There are many substances to which a person could potentially come addicted. More often than not, we tend to focus on the most common mind-altering substances, including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, but there are a wide variety of powerful and extremely dangerous substances that have proven to be prone to abuse. In particular, depressants are one of the most-abused types of drugs; these are substances that ‘depress’ the central nervous system, causing a marked decrease in energy level and inhibiting things like cognition and fine motor skills. Among depressant drugs, one called lorazepam has become extremely popular among substance abusers and continues to pose a major threat in the United States.
For most people, lorazepam is going to be most familiar by the trade name Ativan, which is what the drug has been marketed as for quite some time. Although this drug is a depressant, it’s also a benzodiazepine, so we must first take a little time to look back on benzodiazepines. Prior to benzodiazepines like lorazepam and a number of others, the most commonly-used medications for conditions involving anxiety were barbiturates; however, barbiturates came to be associated with a number of unpleasant effects as well as high potential for abuse and dependency, leading a number of chemists and pharmaceutical researchers to look for an alternative. Benzodiazepines were discovered by accident in 1954 by Austrian chemist Leo Sternbach; at the time, Dr. Sternbach was employed by Hoffmann-LaRoche, which remains a huge pharmaceutical and diagnostic company — currently referred to simply as ‘Roche’ — based in Basel, Switzerland.
Ironically, Sternbach’s accidental discovery of benzodiazepines were considered a failed experiment until about a year later when one of Sternbach’s colleagues was going back through the former’s research. At this point, benzodiazepines were, in fact, found to have therapeutic value, creating intense interest in this new class of depressant pharmaceuticals. By 1959, the first benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide, was put on the market at Librium. It wouldn’t be until some years later that Ativan would make its first appearance.
Lorazepam is considered to be one of the “classical benzodiazepines”, which is a group of core drugs that includes many of the most well-known and widely used benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), flurazepam (Dalmane), and clorazepate (Tranxene). In fact, many of the benzodiazepines that would be introduced over the years were derived from one or more of these classical benzodiazepines, many of which were discovered over the decade that followed the commercial release of Librium. Lorazepam, in particular, was first synthesized in 1963, which was just four years after the launch of the first benzodiazepine; its pharmaceutical patent was granted by the F.D.A. in 1967, but the drug wasn’t commercially available until it was launched by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in 1977, a decade after it was patented.
Since the benzodiazepines that were being created were found to be effective anxiolytics — meaning that they were effective in alleviating anxiety and panic — lorazepam was intended for similar uses. In fact, due to the intensity of its effects, lorazepam was supposed to be used to treat severe anxiety, but only for short periods of time. The drug was also found to have potential value for individuals who suffer from insomnia and conditions that involve seizures, including epilepsy. Of course, over time, users realized that they could achieve feelings of euphoria by taking lorazepam in doses much higher than advised, resulting in the abuse of lorazepam — as well as virtually all other benzodiazepines — becoming quite commonplace by the 1980s.
Since lorazepam is both a depressant and a benzodiazepine, its works to decrease an individual’s energy level and the efficacy of many bodily systems and functions. But how does it achieve this? Specifically, lorazepam has an extremely high affinity for the brain’s GABA receptors. As you may already be aware, GABA is a neurotransmitter that essentially induces feelings of calm, helping a person to calm down during times of high stress and anxiety. With an affinity for GABA receptors, this means that lorazepam induces intense relaxation, which is a characteristic shared by all benzodiazepines. Meanwhile, lorazepam enhances the efficacy of GABA in the brain, exacerbating these relaxing effects while also attributing to the drug’s amnesiac tendencies. In other words, lorazepam users sometimes have trouble remember their experiences while under the influence of lorazepam.
There are a number of effects that have been attributed to lorazepam withdrawal. When a person has taken lorazepam frequently over an extended period of time, he or she will feel intense discomfort during times when he or she is forced to go without lorazepam. In many cases, a drug’s withdrawal symptoms are in stark contrast to the drug’s actual effects, which is very much the case with lorazepam. A person experiencing lorazepam withdrawal will feel extremely anxious since the brain has lost its primary source of GABA; this is actually what makes lorazepam withdrawal — and depressant withdrawal in general — so dangerous. Meanwhile, there are a number of other symptoms, too, including sweating, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, severe insomnia, intense physical discomfort, mood swings, depressing, twitching and shaking throughout the body, confusion, irritability, numbness or tingling in extremities, irregular heart rate and possible palpitations, and high blood pressure.
Since lorazepam withdrawal symptoms can become quite dangerous, those who suffer from lorazepam addiction are encouraged to seek professional treatment. This often begins with a period of detox treatment, which allows the individual to address the physical aspects of the addiction in a safe, supervised environment. Once the individual is no longer physically dependent on lorazepam, he or she can proceed to the treatment phase of recovery, consisting of individual counseling, group therapy, relapse prevention training, life skills training, and a variety of other possible components. In most cases, addiction treatment programs are tailored to a patient’s specific, unique needs, which ensures that he or she receives the best possible care that will allow him or her to achieve long-lasting sobriety and a successful recovery.
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