SAMHSA has found that benzodiazepines in the U.S. are the most abused pharmaceutical drug. Two of the drugs in the “benzo” family are Ativan and Xanax. They are two types of benzodiazepine medications that are available for nearly the same conditions. They come with many of the same risks and users will often abuse them with other substances.
In fact, a TEDS report stated that 95% of people admitted for benzodiazepine dependency abused other substances with it. The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) found that alcohol was frequently abused along with benzodiazepines.
Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam) are both a part of the benzodiazepine drug group. Benzos are considered a psychoactive drug. They can be administered as sedatives, muscle relaxants, and tranquilizers. They will both be prescribed to ease patients with the following disorders:
- Nervous tension.
- Psychological symptoms of all kinds.
- They can stop seizures and tremors.
- Insomnia due to anxiety.
When comparing Xanax and Ativan, there are quite a few similarities but also some differences. So which is the most effective with the least amount of risks?
Xanax vs. Ativan – How Are They Similar?
Xanax and Ativan share many of the same qualities as well as risks. They have the same potency and both medications will begin working relatively quickly in the body. When it comes to Xanax dosage vs. Ativan dosage, they are both administered in low doses due to their high potency.
Ativan dosage: 0.5-1 mg
Xanax dosage: 0.25-1 mg
Ativan vs. Xanax Prescriptions
The uses of Ativan vs. Xanax differ. Doctors will give them to patients with different disorders. They have been FDA approved for patients of different ages as well. Ativan can be used for patients 12 and over while Xanax isn’t prescribed to patients that are under 18.
Ativan dosages are used for patients with anxiety. They can also be used as a preoperative sedative. Ativan is available in a pill or liquid form. The doses are available in 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg.
Xanax is also given to patients with anxiety. They can additionally help patients who suffer from panic disorder. Xanax is prescribed to adults that are over 18. Xanax comes in Pill, Extended-release, Dissolving tablet, and Liquid form. The doses are available in .25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg.
Ativan Off-Label Uses
Off-label Ativan use refers to the drug being prescribed for something different than its FDA approved for. Doctors may choose to prescribe it for purposes that have been proven to work but isn’t an approved use. Here’s what Ativan might be prescribed for:
- For a patient who is irritable.
- For someone suffering from mania.
- Someone who experiences recurring seizures.
- Pre-surgery sedating.
- Vomiting due to chemotherapy.
- Subduing severe seizures.
- Assisting in alcohol withdrawal to prevent delirium tremens.
Xanax Off-Label Uses
Xanax also has some off-label uses. They include:
- Relief of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Someone who experiences premenstrual syndrome.
- Relief of ringing ears.
- Prevention of tremors.
Action Times Between Ativan vs. Xanax
The action times between Ativan and Xanax are different although they are both short-acting benzodiazepines. One of the biggest differences between the two drugs is how long they’re active in your body. Ativan action times are longer.
This means that the medicinal effects will last longer in the body. Xanax action time is less so the person will gain benefits of the medication more quickly. It also takes less time for the drug to peak within the body. Ativan can be detected in urine for up to 6 weeks when it’s used in high doses. Even if a person is using the proper doses, it may be detected in drug screening for up to 7 days.
Ativan vs. Xanax-Peak hours
Ativan-Expected time to peak is between 1-6 hours
Xanax-Expected time to peak is between 1-2 hours
Ativan Half Life Times
Ativan average half life is 14-15 hours
Xanax Half Life Times
Xanax’s average half-life is 11-12 hours.
Doctors will prescribe the smallest Xanax dosage possible. The daily dosage is between 0.5-6mg. The medical industry is cautious of Xanax because of the addiction and withdrawal risks. Usually, the Xanax half-life is 9-16 hours, depending on how much the person took. Generally, the drug will be completely out of their system in about 4 days.
