I want to preface this blog post by stating that this is only my personal experience with Ativan. Ativan is a from a class of drugs named Benzodiazepines. They are commonly prescribed to help with panic and anxiety disorder. They are a life saving drug for many, but can be very addictive. I want to stress that each person’s experience is different. My experience happens to be one that led down a path of addiction. That is why I am sharing the story. I am by no means suggesting that anyone else should stop taking this medication or any other in that class. I am also not suggesting anyone be judged for taking any medication. Still to this day I take medication to control my anxiety and panic disorder.
I started having health-related panic attacks in the fall of 2016. My doctor asked me if I wanted a short term solution to the problem, or if I wanted to start taking medication that I may have to be on for the long term. I was scared and afraid of the stigma of taking medication to help with my mental health issues at the time, so I said please just prescribe me something to help me get by in the short term. I thought that there was no way I was going to need to go on medication for anxiety permanently. Hahaha. I was so wrong.
The doctor’s short term fix was to prescribe 1 mg of Ativan up to 3x daily. He said I could take it as needed when I was experiencing feelings of anxiety and panic. He even told me that if I felt it was going to be a small panic attack I could take 1/2 of a pill. Before I started to take Ativan, I had read how addictive this class of drugs can be. I disregarded it though because i was barely making it through the day and if Ativan could help, I was on board.
I was having panic attacks multiple times a day and was even afraid to drive to work. Being alone was terrifying. I felt like I was going to die every time I was by myself and I needed some kind of relief. Very vividly, I can remember the first time I took Ativan. I was at work, having a panic attack and sitting on the floor in my office hyperventilating. That’s when I took 1/2 of an Ativan pill. Within a short amount of time I was able to calm down enough to get back to work. I thought: “Holy smokes. This is a miracle drug”. At that time, it was, and I am thankful for the relief it gave me. Without the relief it provided I may not have survived the dark days I was experiencing.
However, things changed very quickly for me. I skipped right from taking 1/2 of a pill when I needed it, straight to taking my prescribed maximum of 3 mg per day. I craved the relief it gave me. The time in between pills, when the effects wore off, I was so horribly stressed and filled with anxiety. I was a junkie waiting for his next fix. This behavior went on for 3 or 4 months. I knew something had to change and I need to break the cycle.
Breaking the Addiction
I went to my doctor and expressed my concerns. He said I should consider changing over to a more permanent solution. After discussing it with my wife and therapist, I decided he was correct. This required me to swallow my pride and find a more long term solution to my issues. That required me to get over the stigma of potentially being on anti-depressants for the foreseeable future.
Over a period of a few months, my doctor and I worked through a trial and error process with different drugs and doses and it was not fun. All the while, I was still taking the Ativan. Finally, my doctor and I found a combination of drugs that seemed to really work for me: Prozac and Buspar. With this combination, I felt more mentally stable and my panic attacks were less frequent and severe. Once I got to that point, it was time to come off the Ativan.
My doctor said it should be no big deal to stop taking it. Unfortunately, he was wrong. My body had already become dependent on it. Without the drug, I couldn’t make it more than 24 hours without feeling extreme anxiety, headaches, burning feet, chest tightness, and muscle twitching through my whole body. These are all known side effects of Ativan withdrawal. I was now having many of the anxiety symptoms I was very familiar with, just because I wasn’t taking the Ativan.
Quickly I saw that a cold turkey approach to coming off the drug was harmful and unrealistic. I went to see a psychiatrist and we worked out a two-month taper plan where I incrementally lowered what I was taking every two weeks. Every time I dropped the dose I felt withdrawal symptoms, but nothing like when I tried the cold turkey method. At the end of the two months, I took my last sliver of Ativan. I had worked my way back to freedom from it. With the mental stability I had gained from the long term anti-depressants I was able to find the strength to overcome the side effects of the Ativan withdrawal.
For the first few months of being off the Ativan I did have a few set backs where I had some high anxiety days and a small panic attack or two, however I know was able to rationalize it and chalk it up to my normal stressful life.
For the next few months, I did carry a single Ativan pill with me in a little pill container. Just in case! It was my safety net and mental crutch. I knew at some point though I was going to have to completely break free from it. After a few more months I finally found the courage to remove the net. I took all of the extra pills to a medication disposal location.
Dropping that bottle into that box was one of the scariest moments in my life. I knew there was no turning back after that. As I walked out of that office it started pouring rain. It was the most amazing, liberating and cleansing experience. I cried. I felt like I had broken free from my addiction. At that point and til this day I have no desire to ever take it again no matter what I face. Honestly, the stuff never even crosses my mind anymore. To write this article I even had to Google the name.
Support system and tool kit
I had a lot of support throughout the process I went through and they helped me to put together my mental health tool kit that I use to remain stable. My wife is amazing and was there for me every step of the way. It was also during this time that I found Still I Run. Seeing Sasha and the rest of the community share their stories gave me the courage to know I was not alone in my journey. Also, running during and after the withdrawal process really helped me to remember my inner strength. The ability to finish a mentally tough run really nails home the concept that I can do anything I put my mind to, even overcoming prescription drug addiction.