Benzodiazepines are among the most abused prescription medicines in the United States. Government data reports that more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses also include benzodiazepine use. Benzodiazepines (also known as benzos) include common drugs such as Ativan and Xanax. Doctors prescribe benzodiazepines to help sedate or calm patients who are struggling with anxiety and also prescribe them to people with epilepsy. Benzos work by raising levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, a compound that plays a significant role in regulating anxiety responses.

While doctors prescribe Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam) as medications for conditions such as anxiety, seizures, tremors, insomnia, and nervous tension, both can carry risks. Ativan and Xanax are both psychoactive drugs that are prone to abuse. When choosing between Xanax and Ativan, it is best to examine their similarities, differences, and risks.


Ativan and Xanax: What Are Their Similarities?

Ativan and Xanax have many things in common – both in potency and risks. Both drugs are highly potent and can quickly affect the body. This is one reason why doctors prescribe it in small doses.

Drug Prescription: Ativan vs. Xanax

Among the differences between Ativan and Xanax are their uses in the treatment of various disorders and the age of their potential users. Doctors usually prescribe Ativan for patients twelve years old and older, while users under the age of eighteen should not use Xanax.


Ativan and Xanax are medications for patients with anxiety. Ativan can be used as a sedative before surgeries, while Xanax can be used to help patients who struggle with panic disorders.

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Doctors also prescribe Ativan to:

  • Help calm irritable patients
  • Aid patients with recurring seizures
  • Relieve the vomiting of patients undergoing chemotherapy
  • Prevent delirium tremens (DTs) during alcohol withdrawal

Doctors also prescribe Xanax to:

  • Soothe irritable bowel syndrome
  • Relieve ringing in the ears
  • Alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Prevent tremors


Ativan is available in 0.5 milligram (mg), 1 mg, and 2 mg doses, while Xanax is available in 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg doses. Both Ativan and Xanax come in pill or liquid form. Xanax also comes in the form of dissolving tablets or as extended release pills.

Ativan Vs. Xanax: Differing action times

It takes different amounts of time for different drugs to take effect. Both Ativan and Xanax are short-acting benzodiazepines. This means that users feel the effects of the drugs quickly but the effects do not last long.

Ativan’s effects on the body last longer. If users take Ativan in large doses, drug tests can detect Ativan in the urine six weeks after people use it.

The peak times of Ativan and Xanax also slightly differ. The peak time refers to the time when the concentration of the drug is the highest in users’ bloodstreams. Xanax takes a shorter time to peak, at one to two hours. Meanwhile, Ativan peaks from one to six hours.

The half-life of drugs also depends on the amount people take. The half-life of a drug is the period of time that it takes for half of the drug to leave people’s systems. Generally, the half-life of Ativan is approximately fourteen to fifteen hours, while Xanax has an average half-life of eleven to twelve hours. If people use these drugs properly, it takes approximately four days for the drugs to completely leave their bodies.

Benefits: Ativan vs. Xanax

Both Ativan and Xanax can help a person manage sleeplessness and anxiety symptoms. They provide immediate relief for a short period of time. However, Ativan has an advantage over Xanax when it comes to drug interactions. That is why users who take several medications often prefer Ativan. People can use Xanax with other antidepressant drugs if they use the slower-acting versions of the drug. But, the quick-acting characteristic of Xanax makes it a preference for people managing panic attacks.

People use Xanax primarily for anxiety disorders and anxiety associated with depression. Ativan also manages anxiety disorders and doctors prescribe it to help with stress linked to insomnia. Doctors only approve Ativan for only up to four months of use. When people use Ativan for more than four months, managing withdrawal from the drugs might be more difficult compared to Xanax.

One major difference between Ativan and Xanax is that doctors prescribe Xanax to treat panic disorders. People are also more likely to abuse Xanax due to its fast absorption.

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Addiction to Ativan vs. Addiction to Xanax

Taking benzodiazepines such as Ativan and Xanax in large doses or taking them for a long period of time can increase people’s risks of developing a dependency on them. A patient may avoid painful withdrawal symptoms from the drug by taking small doses for the shortest time possible.

It is possible to abuse Ativan and Xanax and use them recreationally. When users combine these drugs with opioids, the combination increases the risks of serious side effects, since both types of drugs sedate users. People using this combination may experience breathing problems and impaired cognitive functions. To assist people with an addiction to Ativan or Xanax, they may consider finding help at an addiction treatment facility.

Risks of Continuing Ativan Use

If people use Ativan for more than a few weeks, drug tolerance can start to develop. Once people are tolerant of the drug, they will need higher doses to achieve the same calming effect. People abuse Ativan recreationally to get high. The high and tranquilizing effect of using Ativan gives users a euphoric feeling.

People suffering from alcoholism or other substance use disorders should be wary about using Ativan, since using it can pose serious risks, including coma and death. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. This means that mixing Ativan with other substances and alcohol may slow the brain’s functions.

Side Effects of Ativan Use

People using Ativan may experience various side effects, including:

  • Confusion
  • Sleeping problems
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea
  • Exhaustion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Hyperactivity
  • Suicidal thoughts

If people are using Ativan and experience any of these side effects, they should inform their doctors immediately.

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Risks of Continuing Xanax Use

The human body produces less GABA when taking Xanax. Like Ativan and other types of benzodiazepines, Xanax provides a feeling of being high and feelings of sedation, which can make it prone to abuse. Patients can overdose on Xanax if they take larger dosages than their doctors prescribed. Overdoses can also occur if people suddenly stop taking Xanax and start taking it again.

If people show signs of dependency on Xanax, they may need medically assisted detoxes to help them withdraw from the drug. For people who have been taking Xanax for a long period of time, medical detox may help patients cope with painful withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Lack of sleep
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures

Side Effects of Xanax Use

Common side effects of using Xanax may include:

  • Changes in sex drive
  • Drug tolerance
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slurred speech

Dependency on Xanax may also cause the following symptoms. If such symptoms occur, patients should immediately notify their doctors:

  • Exhaustion
  • Chronic headaches
  • Lack of focus
  • Dry mouth or increased salivation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Extreme mood swings

Benzodiazepines: Dangerous Drugs

Statistics revealed that benzodiazepine prescriptions have increased 67 percent over time, from 8.1 million in 1996 to 13.5 million in 2015. This highlights the fact that benzodiazepine abuse is on the rise. Patients who take Ativan and Xanax should therefore use the drug as recommended and use it with caution.

Want more information about how Chapters Capistrano can help? Feel free to call 949-276-2886 and one of our addiction specialists will help get the information and help you need.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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