Addiction Between Ativan and Xanax Differ
When you chronically take any benzodiazepine, the risk of dependency and addiction is there. Both Ativan and Xanax are no exception. To avoid uncomfortable or painful withdrawal, you’ll want to taper off the drugs over a period of time. One of the Xanax side effects is that is has a greater potential to be abused in comparison to other benzos. This includes Ativan.
Ativan Benefits for the Short-Term
Ativan has its benefits for patients who suffer from anxiety and sleeplessness.
Ativan is a CNS depressant that slows down unusual activity in the brain. Through calming the brains’ activity, Ativan helps:
- Relieve anxiety
- Relieve restlessness
- Relieve tension
- Relieve feelings like irrational fears.
It works well with other antidepressants to help manage anxiety disorders. Antidepressants take some time to become effective. Potentially, it can take weeks. This is where Ativan can be helpful because it staves off anxious feelings until the antidepressants kick in.
Ativan use is primarily to help a person manage anxiety symptoms almost immediately for the short-term. Ativan is less likely to have drug interactions compared to Xanax. If someone has to take several medications, Ativan will be at an advantage over Xanax and other benzos.
Risks of Continued Ativan Use
In just a few weeks, however, the nervous system gets used to Ativan effects. Tolerance to the drug then develops. The user will need higher doses to get to the same place of relaxation and calmness. If the person continues to use Ativan, they can become dependent. This is true for a patient who has taken their Ativan dosage and time frame instructed by their doctor.
The Ativan high can cause people to abuse the drug recreationally. Its tranquilizing effect, which is used to relax someone with anxiety, is the high people are seeking. The Ativan high includes a euphoric feeling when taking larger doses. It can cause adverse effects when mixed with alcohol or other substances. It can cause dizziness and drowsiness, which might be what a user is hoping for from their Ativan high.
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Downfalls of Ativan
The cumulative effects of Ativan use or abuse can cause health problems. It can have an impact on a person’s memory. Ativan can be habit-forming so using it as long-term treatment isn’t advised. Ativan is one of the more challenging benzodiazepines to withdraw from. Taking it for long periods of time is especially risky, potentially causing addiction.
For those with alcohol or substance abuse problems, they should not be prescribed Ativan. It can cause serious health problems, which include falling into a coma or death. People who have taken Ativan for long periods of time say that it gets less effective over time. This can cause people to abuse the drug to obtain benefits.
Ativan Side Effects
Ativan come with side effects such as
- Problems with sleeping.
- Cognitive memory problems.
- Temporary drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion.
- Physical and mental exhaustion.
Serious Ativan Side Effects
Serious Ativan side effects can put people at risk. If a person experiences the following, they should call their doctor immediately:
- They become confused.
- As benzodiazepines are a depressant to the CNS, they may become depressed.
- The depressive feelings can lead to thoughts of suicide or hurting oneself.
- They may experience hyperactivity.
- They may become agitated which can turn to hostility.
- They may experience hallucinations.
- They may become light-headed which can lead to fainting.
The benzo family will produce an increase of central nervous system depressant effects when mixed with other substances. This means that a person can become highly depressed or their brain may function very slowly. It can also cause fatal respiratory depression when combined with CNS depressants. If a person is already depressed and they take Ativan regularly, their condition may worsen. If someone has been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, they shouldn’t be treated with Ativan.
Occurrences of risk include:
- Taking more Ativan than recommended.
- Using it for longer than a month.
- If the patient has a drug abuse history.
- Long-term use.
- If the patient mixes with alcohol.
Xanax has proven itself to be effective for the relief of short-term anxiety. When Xanax vs. Ativan is compared for the efficacy of managing anxiety, both are similar. Xanax can also be used in conjunction with slower-acting antidepressants. Xanax use is effective when used for the short-term until the long-term antidepressant treatment kicks in.
Xanax does what most benzodiazepines do, acts on the nerves to create a calming effect. Its anxiolytic properties come in an immediate or extended-release form. The main benefit of Xanax is the compressed tablet that helps someone relax from a panic attack immediately. Due to its ability to onset immediately, Xanax is the drug of choice for controlling panic attacks.
