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Xanax vs Ativan – Which Drug Is Better?

xanax vs ativan

What Are Xanax And Ativan Used For?

Ativan® or Lorazepam and Xanax® (alprazolam) are medications that belong to a commonly prescribed class of benzodiazepines. They have some notable differences. It is confirmed by how Lorazepam and Xanax® are used in medicine and how they are classified.

Benzodiazepines are used as anxiolytics, anticonvulsants, sleeping pills, and antispasmodics. In other words, they can reduce anxiety, stop seizures, improve sleep, or create muscle relaxation, but not all drugs are used for all things.

Lorazepam and Xanax® have one overlapping use – both can be used as anxiolytics. Ativan® has an additional use as an anticonvulsant, while alprazolam is not effective in this regard. There seems to be a high preference among prescribers for benzodiazepines, which are best for anxiety. Moreover,  both drugs are sometimes used as sleeping pills, although Ativan® is likely more effective, and better benzodiazepines exist for sleep problems.


Xanax is an orally administered short-acting benzodiazepine and is currently the most prescribed psychiatric drug in the United States. It is primarily used in treating people with anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Xanax acts on the brain and nervous system, promoting sedation and muscle relaxation, thus producing a calming effect.

Xanax has a short half-life, which means its effects are felt quickly, sometimes within minutes, making the drug an extremely addictive medication. It is available with a doctor’s prescription because it is a potent medication that can lead to addiction and withdrawal syndrome if not taken carefully. Thus, Xanax must be never taken without the help of a medical professional.


Like Xanax, Ativan is also an orally administered benzodiazepine primarily used to treat anxiety and promote relaxation and sedation. In addition, Ativan also works by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA. It can cause withdrawal reactions, especially if a person has been taking this medication for an extended time or in high dosage. Consequently, this medication can lead to addictive behavior or dependence.

How Long Do Xanax And Ativan Last?

One way to compare benzodiazepines is to determine how fast they work and their half-life. They can be divided into groups by how they reach their peak serum concentration in the blood, and they can be called short-, medium-, and long-lasting, depending on their half-life.

Xanax® has a short duration of action, and Lorazepam belongs to the medium class. Alprazolam has a half-life of six to 12 hours and reaches peak serum concentrations after one to two hours. Lorazepam has a half-life of 10 to 20 hours, with a peak of two to four hours. Xanax® acts as an anxiolytic, but Lorazepam lasts longer.

Xanax® may be more appropriately used for intermittent anxiety of very short duration, such as the duration of a scary plane ride or a couple of hours before surgery. Thus, many doctors prescribe only a few pills at a time.

Which Is Stronger Ativan or Xanax?

There is a wrong question to ask because the strength of the drug depends on its dosage, way of intake, a form of medication, indication and many other factors.

The only difference between these two drugs is how long they last in the body. Thus, your doctor can choose an appropriate dosage for you.

Side Effects

Side effects of both Ativan and Xanax also vary slightly. Side effects of Xanax include drowsiness, dizziness, memory problems, poor balance, slurred speech, difficulty concentrating, headaches, visual disturbances, appetite changes, and irritability.

In contrast, side effects of taking Ativan include confusion, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts, hostility, hyperactivity, hallucinations, blurred vision, feelings of lightheadedness, and sleep problems.

Advantages And Disadvantages

Notably, Xanax® has one distinct medical advantage. It may be a better choice for patients who take many other medications because any drug interactions are likely to have a shorter duration. When the goal is to provide more extended relief from anxiety, use more doses of Xanax® or turn to Lorazepam because it can provide more extended relief from anxiety when taken once.

Another way to evaluate the differences between Lorazepam and Xanax® is to compare the strength of the dose. A 0.5 mg dose of Xanax® is about equal to a one-milligram dose of Lorazepam. It means that patients take twice as much Lorazepam as alprazolam to achieve the same effect.

Xanax® is stronger but still works for a shorter period. To get the same insurance coverage for 10-20 hours that Ativan® provides, people may need to take more doses of Xanax® because they don’t last as long.

Lorazepam and Xanax® may differ from each other individually. Side effects are similar but may have slight differences. Individual patients may find that they prefer one of these drugs over the other in terms of effectiveness or reduced likelihood of side effects.

Xanax and Ativan are also not the only options available in the benzodiazepine class. Other comparable anxiolytics or anticonvulsants include clonazepam, diazepam, and oxazepam.

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