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Anxiety Treatments: Untold Complications of Lorazepam

Updated on April 20, 2011

If you are an anxiety and panic attack sufferer, you understand what it means to feel terror. In our modern world, help for overwhelming anxiety is often treated with one supposedly safe and effective approach: Lorazepam.

If you are in an immediate panic and require fast-acting relief, anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines will appear to be your new best friend, but be wary. An undisclosed dark side of pills like Xanax and Lorazepam (brand name Ativan) exists, which many health care professionals fail to emphasize.

These medications simply function to amplify the quantity of a brain chemical named GABA, which is extremely prevalent in the brain and critical for normal mental operation. GABA works as the primary inhibitor of the central nervous system, acting to balance the widespread stimulating effects of its counterpart chemical, glutamate. These two chemicals work together to keep mental and physical systems in harmony. Anxiety, at the chemical core, is thought to be a neurological inequity between GABA and glutamate. For reasons that are unclear, glutamate can throw an irrational fit, multiplying to abnormally high levels. This ultimately causes extreme mental discomfort for the sufferer. After the administration of Lorazepam or similar benzos, GABA levels are increased enough to overtake and cancel out glutamate. Thus, panic is blanketed by universal inhibition, and every brain function is calmed down.

This can be a very effective immediate treatment to thwart a panic attack, and every sufferer knows how comforting it is to have such an option available. However, Lorazepam (Ativan) can quickly become dangerous and counterproductive, often victimizing an unsuspecting, uninformed patient.

Things You Should Know About Lorazepam:

· Lorazepam is extremely addictive. Normally, doctors do not prescribe Lorazepam for long-term use due to reasons about to be described. However, accidentally getting hooked is alarmingly easy. In as little as three days, your brain chemically compensates for constant administration of the drug, due the short-lasting effects mentioned above. If you are reliably receiving external resources for this important chemical for a long period of time, your brain will no longer manage GABA levels and will instead up glutamate quantities to achieve balance. This means tolerance may develop, requiring you to need more of the drug to achieve the same relief experience. But more dangerously, this means withdrawal from the drug (i.e., whenever you stop taking it) will cause a rebound effect, which can generate a painful, degenerative anxiety cycle.

Here’s how the cycle goes: You feel a panic attack, which is then calmed by Lorazepam. The feeling of regained control, peace and gratefulness becomes a behavioral reinforcement, in which you associate Lorazepam with good feelings, and thus you like Lorazepam. The drug effects fade, launching you back into an anxiety craze, which cues another dose of Lorazepam. After 3+ days, every post-pill crash gains severity because your brain has stopped making inhibitory chemicals. Your “normal”, non-drug influenced state is now powered by a mad influx of arousal chemicals (glutamate). This means that without Lorazepam, you experience worse anxiety than you did before you started taking the drug .

The implication is alarmingly clear: You are now mentally and physically (side effects will be considered below) caged in a mentally torturous cycle where your only “relief” from insanity is a drugged, Lorazepam-controlled state. In order to get out, you must undergo a drug withdrawal period of truly unimaginable panic, lasting a week or longer, to allow the brain to start patrolling GABA again and retain normal cognitive balance.

Note that this can happen after only three days of Lorazepam use.

· Side effects are numerous and debilitating. The bottle, and your health care provider, will most likely explain that common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, and dry mouth. Here are some unexpected Lorazepam-induced phenomena, growing in severity the longer you use the drug:

o Depersonalization (feeling separate from your body); derealization (feeling nonexistent); frequent urination; extreme vertigo; nausea and vomiting; heart palpitations; tremors in the face and extremities; body shaking; inability to sit still; inability to eat; rapid weight loss; insomnia; abnormal tactile sensations (feelings of bugs crawling under the skin, etc.); abnormal taste or smell sensations (taste or smell intensification); abnormal audio sensations (sound magnification); visual hypersensitivity; choking sensation; extreme panic and anxiety; suicidal thoughts; paranoia, delusions; and more.

The explanation behind these sudden and severe symptoms is simple: too much widespread glutamate. The chemical augments almost every brain function, from sensory perception to motor control. The sufferer experiences all mental abilities in exaggerated form.

Benzodiazepines like Lorazepam remain a primary anxiety treatment despite the unsettling complications. It should be stressed that anti-anxiety drugs are not fundamentally negative and should not be automatically scorned. People who suffer anxiety may find great benefit from Lorazepam’s fast-acting calming properties. However, I find it extremely important that the whole picture of these drugs be available. No one, especially predisposed anxiety persons, should experience the paradoxical confusion and mental pain these pills can secretly dish out.


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      Misha 2 years ago

      I took this medication for three days before I hospitalized myself after suicidal ideation during a panic attack. Thank Goddess that the Dr at the ER told me to stop taking it. It's been three days of hell and I am just thankful that there is an explanation

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      History 3 years ago

      I had the same problem I took this pill for 20 days and I still have a fear that those days might come back, and it's been 2 years.

    • profile image

      Annie 3 years ago

      I wish I had read this as well. It is hard to unlive the horror as you described. I am so happy I am off this medicine.

    • JenPsych profile image

      JenPsych 6 years ago

      Wentworth35 - I took the drug for 3 weeks at what I believed was a "cautious" rate, and ultimately experienced things I will never unlive. Let me know how your withdrawal experience goes, I would be interested in comparing notes. Also, I have a few natural remedies that may ease your process - raw ginger, for one, greatly helps nausea and dizziness. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

    • profile image

      Wentworth35 6 years ago

      I wish I had seen your hub before being prescribed this horrible drug. I have been taking it for two weeks, and tried to stop it last night and have had withdrawal problems. Doctors don't seem to know about the drugs they prescribe.

    • JenPsych profile image

      JenPsych 6 years ago

      Thank you, Enlydia!

    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 6 years ago from trailer in the country

      Very good information...I rated this up and am following you. Hope to read more.