It doesn’t take long before Xanax use begins to reveal negative effects on the person. Medically assisted withdrawal from the drug may be necessary which includes tapering off slowly. If someone uses Xanax for too long, they may even require a supervised detox. Someone with bipolar disorder may find it challenging to sleep if they take Xanax. It can also cause mania or excitability.
Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Inability to sleep.
- Extreme anxiety or the onset of panic attacks.
- Trembling or seizures.
- Heart palpitations.
Risks of Continued Xanax Use
When taking Xanax, the body produces far less GABA. This is the body’s natural calming capabilities. The dependency is swift and it’s not particularly safe to withdraw from benzodiazepines alone. The Xanax high comes with its own risks as well. As with any benzodiazepine, it can offer a nice, sedative high that people are drawn to.
Overdose of Xanax is possible when someone takes more than the recommended dose. It may also occur when someone stops and then restarts using Xanax. Mixing Xanax with other depressants like alcohol or other benzos can be extremely risky, causing death.
Xanax Side Effects
Common Xanax side effects include:
- Potential tolerance and habit forming tendencies.
- Can cause slurred speech.
- A change in sex drive.
- Respiratory depression which leads to shortness of breath.
Regardless of whether a person follows their Xanax dosage or not, these serious side effects may occur. If someone experiences these symptoms, they should seek out medical assistance:
- Chronic headaches.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Dry mouth or an increase in salivation.
- Inability to sexually perform.
- Rapid changes in weight.
- A problem urinating.
- Skin rashes.
- Seizures may occur.
- Rapid, extreme mood changes.
Comparing Ativan vs. Xanax as Effective Prescription Medications
Both Ativan and Xanax are fast-acting benzodiazepines. This does make them an effective part of anxiety treatment. It also makes both of them risky to take because of the number of pills needed on a daily basis. This can make both drugs more susceptible to being abused.
Xanax is primarily treated for anxiety disorders and short-term relief of anxieties. Xanax use also falls into the category of helping with panic disorders that involve agoraphobia (or not). It is also helpful with anxiety that is specifically associated with depression.
Ativan is FDA approved for managing anxiety disorders also. It is only approved as a short-term treatment for up to 4 months. It relieves anxiety symptoms that are associated with depression or stress that is associated with insomnia.
What’s important to point out is that Xanax is approved for panic disorder while Ativan is not. Xanax is more likely to be abused because of its fast-acting absorption into the blood stream. If someone uses Ativan for longer than 4 months, it can be more challenging than Xanax to withdraw from. In fact, it may take assistance from an addiction treatment clinic to help a person abstain. This is because intense withdrawal symptoms like seizures or uncontrollable anxiety may occur. The rebound effect can be difficult to manage.
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Dangers of Benzodiazepines in General
Statistics make it clear that there is a high use of benzodiazepine abuse. Millions of Americans have gone to the emergency room for recreational benzo use. People are abusing the drug in combination with other substances that can cause adverse effects. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) stated that fatalities and addiction admissions have been steadily increasing over the years.
For many that start using Ativan and Xanax, there will be withdrawal symptoms. It’s not always easy to get off these prescription drugs. The body gets a tolerance to them quickly and dependence sets in even if a person follows the doctor’s instructions.
When it comes to Ativan vs. Xanax, they share characteristics that are similar. They both have the ability to be abused, are highly addictive, and come with the same risks. It’s a matter of what type of anxiety the person has and whether it includes panic attacks. Whatever drug a person is prescribed, they should be used as instructed and taken with caution.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Drugs Can Interact With Ativan and Xanax?
Both Ativan and Xanax are highly potent benzodiazepine medications. Anyone who takes either of them should avoid any other prescription or recreational drug that can depress brain activity. There are several substances that will magnify the sedative effects from these drugs, and they include:
- Narcotic drugs
- Illegal opiates, such as heroin
Tranquilizers can be especially dangerous to take while also taking a benzodiazepine drug. Loxitane is one example that causes extreme sedation.
