Benzodiazepine is a class of drugs that are made up of powerful psychoactive compounds. These medications cause depression of the central nervous system which usually appears as sedation. These powerful drugs can help manage conditions characterized by excessive activity in the nerves of the brain, such as seizures and extreme anxiety.

These compounds interact with the human nervous system through attachment to the brain receptors called the GABA sites. Some common names for prescription US drugs that use benzodiazepines include Xanax, Librium, Valium, Prosom, and Ativan.

What is Ativan?

Ativan is a powerful drug; it depresses nerve activity in the brain and central nervous system. The drug causes sedation, and it reduces nerve activity in the brain. Doctors prescribe Ativan to relieve anxiety and to reduce or prevent seizures. Doctors also sometimes use Ativan to help persons withdraw from alcohol addiction.

Ativan, like alcohol, may temporarily increase dopamine production in the brain. Because of this, some users experience a sense of pleasure or euphoria, especially when Ativan and alcohol are used together, as they both have this effect. Ativan can cause dependency and addiction, even when used according to a doctor’s prescription. However, the risk of dependency, addiction, and overdose rise dramatically when used in conjunction with alcohol.

Because Ativan is a depressant, patients must guard against overdose by avoiding mixing it with other depressants or street drugs. The effects of an overdose involve slowing the heart rate and breathing to a level that can be, and often is, life threatening. According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, Ativan has a high potential for drug addiction and abuse. An overdose can cause severe stress on the body and can be fatal. Some street names for Ativan are benzos, downers, nerve pills, and tranks.

Common Side Effects of Ativan

The prescribed usage of Ativan is generally safe and effective. Like most medicines, there are certain risks of allergic reactions and side effects. Medical research lists common side effects for Ativan and some rare but significant side effects as well. The most common side effects are sedation and nerve depression. A second group of common side effects include slurred speech, dizziness, unsteadiness, daytime drowsiness, and some types of amnesia.

Many users describe sensations of tiredness, muscle weakness, headache, and insomnia. Some patients also experience blurred vision and loss of balance and coordination. Doctors and patients must work closely together to avoid severe reactions and dependency.

The human body develops a tolerance to Ativan the same way it does any other drug, and patients end up needing to take more of the drug to duplicate the effects felt when they first started taking it. Further, when taken with other depressants, such as alcohol, Ativan can cause enhanced effects of calming and euphoria. Though Ativan is a schedule IV drug, listed as having a low potential for abuse and dependence, it can cause physical and emotional dependency after a short period of usage, especially when taken in conjunction with other CNS depressants like alcohol.

Interactions of Alcohol and Ativan

Alcohol and Ativan can form a destructive mixture in a patient. Although doctors prescribe Ativan for treatment of alcohol addiction and withdrawal, patients cannot safely use alcohol while taking Ativan. Alcohol and Ativan operate on the same part of the brain, the GABA receptors. As each is a depressant, when used together alcohol and Ativan can produce severe levels of nerve inactivity in the areas that control breathing and heartbeat.

Ativan and alcohol each increase the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), which reduces neural activity. Too much nerve suppressant in the brain and central nervous system can interfere with breathing and heart rates. The condition can cause severe symptoms, such as coma and death. Additionally, Ativan and alcohol are both metabolized and removed from the body through the liver. The liver filters and removes toxicity from the blood. When a patient ingests alcohol with Ativan, the liver cannot manage the levels of toxicity, and the patient exponentially increases their risk of overdose.

Ativan addiction can occur with normal usage because the body builds tolerance to the active ingredients. Over time, patients may try to take more of the drug to get the pleasant sensations they experienced during their initial period of usage. Symptoms of addiction include depression and withdrawal. Patients may begin to feel sick or ill if they do not take the drug. They may feel depressed and seek to take more of the drug than the prescribed daily limit in order to counteract the feelings.

Doctors and pharmacists warn patients not to consume alcohol while taking Ativan. The inability to avoid alcohol is a prominent symptom of Ativan and alcohol addiction. Even given the clear instruction to avoid alcohol, addiction causes patients to disregard the risks.

Alcohol Poisoning and Ativan Overdose

When patients mix alcohol and Ativan, they can experience alcohol poisoning and drug overdose. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the level of alcohol in the bloodstream interferes with basic life functions. Alcohol is a depressant, and it suppresses the activity of the central nervous system that controls breathing, heart rate, and temperature control. Patients can get too little oxygen in the blood and brain (hypoxia) and experience levels of confusion, dizziness, and unsteadiness.

Symptoms of Ativan overdose involve varying degrees of central nervous system depression that range from slight drowsiness to coma. In mild cases, symptoms include daytime drowsiness, mental confusion, paradoxical or opposite reactions, and lethargy. In more serious cases, and especially when other drugs or alcohol are ingested, symptoms may include hypnotic states, respiratory failure, and coma.

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning include the below listed items:

  • Confusion and difficulty remaining conscious
  • Vomiting, seizures, and clammy skin
  • slow heart rate, slow breathing, and breathing gaps
  • very low body temperature, dulled responses, and no gag reflex to prevent choking

Symptoms of Ativan overdose include the below listed items:

  • ataxia or lack of coordination or control
  • hypotonia or low muscle tension
  • hypotension or extremely low blood pressure
  • cardiovascular depression
  • respiratory depression
  • hypnotic state
  • coma and death


Ativan and alcohol can cause addiction when taken separately and in combination. Withdrawal describes the effects of quitting alcohol or Ativan. Addiction can include physical and emotional dependence on Ativan and alcohol, and the symptoms are also physical and emotional. Doctors typically prescribe Ativan for relatively short periods of time and then prescribe declining doses to ease the shock of quitting. Stopping abruptly or “cold turkey” causes a sudden adjustment of the personality and physical person. The body must adjust to the lack of the alcohol or Ativan. The initial symptoms of withdrawal include cravings, irritability, insomnia, tremors, and sweating. Many people have sudden mood swings, periods of confusion, trouble concentrating, and anxiety.


Overdose situations require immediate attention to life threatening symptoms and follow-up care, including detoxifying the body. An overdose of Ativan can lead to permanent injury and death. Treatment for Ativan overdose includes the monitoring of vital functions and intervening as needed. Doctors can use drugs to reduce absorption, empty the stomach of any chemicals, and maintain heart and breathing functions if necessary. Some drugs such as Norepinephrine (blood pressure) and Flumazenil (nerve receptors) can reverse the effects of Ativan overdoses.

After the emergency treatment, doctors can prescribe a course of follow-up care. The long-term treatment goals include assisting with the patient’s emotional adjustment to life without alcohol or Ativan. For emergency and long-term treatment, patients benefit from the presence and involvement of medical professionals. Many patients need immediate medical care and long-term counseling and support. At every stage, patients can benefit from medical observation and input.