What is Ativan?
Since the untimely death of rock star Chris Cornell, many have asked how a man with a family, who seemed stable, suddenly chose to end his life. Cornell’s wife maintains his anti-anxiety drug, Ativan, taken in a larger dose led him to the decision.
So, will Ativan cause suicide under this condition?
Ativan is a benzodiazepine which can be effective for anxiety, insomnia, muscle relaxation, seizures, alcohol withdrawal, and agitation. Anxiety is often a symptom of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Benzos are often prescribed to treat this symptom along with an antidepressant. There are many subtypes of MDD. An individual with MDD may have an elevated degree of agitation, for which Ativan may be prescribed. This individual has a higher risk of suicide.
Does Ativan cause suicide?
Some of the antidepressants cause akathesia–the subjective feeling of restlessness; the need to keep moving one’s legs, e.g. It’s a horrible feeling that may drive an individual to commit suicide. Ativan can be effective in resolving this symptom. This was first researched when individuals taking Prozac appeared to have a higher incidence of suicide. Benzos also share properties with alcohol, such as causing disinhibition (acting impulsively) or intensifying depression in some cases (you have seen that person who becomes very depressed/tearful when intoxicated).
Chris Cornell and Ativan
It’s possible that Ativan may have made Cornell feel more depressed, but to say Ativan caused his suicide is far too simple of an answer. The drug may have played a role through the mechanisms above, but these reactions can vary from person to person. Only with details of Cornell’s history, treatment and response to treatment can a psychiatric autopsy be conducted to identify likely contributing factors.
Robert A Moran, M.D., F.A.P.A., F.A.S.A.M.
CEO Family Center for Recovery
Certified in General Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Diplomate, American Board of Addiction Medicine