consume alcohol recreationally while abusing this drug.
Still, others purposefully combine Ativan and alcohol to get high. Alcohol and lorazepam cause euphoria due to their interaction with the brain’s dopamine reward system. The interaction leads to a feel-good effect, which may eventually result in addiction.
Ativan and Alcohol Reactions
As mentioned, Ativan and alcohol are both CNS depressants. They each cause sedation on their own. Combined, these substances can increase this effect, leading to potential side effects.
Blackouts are temporary losses of memory. They can occur in people who drink to excess. This symptom can also happen after taking high doses of benzos like Ativan.
This phenomenon occurs when substance use blocks the brain’s ability to consolidate memories. Specifically, the brain fails to store short-term memories as long-term ones. The person may never restore these lost memories.
Alcohol and benzos can each cause this effect alone. However, the risk of blackouts increases when abusing these substances together.
Increased Risk of Injury
Blacking out from drug or alcohol use (or both) can significantly increase someone’s risk of accidental injury. Yet, even if someone does not blackout from Ativan and alcohol abuse, they may still get injured.
As mentioned, Ativan and alcohol can both cause drowsiness. When combined, these substances may impair someone’s coordination, increasing the risk of falls, driving accidents, and even brain damage.
Slow or Stopped Breathing
One of the central nervous system’s primary functions is to regulate vitals, including respiration. Alcohol and Ativan reduce CNS activity. It should be no wonder combining these substances can impact breathing rates.
Specifically, taking benzos with alcohol can slow down breathing. When someone uses large amounts of these substances, they may even stop breathing altogether, which could result in a coma or even death.
Slowed Heart Rate
Another vital sign the CNS regulates is heart rate. Excessive alcohol and Ativan use can disrupt the messages between the CNS and the heart. The result may be hypotension or bradycardia.
Hypotension is the medical term for low blood pressure. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness, fainting, and death. Meanwhile, bradycardia is the medical term for low heart rate, which can lead to heart attack or heart failure.
Ativan for Alcohol Withdrawal
People should never use alcohol and Ativan or any other benzodiazepine together. With this being the case, it often surprises people to learn that doctors will prescribe Ativan for alcohol withdrawals.
Withdrawal symptoms are the opposite of a substance’s normal effects. For example, alcohol causes less CNS activity and sedation. Meanwhile, withdrawing from alcohol leads to increased CNS activity, which may cause:
The only way to reduce these symptoms is to suppress the CNS again. Many people resort back to drinking to eliminate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Another option is to take another CNS depressant, such as benzodiazepines.
People can only access benzos like lorazepam for alcohol withdrawal at an inpatient treatment facility. Patients need a prescription and medical supervision since benzos can be addictive when used improperly.
Lorazepam is one of the most commonly prescribed benzos for alcohol detox. Along with diazepam and chlordiazepoxide, lorazepam has significant research backing its benefits.
This benzo works best for alcoholics in certain groups. Older adults and people with lung disease are among them. People with a high risk of sedation-related complications are also more likely to receive Ativan for alcohol withdrawals.
Ativan and other benzos like it can make recovering from alcoholism much easier. People who want to access this drug for withdrawal management can enrol in an inpatient detox programme like the one at Simcoe.
Side Effects of Mixing Ativan and Alcohol
The reactions we listed above are not the only potential side effects of drinking on Ativan. Abusing benzos and alcohol can increase the risk of getting addicted to either substance.
As mentioned, benzos and alcohol activate the brain’s dopamine reward centre. Activating this reward system reinforces the use of these substances. The brain then craves the substances, which can lead to addiction.
When someone becomes addicted, it can be extremely difficult to quit. People addicted to Ativan, alcohol, or both experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.
However, if someone does not quit using alcohol and Ativan, the risk of overdose increases. An overdose occurs when someone uses too much of a substance. The side effects of the drug(s) become life-threatening.