It is always best to talk with your doctor about any other medications or drugs you might be taking prior to starting either Ativan or Xanax. They will help you find the regimen that is right for you in the event that you are taking something that might interact.
Is it Safe to Take Ativan and Xanax During Pregnancy or While Breastfeeding?
It can be very dangerous to take a benzodiazepine drug like Ativan and Xanax while you are pregnant or nursing. If you are taking one of these drugs when you find out that you are pregnant, please bring it to the attention of your healthcare provider. They are the best ones to offer you advice on what you should do.
Here are some informational tips to remember:
- Taking a benzodiazepine during pregnancy could increase your risk for a miscarriage.
- If you are taking Ativan or Xanax during your first trimester, your baby could be at risk for birth defects. Benzodiazepine use early on in pregnancy has been linked to a slightly increased chance for cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
- Some studies have found that taking benzos later in pregnancy can increase the chance of preterm deliveries. Also, low birth weight has been linked to these medications as well.
- Taking a benzodiazepine drug close to the time of your baby’s delivery might cause your baby to go through withdrawal after birth. It is important for your doctor to be aware of all medications you are on.
- A few small studies indicate that taking Ativan or Xanax during pregnancy could result in problems for the baby later on in life. They may have trouble socializing or learning.
- Some benzodiazepines do pass through breast milk, and they can cause excessive sedation for the baby.
How Dangerous is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?
Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is very real, and it is a dangerous condition that needs medical treatment. When someone has this syndrome, they often experience:
- Sleep disturbances
- Panic attacks
- An increase in tension and anxiety
- Hand tremors
- Problems with concentration
- Nausea and vomiting or dry retching
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Muscular stiffness and pain
- Perceptual changes
People who take higher doses of benzodiazepines than normal are also at risk for seizures and psychotic reactions.
When it is left untreated, benzodiazepine withdrawal can be fatal in some cases. It is important to get the right treatment to help you get off either Ativan or Xanax if you are currently taking them.
Will I Need to go Through Detox to Get Off Ativan or Xanax?
The most important thing you can do when you are ready to stop using Ativan or Xanax is to go through drug detox. This can be a lengthy process, depending on how much of the medication you were using and for how long.
Detoxing allows your body the time it needs to purge itself of the toxins related to your drug use. It is a much safer way to quit than trying to stop using on your own. You may start your recovery by tapering off your medication slowly. This can sometimes eliminate certain withdrawal symptoms and decrease the severity of others.
You may also be given additional medications to help with any withdrawal symptoms you experience. For example, if you are considered to be at risk for seizures, you may be given a medication that may help you avoid them.
Will I Need to go to Rehab After I Detox Off Benzos?
Once you go through detox, it is important for you to continue your treatment by going to drug rehab. This may come as a surprise considering the fact that both Xanax and Ativan are prescription drugs. But when they are abused, they can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Drug rehab is important because it addresses the psychological aspect of your addiction to benzodiazepines. Everyone has a reason for using the drugs they take. In your case, you may be abusing Ativan or Xanax because it helps with your anxiety symptoms. You might also be suffering from depression, bipolar disorder or another mental health issue. If you are, you have what is called a co-occurring disorder.
When co-occurring disorders are ignored or treated separately from addictions, it can be problematic. It means that the underlying cause for the addiction is not being addressed, and it only increases the person’s risk for a relapse. But when they are treated properly, the person’s chances of a successful long-term recovery increase dramatically.
How Long Will My Treatment Take?
It is not possible to say how long it will take for you to get treatment for your benzodiazepine addiction. The detoxification process may take as long as 10 days or more, depending on the severity of your substance abuse problem. Afterward, you may need several weeks of rehab, depending on the type of program you choose.
But regardless, ongoing treatment is going to be critical to your success. It is not enough for you to go to rehab for a month and then never work on your recovery again after. You may even want to start by going to an inpatient program that offers detox services and then transitioning to an outpatient program. This will ensure that you continue to get the help and support you need.