Ativan (Lorazepam) vs. Xanax

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

blue and orange pills

Because they are both benzodiazepines, Ativan and Xanax affect a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is involved in regulating communication between nerve cells in the brain. While the exact way benzodiazepines interact with GABA is unknown, these medications are thought to enhance GABA’s effects, therefore reducing the activity of nerves in the brain and producing a relaxing effect on the mind and body.

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

Both medications have a number of side effects in common, including:

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

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

Like other benzodiazepines, both Ativan and Xanax can be physically and psychologically 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 palpitations. Because of the potential for abuse and addiction, these medications are usually only prescribed for short term use, and administered 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, namely in the conditions they are used to treat and the side effects they produce.

What They Treat

Both Ativan and Xanax are approved to treat anxiety. However, these medications can be utilized to address other physical and psychological ailments. For example, Ativan is also approved for use as a preoperative sedative, while Xanax can be prescribed to alleviate panic attacks caused by panic disorder. Both drugs also have several off-label uses.

Some of the most common off-label Ativan uses include:

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

Off-label Xanax use can address:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Severe cases of premenstrual syndrome
  • Essential tremor

Side Effects

Generally, Ativan and Xanax have many of the same side effects. However, there are some side effects produced by 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 a number of different medical conditions. However, it’s important to remember that these medications carry some serious risks, including addiction. When taken in excess, or over an extended period of time, physical and psychological dependencies can form. Because of this, it’s crucial that anyone taking these medications exercises caution, and seeks professional help at the first sign of Ativan or Xanax addiction.

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