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What is the Difference Between Ativan and Xanax?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that slow down activity in your central nervous system. They are typically prescribed to treat anxiety and seizure disorders, however, they may also be used to improve insomnia and soothe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. While benzodiazepines can be great tools in the treatment of a wide array of conditions, they are also known to be habit-forming and addictive.

Studies have found that a total of 30.6 million adults use benzodiazepines in the United States. Out of those individuals, 17.2% of them are abusing benzodiazepines, putting them at risk of developing an addiction.[1]

Two of the most commonly abused benzodiazepines are known as Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam). While these substances have a lot of characteristics in common, they share some important differences too.

What is Ativan (Lorazepam)?

Ativan is the brand name for lorazepam, a benzodiazepine medication that slows down activity in your brain to allow for calmness and relaxation.[2] Ativan comes as a tablet or a liquid solution, depending on your individual needs. Additionally, Ativan tablets either come in an immediate or extended-release.

Typically, Ativan is prescribed to treat anxiety, seizure disorders, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, it may be used as a sedative before general anesthesia and surgery.

The side effects of Ativan include:[2]

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Restlessness or excitement
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in sex drive or ability

People may abuse lorazepam because of the euphoria and drowsiness it can provide. Because of this medication’s propensity for abuse, it is only recommended for short-term treatment. If used long-term, it is because the benefits outweigh the risks, but individuals must be slowly tapered off of the medication to avoid withdrawal symptoms if they are directed to stop taking it.

What is Xanax (Alprazolam)?

Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a popular benzodiazepine medication. Alprazolam works in the same way as lorazepam, however, it is primarily used to treat anxiety disorders. Xanax reduces and prevents the symptoms of panic attacks by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain.[3]

If you receive a prescription for Xanax, your doctor may order an iimmediate-release tablet, an extended-release tablet, a tablet that dissolves in the mouth, and a liquid solution to take by mouth.

The most common side effects of Xanax include:[3]

  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Talkativeness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased salivation
  • Changes in sex drive or ability
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain

When you abuse Xanax, you might experience a rush of euphoria and extreme drowsiness. Some individuals fall asleep or black out when they are under the influence, increasing the risk of accidental falls or injury. Like Ativan, Xanax is only intended for short-term use, but some people may receive long-term treatment with this medication if they have severe anxiety or seizure disorders. Abruptly stopping Xanax after long-term use can result in uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

What are the Main Differences Between Ativan and Xanax?

Both Ativan and Xanax are primarily used to treat anxiety disorders and are effective in doing so. However, there are some main differences to be aware of.

The primary differences between Ativan and Xanax include:

  • Xanax has a faster onset of effects, while Ativan’s effects last longer overall. For example, Xanax lasts 4 to 6 hours while lorazepam lasts 8 hours.
  • The sedative effects of Xanax come on faster, while these effects last longer when you take Ativan.
  • The efficacy of Xanax is impacted more by race and age than Ativan. To explain, race and age may cause alprazolam to last longer, while these factors do not play a role in the effectiveness of lorazepam.
  • Xanax tends to be more potent than Ativan, with 0.5mg of alprazolam being equivalent to 1mg of lorazepam.

Additionally, not everyone reacts the same to specific medications. Even though Ativan and Xanax are very similar, you may experience adverse side effects of one medication and experience success with the other. This is because everyone has different brain chemistry, causing similar medications to affect each person in various ways.

Is One More Addictive Than The Other?

Both Ativan and Xanax affect your brain in the same way, and both substances affect your brain in a manner that reinforces compulsive drug taking. Repeated Xanax or Ativan use can result in addiction because your brain begins to associate them with reward and pleasure.

While both substances have an equal risk of addiction, some people may argue that Xanax is abused more often because it is more common to find Xanax being sold illicitly by drug dealers. It is important to note that if you or a loved one are obtaining Xanax illegally, there is no way for you to tell whether the substance is legitimate or if it is counterfeit and has been laced with dangerous drugs like fentanyl.

Either way, both Xanax and Ativan are habit-forming and pose a great risk of addiction when abused. If you or a loved one frequently misuse one of these medications, it might be time to seek help from a professional drug rehab program.

Finding Help for Benzodiazepine Abuse and Addiction

Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan are highly addictive substances. While they can provide beneficial effects when used medicinally, abusing these drugs is extremely dangerous. Long-term benzodiazepine addiction can result in overdoses, accidental injury, and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Attending a prescription drug rehab program can provide you with the support and tools you need to maintain long-term recovery. To learn more about our benzodiazepine addiction treatment options, contact South Carolina Addiction Treatment Center today.