Using Ativan with Alcohol: What Are the Risks?
Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D.
Benzodiazepines like Ativan are commonly referenced in pop culture due to their sedative effects, but abuse of these medications is a serious issue. While there are legitimate medical applications of drugs like Ativan, mixing Ativan with alcohol is extremely dangerous and is associated with potentially life-threatening side effects. The numerous risks associated with using Ativan with alcohol are outlined below.
What is Ativan?
Ativan is a brand-name prescription drug that belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Also sold under the generic name lorazepam, Ativan is most commonly used for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and certain types of seizure disorders.
The drug is available in the form of an oral tablet and injection, but the injectable form of the drug is only available in a clinical setting and is used for the treatment of seizure disorders.
What are the risks of using Ativan with alcohol?
Ativan and alcohol are both classified as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. CNS depressants are a broad category of substances that include medications like tranquilizers, hypnotic, and sedatives that are designed to slow the activity of the brain.
Most CNS depressants, including Ativan and alcohol, work to slow brain activity by increasing activity at the receptors of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA is responsible for slowing down activity in the brain, and people with certain types of anxiety or sleep disorders may not have enough GABA activity to prevent their symptoms. CNS depressants increase GABA activity, which helps promote a sense of calm.
When substances like Ativan and alcohol, both of which have a calming effect on the body, are combined, their effects are amplified. Lorazepam is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the United States, and benzodiazepines were reported as being a contributing factor in nearly 30 percent of overdose deaths in 2013.
The effects of Ativan and alcohol combined can cause the body’s systems, particularly the respiratory system, to slow down so much that it stops functioning, which can be fatal.
Common side effects of alcohol and Ativan combination include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Slowed, irregular, shallow, or difficult breathing
- Dizziness resulting from low blood pressure
- Memory problems
- Impaired balance and physical control
- Unusual behaviors
- Impaired cognition
- Passing out
The combination of alcohol and Ativan can cause a potentially fatal overdose, so you should call 911 immediately if you or someone you know has combined the two substances and is starting to show symptoms.
Very serious risks associated with the combination of lorazepam and alcohol include:
- Increased levels of intoxication or more rapid intoxication
- Increased risk of overdose caused by the similar side effects of both drugs
- Increased risk of brain damage over time due to changes in the structure of the brain
- Increased risk of experiencing mental illness
- Significantly higher risk of experiencing physical dependence and increased tolerance, which increases the chance of experiencing addiction
- Increased risk of experiencing blackouts and other unintended side effects
- Potential to experience the challenges associated with addiction, such as financial challenges, loss of relationships with loved ones, job loss, and health problems including alcohol withdrawal
- Symptoms of alcohol and Ativan overdose including slowed heart rate, sedation, and seizures
People who mix Ativan with alcohol repeatedly are more likely to experience damage to the stomach, heart, liver, and brain.
While Ativan itself is not associated with liver damage, the increased intoxication that occurs from mixing the two drugs can cause increased damage. People who regularly mix the substances can also begin to experience chronic drowsiness and depressed breathing due to oxygen deprivation.
Is using Ativan with alcohol ever safe?
Even if you have a documented medical need and a prescription for Ativan, you should never combine Ativan and alcohol.
People who take Ativan for seizure disorders may take the medication for an extended period of time, but those who use the drug for mental health disorders and sleep typically take Ativan for a period of just a few weeks due to the potential for Ativan abuse and drug addiction.
Those prone to substance abuse disorders should seek medical advice from a healthcare professional before starting Ativan. If you or a loved one has developed an Ativan addiction, alcohol abuse disorder, or other substance use disorder, both inpatient treatment programs and outpatient addiction treatment options are available. Detoxification from Ativan and alcohol use can cause withdrawal symptoms if the detox is not done under the supervision of a medical professional.
Patients should avoid consuming alcohol for several hours after taking Ativan.
Using Ativan with alcohol is incredibly dangerous and is never safe. The substances are both central nervous system stimulants, and their effects are amplified when the substances are combined. This can potentially lead to life threatening side effects like respiratory depression, impaired cognition, and chronic liver damage.
If you have a prescription for Ativan and choose to use alcohol, make sure that the doses are separated by several hours, but it is better to avoid alcohol entirely when taking Ativan.