Panic Disorder Treatment How Does Ativan (Lorazepam) Work? By Katharina Star, PhD Katharina Star, PhD Facebook LinkedIn Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on December 15, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Panic Disorder Side Effects Addiction Additional Precautions Ativan (lorazepam) is a common medication used for the treatment of panic disorder and other anxiety conditions. It's a type of benzodiazepine, a class of medications sometimes referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers due to their calming and relaxing effect on the body. Other common benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Valium (diazepam). While Ativan is most frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, it's often prescribed to treat anxiety symptoms that accompany other psychiatric conditions as well as for other illnesses, despite not being approved for them by the Food and Drug Administration (aka an "off-label use"). For instance, some doctors prescribe Ativan for alcohol withdrawal, to prevent nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, and for insomnia. Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell How Ativan Treats Panic Disorder Neurotransmitters in the brain, known as gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABA), are partly responsible for regulating sleep and feelings of relaxation and anxiety. Ativan acts on these receptors to slow down the central nervous system (CNS). This reduces excess agitation and excitement in the brain, inducing a calming and relaxing effect. By depressing the CNS, Ativan is also able to lessen the intensity of anxiety and panic attacks. Ativan works quickly, making it an effective solution to temporarily managing panic symptoms. The drug enters your system relatively rapidly and lasts a few hours. Side Effects of Ativan Some of the most common side effects of Ativan include: Blurred visionConstipationDizziness and lightheadednessDrowsinessDry mouthHeadacheHeartburnLack of coordination or unsteadinessLoss of interest in sexNausea If these side effects continue or increase in severity, contact your doctor. Some serious side effects are also possible if you take Ativan. These include mental and mood changes, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, difficulty walking, and breathing issues. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Ativan and Addiction Like all benzodiazepines, Ativan is classified as a controlled substance, which means its possession and use are regulated by the government. Ativan has the potential to be abused, leading to physical or psychological dependence. Typical withdrawal symptoms include sleep disturbances, irritability, increased nervousness, and muscle cramps. Your doctor will likely discuss strategies to minimize the risk of addiction. Never attempt to stop your medication on your own. Should you decide to discontinue your prescription, your prescribing doctor will assist you in gradually decreasing your dosage. Additional Precautions For Taking Ativan Caution should be taken if you have a history of certain medical conditions. Before taking Ativan, consult your doctor if you've been diagnosed with these or any other medical condition: Depression Drug or alcohol addiction Glaucoma Liver disease Lung disease Sleep apnea Ativan Drug Interactions Ativan depresses the central nervous system (CNS). Alcohol and certain medications that have a similar effect on the CNS should be avoided. Make certain that your doctor is up to date on all of your current prescription and over-the-counter medications. Drowsiness and Dizziness Feeling tired and lightheaded are common side effects of Ativan. Until you are used to how this medication affects you, caution should be taken while driving or performing other tasks that require your full attention and concentration. Pregnancy and Nursing It is possible for Ativan to be passed to a child during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about the risk of using Ativan while pregnant or nursing. Older Adults Taking Ativan The side effects of Ativan are often more noticeable in older adults. To limit these effects, your doctor may need to adjust your dosage. This information is intended to provide a general overview of the use of Ativan for panic disorder. Any questions or concerns you may have about your prescription should be addressed with your doctor or pharmacist. 4 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Lorazepram (Avitan). National Alliance on Mental Illness. Lorazepam. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Ativan. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mental Health Medications. National Institute of Mental Health. By Katharina Star, PhD Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Panic Disorder Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.