What Are the Differences Between Xanax and Ativan?

Benzodiazepine medications have been used for decades to treat a range of conditions, including anxiety disorders, panic disorders, epilepsy, and other similar conditions. Two widely prescribed medications in benzodiazepine family are Ativan and Xanax.

While Ativan and Xanax are both benzodiazepines, and have similar side effects and risks for addiction, there are key differences between these drugs. Read on to learn about the differences between Xanax and Ativan.


alprazolam xanax

Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, which is a prescription benzodiazepine medication used to treat anxiety. These disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety with depression, and panic disorder.

Xanax should not be taken for more than two weeks, because the drug is very habit-forming. and the body can quickly develop a tolerance to it. When this occurs, the prescription dose will not work as well. Furthermore, benzodiazepines like Xanax can also lead to addiction due to how they interact with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors.

Xanax was originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1981, and since then, recommended doses and methods of ingestion have changed to reduce its addictive potential. Currently, in both brand name and generic forms, alprazolam is available as a liquid, oral disintegrating tablets, and extended-release tablets.

Alprazolam has a half-life of 6-12 hours, with a 0.5 mg dose. The medication is approved for prescription in adults ages 18 or older.

In some cases, alprazolam can be prescribed for:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
  • Essential tremor.
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.

Xanax Intoxication Side Effects

According to recent statistics, benzodiazepine overdoses accounted for over 31,000 emergency department visits between 2019 and 2020. Alprazolam alone accounted for approximately 1200 of those cases.

To enhance the effects of other central nervous system (CNS) depressants, such as alcohol or opiates, sometimes people mix these drugs with benzodiazepines. When CNS depressants are mixed, they enhance each other’s effects. However, this can also rapidly lead to overdose and death. In 2020, 16% of overdose deaths involved a combination of opioids and benzodiazepines.

Alprazolam intoxication appears much like alcohol intoxication. However, side effects from Xanax misuse can include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Memory impairment.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Rebound insomnia.
  • Increased risk of mania in people with bipolar disorder.


Ativan is also a benzodiazepine medication. It is the brand name of the generic lorazepam, which is used to treat generalized anxiety disorder and anxiety stemming from depression. It is also sometimes prescribed to treat:

  • Insomnia
  • Epilepsy.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
  • Nausea and vomiting associated with treatment for cancer.

In some rare cases, lorazepam is used for:

  • Mania.
  • Irritability.
  • Recurring seizures not due to epilepsy.
  • Pre-surgical sedation.

Like Xanax, it is not recommended that a person continue taking Ativan for more than 2-4 weeks. The medication is intended for short-term treatment unless a life-threatening condition such as a seizure disorder requires longer-term treatment. This is because Ativan, like Xanax, is very habit-forming and the body can easily develop tolerance to it, so the prescription dose amount will not work as well weeks later.

Ativan was originally approved by the FDA in 1977, and various versions of the drug, such as injectable formulas and different oral doses, have been approved since then. Lorazepam also has a half-life of 6-12 hours, but the size of the dose is 1-2 mg. Unlike Xanax, Ativan can be prescribed to people ages 12 and older.

Ativan Intoxication Side Effects

The DAWN Report notes that lorazepam intoxication and overdose are frequently found to be reasons for emergency room visits, but less frequently than with Xanax.

Like alprazolam, lorazepam intoxication looks similar to alcohol intoxication. The drug can cause side effects like:

  • Headache.
  • Nausea or stomach problems.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Heartburn.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Confusion.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.

Get Help for Ativan or Xanax Addiction

Both Ativan and Xanax are widely prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorders. However, they are also some of the most addictive and widely misused drugs in the world — and benzodiazepine misuse can lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. While they do not often lead to overdose deaths on their own, many people who abuse benzodiazepines also concurrently use drugs like alcohol and narcotics. According to studies from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), benzodiazepine-related overdoses are on the rise: In a long-term survey from 1999 to 2013, there were 22,767 prescription-abuse related deaths, and 30 percent of those involved benzodiazepines.

It is very important for people struggling with benzodiazepine misuse, including abuse of Xanax or Ativan, to get help from a qualified healthcare provider or addiction treatment center. Addiction treatment programs can work with clients to develop tapering regimens to safely detox from these medications. They also support clients’ improved mental health and stress management via individual and group therapy. These supports help individuals learn about their addiction, cope with triggers after rehabilitation, and manage their physical dependence on benzodiazepines.

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