What is the difference between Ativan and Xanax?

We review the three main differences between Ativan and Xanax: drug use, action times and abuse tendencies. Although both Ativan and Xanax are both classified as benzodiazepines, their medical use is slightly different. Come explore and discuss the similarity and difference between Ativan and Xanax here.

minute read

Similarities between Ativan and Xanax

Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam) are both benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines (Benzos) are a class of psychoactive drugs characterized by and used as tranquilizers, sedatives, muscle relaxants of to induce sleep. Benzos can also be used to relieve anxiety, nervousness, tension, or other psychological symptoms or even to stop seizures.

Xanax and Ativan are also similar in their potency. Both Ativan and Xanax are rapid onset medications, for example. Their medicinal effects can be observed in under 30 minutes of administration. Furthermore, both drugs are high potency medications that are administered in doses of 1 mg or less.

Ativan dosage: 0.5-1 mg
Xanax dosage: 0.25-1 mg

Differences Between Ativan and Xanax

1. Drug uses are different. Doctors prescribe the two drugs for different reasons. Specifically, Ativan and Xanax are used for the following medical treatments:

Ativan – used to treat anxiety and as a preoperative sedative
Xanax – used to treat anxiety and panic disorder

2.  Action times are different.  Although both Ativan and Xanax are short acting benzos, action times are a little different. The major difference between Ativan and Xanax is in the amount of time that the drug is active, or how long the effects last in the body. In general, Xanax takes less time to peak but is active for less overall hours.

Ativan – time to peak is 1-6 hours; average half life is 14-15 hours
Xanax – time to peak is 1-2 hours; average half life is 11-12 hours

3. Addictive qualities are different.  Chronic use of any benzodiazepine can lead to physical dependency and withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking the medication. This is true of both Ativan and Xanax, and withdrawal from both medications is a slow tapering off over a period of days. However, doctors recognize that Xanax may have more abuse potential than other benzodiazepines, including Ativan.

Ativan – relatively less abuse potential
Xanax – the most abuse potential of all benzodiazepines

Are you addicted to prescription pills?

Please let us know if you have questions about the addictive qualities of Ativan or Xanax. We respond to all comments, emails and videos. Click here for more information about signs of prescription pill addiction and to evaluate your medication use.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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    1. Hi Amy. Serax can be detected in urine up to 10 days. But this detection time frame may be longer for chronic users/

  1. I have been taking Xanax .5 4x’s daily. I began to build up a tolerance for them. Saw the doctor who prescribed Lorazepam .5 five days ago. Since last Wed I have had horrible withdrawal symptoms which seem to be getting worse each day. I have all the classic symptoms except for sleeping OK. I have to work! Has anyone else been here? Anything of help would be appreciated.

  2. I have been taking 1 mg of alprolazam since 2010. I have medicad right now and my doctor doesn’t take it. I can’t afford to pay a doctors full price to see him. I haven’t had it in a couple days and he won’t just call me more in. I have begged him to just call me in enough to taper me off of it. I feel awful. What do I do?

  3. I was just prescribe 1 mg of Ativan to take at night time but I don’t like the way it makes me feel the day after is it safe to take a Xanax the night after .25 mg to go to sleep

  4. Hello
    The physician put me on Xanax since 2012 for chronic panic attack until few months ago he stopped all sudden he said he can’t give me anymore and right now I’m going thru hard time living and working . Sexual with my wife . Started to panic again . Can you help

    1. Hi Mike. It seems to me that you experience withdrawal symptom for quitting Xanax cold turkey. I suggest that you consult with another doctor.

  5. I became aware recently that some parents on a high school team are handing their high school students Xanax and Ativan so they can play sports such as golf and diving. Any suggestions with out going to the parents how should this be handled. Oh These are prescribed to the mother and Grand mother. Not the students.

    1. Hi Tim. That’s serious problem. I suggest that you speak with the school counselor as well as the school principal.

  6. Thank you so much for the information. I have terminal stage 4 colon cancer. Have been prescribed both Xanax and Ativan to calm me down and help sleep. My doctor says because it’s terminal I shouldn’t worry about addiction and that these pills are not “really” addictive (claims it’s an old wife’s tail) after being on your site I know the truth thank you. I am going to stop my Xanax/Ativan/ms contin(morphine)/oxycontin (oxycodine) meds as I know from here my doctor does not care about my cancer but wants to make me an addict. I will try some new age Chinese medicine herbs. Thankyou SO MUCH!

