Xanax vs Ativan: What’s the Difference?

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If you’re dealing with clinical anxiety, you’re probably here because you’re researching medications you think can help. Two popular brands of benzodiazepines are Xanax and Ativan. These two drugs can be prescribed to treat anxiety, but there are differences between the two. They both feature a calming effect, but they also come with addiction risks. Benzo addiction can happen when taking Ativan or Xanax for an extended time. Healthcare professionals at a recovery center can help in managing anxiety. That way, you don’t have to deal with the adverse effects of these drugs. 

If you’re having trouble deciding when it comes to Ativan vs Xanax, this article will help.

What Is Anxiety?

There are two kinds of anxiety. The first is characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. These feelings are situational and usually pass with time. Everyone has this kind of anxiety from time to time.

However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, and those levels don’t seem to abate, regardless of circumstance or time, that’s when it becomes a medical issue. This is what’s known as clinical anxiety.

The experience of clinical anxiety can vary greatly from person to person.

Common feelings include:

  • Restlessness or feeling wound up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or having one’s mind go blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
  • For someone with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can worsen over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.


Anyone can suffer from clinical anxiety, but things like genetics and family history can raise a person’s likelihood.

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How Is Anxiety Treated?

Anxiety disorders are typically treated through a combination of therapy and medication. The exact approach will depend on the needs of the patient.

One of the most common therapies for anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches individuals to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors that cause or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Through CBT, patients learn coping strategies to manage and reduce their anxiety.

While therapy attacks root causes, medications treat symptoms to provide more immediate relief. One of the most common classes of anti-anxiety medications is benzodiazepines. These are sedatives that can help relax your muscles and calm your mind. However, they are typically prescribed for short-term relief of anxiety symptoms due to their potential for dependence and withdrawal.

Examples include:

  • Xanax (Alprazolam): Used for the treatment of panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
  • Ativan (Lorazepam): Often used for anxiety disorders and short-term relief of anxiety symptoms.
  • Valium (Diazepam): Used for anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and sometimes for alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Klonopin (Clonazepam): Used for panic disorder and certain types of seizure disorders, but also sometimes for anxiety.


It’s important to note that while benzodiazepines can be effective for short-term relief, they are not typically recommended for long-term use due to risks of dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal, as well as potential cognitive effects. Always consult your doctor when choosing between Xanax vs Ativan.

Are There Different Anxiety Medications?

There’s a large variety of anti-anxiety medications.

One of the main types is benzodiazepines, which work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Xanax and Ativan are both examples of benzodiazepines. As such, they both carry the potential for dependence and addiction, especially with long-term use. They should be used with caution and under strict medical supervision.

Here are some other types of anti-anxiety medications:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are a class of drugs commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety disorders. They work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which helps improve mood and reduce anxiety.
  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are similar to SSRIs but also increase the levels of norepinephrine in the brain, offering an additional pathway for treating mood disorders. They are used for depression, anxiety, and sometimes chronic pain.
  • Beta-Blockers: Beta-blockers are primarily used to manage cardiovascular conditions, such as high blood pressure and arrhythmias, but they can also be prescribed off-label to reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, like tremors and rapid heartbeat.
  • Buspirone: Buspirone is an anxiolytic medication that is specifically used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It works differently from SSRIs and SNRIs by affecting serotonin receptors directly, and it typically has fewer side effects.


When choosing between Xanax vs Ativan, or any other anti-anxiety drug, it’s important to consider your health history, the specific anxiety disorder you have, and the potential risks, including the risk of addiction. This is best done in consultation with a doctor.

Xanax vs Ativan: What’s the Difference?

Xanax and Ativan are both benzodiazepine drugs meant to treat anxiety. However, there are key differences in how they work.

