I’ve been dealing with anxiety for a year now and am taking Ativan. I have tried to cut back on the Ativan and cannot. My blood pressure goes dangerously high and so does my heart rate? I really wanted to get off the Ativan. Do you think it’s too soon, or I’m having withdrawal symptoms which have caused a relapse?

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Ativan belongs to a class of drugs called Benzodiazipines. Other family members of this class include Valium, Xanax, and Klonopine. Benzos are very effective anti-anxiety medicines. The problem is, like alcohol and barbiturates, benzos are also addictive drugs. Uncounted thousands of people get addicted to benzos each year, in part because their doctors hand them out too readily and aren’t sufficiently worried that patients could become addicted. The term ‘iatrogenic’ is used to describe the situation when addiction is caused by a physician. To be fair to the doctors, patients often demand that the doctor “do something to stop my anxiety”, and handing out benzos is something that works.

It is possible that you have become addicted to your Ativan. If you are addicted, the problem isn’t going to get better by itself. Rather, you’ll likely need more and more of your medicine to get the same calming effect. I think you would be well served to make an appointment with a doctor who specializes in addiction medicine so that he or she can diagnose your problem properly and recommend a course of treatment (if one is necessary) that can help you safely come off the medicine and handle your anxiety symptoms in some less harmful way (perhaps with the aid of ‘cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and panic’, available from many psychologists these days).

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