  7. I have been taking Lorazepam for a few years now on and off. The one thing I experience is memory loss and quickly with short term memory. Don’t drink alcohol with this pill it will hit you like a ton of bricks. I take 1mg sometimes 2 per day which is prescribed. I can feel it running through my body fairly consistently during the day and into the next day if I don’t take it so it is strong stuff.

  8. I have been taking xanax for 10 plus years. It has been prescribed for insomnia primarily. As such I have been taking only at night. Trying to stop I am experiencing major headaches that last for days intil I finally givenin and take one. Currently and for the past two years I have been taking .5 mg a night. Skipping one night results in not sleeping. After teo nights I sleep fitfully, never reaching Rim but the headache starts and will not go away, at least for 4 days… the longest I have gone so far with no xanax. In reading other accounts I have not seen headaches mentioned. I do experience skme anxiety, but relatively minor Ineoukd say.

  9. Withdraw from Xanax pure hell I have bad withdraw I am very shaky and my legs and arms feel heavy I even have trouble taking a shower etc
    Anyone less

  10. The day they completely ban and outlaw the use of any type of Ativan and Xanax in the United States will be the best day ever because I will see there’s still hope for humanity, wish the politicians and top officials see what these two drugs are doing to both rich and poor people all over the world.

  11. I went cold turkey, which I don’t recommend unless you talk to an addiction specialist md and they guide you through it. This is what I did. I was prescribed phenobarbital which is KEY so you do not get seizures. I was not given a high enough dose of this medication and I had my first ever and only seizure because of this about 4 days cold turkey. Seizures are very likely to happen if you’re taking a high dosage I was taking 4mg 2-3x a day (it started much much less but dealing with a breakup and a stressful job with 2 hour gnarly commute each way it grew to that much), so DO NOT GO COLD TURKEY WITHOUT phenobarbital (after the seizure they raised the dosage and I didn’t have another one) The first couple weeks will be very hard and your head will be very cloudy from not having the Xanax in you, you feel almost like you’re really not even here in reality. Also, I was prescribed seroquel to help combat the anxiety and help me sleep. Seroquel makes you feel a little funny and very tired but you need it to battle the anxiety while coming off of the Xanax. Make sure the doctor gives you both of these. Your palms will be sweaty nonstop, you will sweat crazily in your sleep, but you have to be mentally strong and fight through it. It’s all about mental toughness, even anxiety itself. Stick it out, workout as much as you can, run, lift lots of weights, ride bikes as much as you can, that’s what helped me get through it. The natural endorfans released from working out, and exhausting myself past the point where I’m so exhausted that I can’t even care to be anxious anymore. You can do it! You just need to fully commit! Best of luck!

    If you have any questions just let me know and I’ll be happy to help you!

  12. I have read many of your comments and I feel inclined to write this because I have been there and I know how it feels. Xanax is incredibly addictive because it’s almost like a miracle pill, you take it and all your worries go away. That’s the problem with it. It’s so good you want to always feel like that, but your body gets used to it, so you need more and more and then you end up chemically dependant on it.
    – Do not take it every day! Try to leave as many days in between usage of possible, only use it when your anxiety is really really bad or have a panic attack.
    -it’s no way to live being constantly sedated, you miss a lot of what is important in life, effects your memory, makes you careless and can harm your relationships and work life and you don’t even notice because you’re so sedated!

    I became addicted to a very high dosage of Xanax. If you Can wean off it’s the best way, take .25 less per dose per week until you are down to just .25mg a day, then go every other day, every two days, every 3 days, one a week, then quit completely. This takes a lot of mental strength and discipline.

  13. Hello, I have been using Dilatin for for eplilptic seizures for 50 years plus. It has been a great drug controlling my seizures, my Doctor told me it was time to find another drug if I neded one. My problem is that I’ve been on Dilantin so long, so I talked to my pharmisist and she said Ativan could be used as a rescue drug if I needed.
    Hoping to hear from you Gary

  14. For those trying to wean down or off naturally, i recommend in pill form passionflower (really) and slowly reducing benzo intake. it works.

  15. DR.MALO I left a comment about my situation basically what I’m saying is I do not want to depend on Xanax that is why I tapered off not just worried about my drug screening I want it out of my life and my system but I know it is very uncommon to just stop taking it and not have a repercussion generally being a bad situation any help would be greatly appreciated thank you very much.

