Lorazepam ( Ativan ) - How it works


Lorazepam belongs to the class of sedative-hypnotic medications known as benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are also referred to as minor tranquilizers. They are relatively fast-acting and are primarily used to treat anxiety and panic attacks. Lorazepam is often prescribed under the brand name Ativan®. Other frequently prescribed medications in this category include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and clonazepam (Klonopin).

Like all benzodiazepines, lorazepam has a high potential for abuse and addiction. As a result, it is a controlled substance and classified as a Schedule IV drug.

What Lorazepam Is Used to Treat

Lorazepam is frequently prescribed for the short-term treatment of anxiety and panic attacks. It is also used to treat insomnia, seizures, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and irritable bowel syndrome. Because it works quickly and is quite sedating, it is often used in hospital settings to calm patients who are anxious, restless, agitated, or aggressive.

How Lorazepam Works

Lorazepam is a central nervous system depressant. It produces a calming and sedating effect by targeting the receptors of a particular chemical in the brain known as GABA. GABA, which is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter. One of its primary functions is to prevent the brain’s nerve cells from becoming overactive. Lorazepam helps reduce any excess activity in the brain by boosting GABA. One of the frequent results of this slowed activity is drowsiness, which is why lorazepam is beneficial for insomnia.

How it’s Administered

Lorazepam is typically taken in tablet form or as an oral liquid. It can also be administered via injection. It is often prescribed as a regular daily medication to be taken 2 to 3 times a day. In some cases it is prescribed for “prn” use, which means it’s to be taken only on an “as needed” basis.

It’s very important to take Lorazepam only as prescribed. As with all benzodiazepines, taking Lorazepam for an extended period of time, or in higher doses than prescribed, can lead to tolerance and addiction. Once a tolerance develops, you will find that you need increasingly higher doses in order to attain the same benefits. Lorazepam and similar medications should be used only on a short-term basis, which is usually 4 weeks or less. Taking lorazepam for any longer period of time should be done with caution, and only under the close supervision of your doctor.

Lorazepam should never be abruptly discontinued, as doing so could result in serious side effects such as seizures. Rather, the dosage should be tapered down gradually per your doctor’s guidance.

Potential Side Effects of Lorazepam

Lorazepam is usually tolerated quite well by most people. However, as with all benzodiazepines, it has potential side effects. One of the most frequent side effects is drowsiness. This makes lorazepam a very dangerous medication to take just before or while driving or operating any type of machinery.

Other side effects associated with lorazepam may include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Dizziness
  • Coordination problems
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth


Before taking lorazepam, be sure to inform your doctor of any current and past medical conditions, including whether or not you are pregnant or nursing, or thinking about becoming pregnant. Tell your doctor about any other medications or supplements you are taking as well. If you use alcohol regularly, it is very important to let your doctor know this before using lorazepam. Since alcohol is also a depressant, it can be dangerous when combined with any benzodiazepine. It’s also very important to let your doctor know if you have any history of substance abuse or addiction before taking lorazepam.

Additional Considerations

Lorazepam can be a very effective medication for anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and other conditions (mentioned above) when used on a short-term basis. However, when used to treat symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, it’s important to remember that once the medication is stopped, the symptoms will almost always continue. This is because lorazepam doesn’t treat their underlying cause.

The most effective treatment for anxiety and panic attacks is psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy. A skilled therapist can help you understand the underlying reasons for your symptoms; learn to manage, control, and change the thoughts and behaviors that cause and / or exacerbate them; and also show you ways to relax and calm yourself without medication.


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