These include:

  • Potency: Xanax is generally considered to be more potent than Ativan on a per-milligram basis. This means that lower doses of Xanax are needed to achieve a similar effect to Ativan.
  • Onset of Action: Xanax tends to work more quickly than Ativan. It reaches its peak level in the blood within 1 to 2 hours after ingestion, making it effective for the rapid relief of acute anxiety. Ativan, on the other hand, may take a bit longer to feel its effects, but it also lasts longer in the body.
  • Half-life: Xanax has a shorter half-life (about 11 hours for most individuals) compared to Ativan, which has a half-life ranging from 10 to 20 hours. This means Ativan stays in the body longer and can lead to more prolonged effects.
  • Potential for Addiction: Both drugs carry the potential for dependence and addiction. However, Xanax is considered the strongest benzodiazepine.


The choice between Xanax and Ativan will depend on your specific needs. This is a choice best made in consultation with a doctor. It’s crucial to have these medications prescribed by a healthcare provider who can consider these factors and monitor for side effects and potential dependence.

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Who Can Prescribe Anxiety Medication?

Only a certified professional can prescribe anxiety medication. While the tight controls around these medications can make getting them legitimately a hassle, they’re there for a reason.

Trying to get anxiety medication online is a bad idea because not only are these drugs potentially addictive, but when you buy online you have no idea if what you are getting is pure or not. Oftentimes dealers sell contaminated drugs, cut with other substances as a cost-saving measure. These substances can make what you are taking significantly more dangerous than it otherwise would be.

It’s essential to consult a qualified medical professional when seeking medication for anxiety. Discuss your symptoms, medical history, and treatment preferences when considering Xanax vs Ativan. Your healthcare provider will evaluate the best course of action based on your individual needs and suggest the most appropriate medication for short-term relief or long-term management of anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety Treatment at SCBH

If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for anxiety, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help. The first step in treating addiction is a medical detox. This means using drugs to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Our medical detox program in California is staffed by caring and compassionate professionals who can provide you with medications to manage your withdrawal symptoms.

At South Coast, we take pride in offering care that is closely tailored to specific issues. To that end, we offer gender-specific detox programs, with medical detox for men in Irvine, CA, and medical detox for women in Huntington Beach, CA.

After detoxing, proper treatment can begin.

Treatment for substance abuse takes place along an entire spectrum of care. Along that entire spectrum are various behavioral therapies, support groups, and the use of medically-assisted treatment (MAT).

These levels of treatment are, in order, as follows:

Residential Treatment in California

After completing medical detox, you’ll receive inpatient treatment in Orange County California. There, you’ll receive medically-assisted treatment and dual diagnosis treatment to deal with any cravings or co-occurring mental health issues you may be battling.

We also offer residential treatment facilities in Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Huntington Beach for those who desire gender-specific treatment. There, patients get round-the-clock medical attention and monitoring while living at the institution full-time.

In addition to individual and group counseling and medication management, you’ll also have access to leisure activities and family support services.

Partial Hospitalization in California

Most clients start substance abuse treatment with South Coast in our residential treatment program. After completing that, many desire something that still provides structure and support, but with extra space and time to oneself. For that, we offer Partial Hospitalization in Newport Beach.

A step down from inpatient care but with more structure than conventional outpatient programs, partial hospitalization offers a good balance for those looking to ease back into normal life. Clients can receive care five to seven days a week for several hours each day, returning to their homes in the evening.

This way, they can recover without putting their daily lives completely on hold, receiving intense therapeutic interventions like group and individual therapy, skill development, and medication management as necessary.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment in California

For those leaving inpatient residential treatment or partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are yet another gradual step forward on the road to recovery.

With a focus on group therapy, individual counseling, and education, clients undergoing Intensive Outpatient Treatment in Newport Beach can meet three to five days a week. Each session lasts three hours.

This level of care requires the least amount of attendance at a facility.

Start Today

The negative effects of Ativan and Xanax on someone’s life cannot be ignored. If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety but wonder how long addiction treatment takes or have other questions, call us at 866-881-1184 or contact us here. Our qualified staff will be happy to help give you an idea of what to expect from your addiction recovery timeline. We can also help verify your insurance and assist with any other questions you may have.

Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT
Read More About addiction Treatment & Recovery
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