  16. Hello my name is Jimmy I’m struggling with this issue as well but I’ve been trying to get a grip on it for the better life for my family and career. My job says I cannot take Xanax although I’ve been prescribed 2 milligrams twice a day for anxiety and I’ve been on them for 6 years now, I’m taking a DOT physical and I cannot have controlled substance in my urine or blood even though it does not make me tired or drowsy anyone out there have this issue… I drive trucks for a living across state I’m just worried what if I get anxiety or Panic while I’m driving does anybody know of an alternative medication also I’ve already tapered off to only 1 milligram a day .5 in the morning and .5 late at night but my sleep pattern is shot out and my stomach is always hurting now I don’t mind crawling through the trenches for my family and my future I just don’t want to have a seizure so I’m kind of scared of that otherwise anxiety wise It’s mind over matter for me and I’m being strong I just don’t want to have something happen that I cannot control somebody please help me with this I appreciate you guys all good luck.

  17. I’ve been on alprazolam 24 years for severe insomnia. Initially I started at ..25 mg My prescription now is for 2 mg., though I seldom ever take that much. My doctor prescribed Venlafaxine last year in an endeavor to cut down or eliminate my use of Alprazolam. I hate Vemlafaxine as, for me, the withdrawal effects are horrific and I don’t want to be dependent on a medication which incapacitated me if I choose, or can’t take it. I’m almost 80 years old and I wonder whether, at this stage of life if it wouldn’t be better to just continue to increase my dose age of alprazolam as needed until ” the end”. One final note. I am neither anxious nor depressed and have never been.

  18. I’ve had chronic insomnia caused by anxiety and depression I had good luck with .5mg of lexapro and 2mg. of ativan, but they quit working.Tried to go back to them but no luck. after moving to a different state and going back to school ,my anxiety increased and my DR. put me on alprazolam.at first it woked great, but after using it more than 6 months, this stuff is wrecking my life.I WANT TO GET OFF ALL BENZOS. Can any body recommend anything that can help get off this stuff naturally.

    1. Hello Dr. Malo. DAWN reports list Xanax among the most prescribed and most abused benzodiazepine medications. It doesn’t mean, however, that Ambien is safe or has no potential for abuse. You can check out the following governmental online resources to verify the information: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2051498

  19. I took Xanax for 23 years so I could teach my college classes. I never was addicted to it. Now I have been prescribed Ativan at age 65. It seems too strong and does not work as gently as Xanax, though our lawmakers have seized upon this medication as a drug that real patients don’t need.

  20. Hello, I have ptsd, severe panic disorder, depression,social anxiety, and mental illness. I’m so scared of panic attacs, they last for 45min to 2-3hrs, even with positive and no negativity. I’m trying to find a chycologist but haven’t found one yet, just moved 590 mls away. I was on .1 xzanaxup to 4times a day for 16yrs till I moved here in another state..Even with my doctors great recomandation. They put me on Lorazapam .1mg. They DO NOT HELP MY DEPRESSION OR PANIC EPISODES. I have to find someone to HELP ME!! I just go in my room and panic it out/I went to the ER and they said can’t do nothing for you. Wat the ****, I brought them my records and nothing, not even a referal to get HELP!! II’M GOING CRAZY… Ihave sjogren’s with joint pain. The doctors need to quit treating all the people the same, everyone is different with different symptoms!! I hope I didn’t forgey anything 🙁 Thanks so much for listening 🙂

  21. Hi Terri. If you are not doing well then it’s a rather sudden and abrupt drop in dosages for you. You should lower doses gradually and slowly, and although it may take months before you can safely quit once and for all, it will be a lot less uncomfortable. Your doctor can help you create a tapering schedule that will fit your needs. Plus, you may need some OTC’s to manage some of the withdrawal symptoms.

  22. I need help to get off of Xanax I take 0.50 Megrams 4 times a day I was taking 3 Mel grams 3 times a day I just asked my Dr to drop me down 1 melse am not doing so good I’ve been on Xanax since 2004 what should I do

  23. If your asking about “can I snort xanax” etc. Your an idiot and should never be allowed pills of any kind!!!!
    I was a substance abuse counselor for years (working in rehab facilities and prisons) and I’ve been a Registered Respiratory Therapist for the past 3 years.
    Staying at a minimal dose at which you can function normally day to day is what you should go for and never increase medication! Doctors prescribing these medications are not counselors, they don’t care if you become addicted. Your the only one who’s gonna be crying the blues when the doctor finally tells you, “if you don’t stop your gonna die”.
    Good luck to you all and God bless!!!!!

  24. I’ve been dx with severe anxiety since my late 30yrs and not knowing that this medicine was addictive I’m taking it feeling good. Now I have a tolerance to it and had some mean withdrawals that scared the xxxx out of.me and my family. I want off badly tried those other ways. Only GOD helps me all the crying out to Him! He took me off other drugs this will be next for me. It’s sad Drs are the dealers now!

