Ativan (Lorazepam) vs. Xanax

Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a class of sedatives used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, muscle spasms and seizures. Currently, Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam) are the two drugs most prescribed in this drug group. While there are many similarities between the two medications, including what they are used to treat and how they affect the body, there are also some key differences.

Ativan and Xanax both affect a part of the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA helps regulate the communication between nerve cells in the brain. While the exact way that these benzos interact with GABA is unknown, these drugs are thought to enhance GABA’s effects and reduce the activity of nerves in the brain to produce a relaxing effect on the mind and body.

Since Ativan and Xanax have similar effects on the body, they are often prescribed for similar reasons, namely the short-term treatment of anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Both medications have a number of side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems with memory
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of balance or coordination

Both medications can also cause anxiety or panic attacks. To mitigate this risk, it’s crucial that anyone taking either of these drugs follow their physician’s instructions precisely, and call 9-1-1 if they begin to feel any severe side effects. If you are taking either Ativan or Xanax, you should not drive or operate heavy machinery, as many of the side effects of these medications can impair alertness.

Like other benzos, both Ativan and Xanax can be addictive if used in excess or over an extended period of time. Halting use abruptly can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, tremors, seizures and heart problems. Because of the potential for abuse and addiction, these drugs are only prescribed for short-term use, and given in the lowest doses necessary.

While these medications are similar in many ways, the most significant difference between Xanax and Ativan is the way each medication is processed by the body. Ativan has a slightly longer active time than Xanax, with the effects of the medication peaking between one and six hours after consumption. Once Xanax is ingested, its effects peak within 1-2 hours.

The half-lives of each substance, or the amount of time required for the concentration of the drug in the body to be reduced by half, also vary significantly. While the average half-life of Ativan is between 14 and 15 hours, Xanax’s average half-life typically falls between 11 and 12 hours.

There are some additional key differences between Ativan and Xanax, including other conditions they are used to treat. Xanaz also has a few more side effects that are not typical of Ativan use.

What They Treat

Both Ativan and Xanax are used to treat anxiety. But these medicines can be used for other reasons. For example, Ativan is also approved for use as a sedative prior to an operation. Xanax can be used to ease panic attacks.

Both drugs have several off-label uses for other conditions or problems, including:

  • Irritability
  • Mania from bipolar disorder
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting from chemotherapy
  • Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

Off-label Xanax use can also address:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Severe cases of PMS
  • Tremors

Side Effects

Ativan and Xanax have many of the same side effects. There are some side effects of Xanax that differ from typical Ativan side effects, including:

  • Memory impairment
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Increased sweating
  • Stuffy nose

Ativan and Xanax can help people find relief from many different medical conditions, but it’s important to remember that these drugs also carry some serious risks, like addiction. When taken in excess, or over long periods of time, a dependency can form. This is why it’s crucial to use them with caution and seek help at the first sign of an Ativan or Xanax addiction.

Are you or someone you love showing signs of Ativan or Xanax addiction? Treatment options are available to begin your recovery. It all starts with a call. With locations across the country, The Recovery Village provides clients with a full continuum of evidence-based care. Reach out to The Recovery Village today for more information or to begin the admissions process.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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