Lorazepam, sold under the trade name Ativan and in generic versions, is a medication primarily used to treat anxiety but also at times to prevent and control the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It is a member of the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which also includes alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium). Lorazepam is a relatively short-acting benzodiazepine, decreasing the chance that it will build up in the bloodstream to the point of toxicity. It comes in tablets of 0.5, 1 and 2mg as well as in oral solution and injectable versions.
Doctors prescribe lorazepam to quell short-term anxiety symptoms or to manage the anxiety sometimes associated with depression. The medication also works to treat panic attacks and anxiety. All these effects can be useful when a patient is experiencing withdrawal from alcohol. Seizure is another symptom of withdrawal from extremely heavy, prolonged alcohol use, and lorazepam can also be an effective tool for preventing these seizures.
Among the benzodiazepines, lorazepam in particular may be good for alcohol-withdrawal treatment because of the short time it spends in the body, making it safer for people with liver problems, and because of its relative lack of effects on the respiratory and circulatory systems. Lorazepam may not only prevent the first seizure from occurring among recovering alcoholics, but also prevent future seizures after one has already occurred. Hospitalization is common in patients who suffer repeated seizures, so lorazepam may be useful in cutting down on hospital admissions.
Lorazepam is, however, potentially addictive, so doctors must use care in prescribing it and monitoring its use, especially in patients with alcoholism or other known addictive disorders. Withdrawal effects can sometimes be seen in lorazepam users after as little as a week of use. To avoid dependence-related issues, doctors generally try to prescribe the lowest effective dose and for the shortest possible duration. The drug can be dangerous, leading to respiratory depression, and possibly even death, in overdose situations with alcohol.
In addition to its anxiety-reducing properties, it also has strong amnesic qualities, meaning patients who take it sometimes lose memory of the time spent under its influence, though tolerance to this side effect develops quickly.
Lorazepam can cause side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, headache, dry mouth, impaired coordination and blurred vision. When using the medication, caution should be used if driving or carrying out other tasks that require you to be alert. Use during pregnancy is not recommended.