  25. i have got hyper acidity and gass troble and sleep disorder and last 10 years i am taking ativan 1 mg for different family tension i am trying to quit and resent i did not take ativan one day but sleep was disturbed then again started because for my son college i have to get up early so i again start ativan 1mg i am 55 years old.tell me something good.

  26. Hello I am 41 years old ive had 2 back surgeries, was in a car accident to were I hit my head pretty hard causing some mental issues….. I have inter past had problems with different drugs and alcohol, ive over come all of this and my Dr is aware of this has me on soma 3x day 3xanax1mg 3 opana40 6 hydro10 a day to my advantage I am under a strickt

  27. i was first put on advan 1.5 so i felt like a somby all the time so i got my md to put me onzanax it dont contol my problem like advan did. o i have panic attacks.

  28. maybe that would be better I have been taking 2 xanax a day and ince the threats of taking it away I tried cutting back ti 1.5 and then 1 but when I do I get the same feelngs that I had before I started taking Xanax the reason I was put on it like I said before it is the only drug that helps with no side affects. I do not abust it I only take what I should Its hard for me to understand how a Dr. thats suspose to help people cand find something that does help and dont care how you will feel if they take it away. Also I have rumatoid arthritis and I have been taking Ultram because I cannot afford other higher price drugs I was taking vicidan I got off that easy but I think they want to take the Ultram away also Why do they want to do this all at one time. Now I am so upset I dont sleep I dont know what to do about my house and living arragements It seems everything wants to hit me full force at once I will tell my Dr. about the spot I am in and see if he can help me until I know where I will end up living Its just a bad time to want me to stop all the medicine I take at one time Thank you so much for listing to me and giving me your advice I will be glad to hear from you again about my problem I have no one to talk to no family or friends so it hard to carry all this alone THANK YOU SO MUCH

  29. Hello Diana. This is a difficult situation. While you may be physically and psychologically dependent on Xanax, it does seem to offer you some balance in your life, especially in rather a tight spot. I’d suggest that you be honest with your prescribing doctor and make a good effort to stop Xanax, once the housing situation has been resolved. If you can make it through this time, and then address chemical dependency, it seems like you’ll be in a better place to be more successful. How do you feel about this?

  30. My name is Diana I am 55 years and have taken Xanax for 20 years now the doctor does not want me to take it anymore. I dont now if I can stop once before I tried and could not do it but now if I can not get it what will I do And all this comes at the worst time I may loose my home and have no where to go to and now at this time they want to take the only medicine I can take with no sied effects away I have tired every antidrepressant in the world and every one makes me sick and I have to stop taking them What should I do???????????

  31. Im having a probem with the thought of the drug being snortted and what would it do to a person if you do snort it.. does the drug cause slurd speech if taken normal or is that cause taken too much. Help me please.

  32. As a 60 year old woman who within the last year has been slapped in the face with several calamities, I don,t care if I become addicted to my Xanax and Prozac. After suffering a severe traumatic brain injury 18 months ago, I lost the ability to hide, cover up or otherwise hide from issues that have haunted me since I was 5 years old.
    I have been molested by both parents, lived in a severely alcoholic home, have been married for 40 years to a man who has turned into someone I don’t know, And now have my own health issues. The wonderful life I always fooled myself into believing I had has gone up in smoke before my very eyes. I will have to work until I am 70 and really can,t see any light at the end of the tunnel. With the help of a great theripist and my prescribed drugs, I finally have some hope of finding a little happiness in the short time I have left. I will trade hope for addiction any day of the week.

  33. iwas on xanax for about 25 years. most of the time i was taking 2mg 3 times aday. and some of the time i was taking ativan at the same time. i ended up in a mental hostipal . i like to have died. withdrawals were unbelieble. i would suggest if there is anyway possible try some other medications. it like to have killed me.

  34. Hi Chuck – I’ve sent your question to our in-house prescription pill expert and she recommends that you see a psychiatrist in order to help manage these medications. Thanks for asking Addiction Blog!

  35. Another kicker to this is that I am soon (this weds) going off of fentenyl patches. (new ins. won’t pay for them anymore). Not looking forward to it!! Any thoughts to help me in this process? Again, I am going to pain mngmnt on weds. (Today is sunday morning)

  36. Hey, I am bp and am on lamictal. But am also on or was on m10 mg of ambien and .05 xanax for insomnia. My Dr. switched me to 1m,g of ativan. Only sleep about 3-4 hrs. a nite. Am a bit worried that sleep is again going to become an issue. Being bp, makes the lack of sleep an even bigger issue. Any thoughts??

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