21.4% of people who die from benzodiazepine use had alcohol in their system at the time of death. People can die from asphyxiation if their breathing rate slows or cardiovascular issues due to hypotension or bradycardia.
Even when Ativan and alcohol abuse does not become fatal, it can lead to devastating long-term symptoms. We will talk more about the long-term effects of abusing these substances next.
Long-Term Effects of Mixing Ativan and Alcohol
Long-term abuse of alcohol and lorazepam-containing drugs like Ativan can have widespread impacts on someone’s physical health. Some common long-term effects of mixing these substances include:
- Cardiovascular issues
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Liver disorders
- Kidney disease
- Brain damage
In addition to brain damage, alcohol and benzo abuse can cause new or worsen pre-existing mental health conditions. Both drugs can cause psychotic-like symptoms, which are not always reversible.
Another impact of abusing these substances is memory loss. Alcohol and benzodiazepine use can cause memory disturbances alone. However, together, they can induce even more significant memory deficits.
Getting Ativan or Alcohol Addiction Help
Many people who abuse benzos and alcohol have an addiction to one or both substances. This can make it extremely challenging to prevent the negative consequences outlined above. Still, there is hope.
Treatment programmes for alcohol and benzo abuse can help people stop using substances once and for all.
Recovery begins with a medically supervised detoxification. Detox services help addicts undergo withdrawals safely and more comfortably. People addicted to alcohol can access prescription benzodiazepines to ease their symptoms.
The next step is inpatient treatment. At Simcoe, we customize our treatment plans for the individual. Patients attend individual and group counselling sessions, plus alternative therapies of their choice.
We also offer free support after discharge. Our aftercare and recovery services help people reintegrate into the real world. Recovering addicts will feel empowered to find better jobs, maintain healthier support systems, and more.
Get Addiction Help at Simcoe Rehab in Ontario
Ativan and alcohol are a dangerous combination. When used together, these drugs can cause alarming side effects. They can also increase someone’s risk of developing an addiction, experiencing long-term side effects, or overdosing.
Getting treatment is the best way to avoid these consequences. Whether you need help for alcoholism or benzo addiction, Simcoe is here for you. Reach out to Simcoe today to get treatment for Ativan or alcohol addiction.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before you go, check out these frequently asked questions about alcohol and Ativan. We will answer the web’s most searched queries about these substances below.
Yes, you can overdose on Ativan and alcohol because these substances cause dangerous suppression of the central nervous system. Signs someone may be overdosing on benzodiazepines and alcohol include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Visual problems
- Profound confusion
- Slowed, shallow, or stopped breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Call for emergency medical attention immediately if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms. A depressant overdose can be fatal if left untreated.
You can drink alcohol for about 60 hours after taking Ativan. Two and a half days is enough time for the substance to leave your system, reducing the risk of the side effects discussed in this guide.
The time it takes Ativan to clear someone’s system depends on lorazepam’s half-life. According to the FDA, the half-life of Ativan is 12 hours. In other words, it takes 12 hours for the body to eliminate half of the drug.
Most experts agree that it takes four to five half-lives for the body to eliminate a substance. It may take longer for some groups (i.e., women and older adults). If you are concerned, consult your doctor for more information.
You can take Ativan around 25 hours after drinking. Alcohol has a half-life of four to five hours. It takes four to five half-lives for the body to eliminate alcohol from the system.
However, older adults and women tend to metabolize alcohol more slowly. People in these groups who are unsure about the best time to take Ativan after a few drinks should talk to their doctor.
Yes, Ativan does help with alcohol withdrawal. It is one of the many benzodiazepines doctors can prescribe to ease withdrawal symptoms. Benzos are the gold standard when it comes to treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Not everyone needs Ativan for alcohol withdrawal, though. Doctors typically reserve benzos for people with moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Without treatment with medications like benzos, moderate to severe symptoms can worsen. They may begin with seizures. If unaddressed, seizures can progress to a psychotic-like symptom called delirium tremens, which is not always reversible and can be fatal.