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Xanax vs. Ativan: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 30, 2023
Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam) are both benzodiazepines, but Xanax is primarily used for anxiety disorders while Ativan is used for anxiety, insomnia, and as a premedication for procedures.

Key Differences

Xanax and Ativan are both benzodiazepines, a class of medications primarily used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. They work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which reduces excitability and results in a calming effect. While both drugs serve similar therapeutic purposes, they differ in their pharmacokinetics and specific applications.
The active ingredient in Xanax is alprazolam, while Ativan contains lorazepam. Both alprazolam and lorazepam are short-acting benzodiazepines, but their duration of action differs slightly. Generally, Ativan might have a slightly longer duration of action compared to Xanax, which means that its effects might last longer in the body.
In terms of potency, Xanax (alprazolam) is often considered to be more potent than Ativan (lorazepam) on a milligram-per-milligram basis. This implies that a smaller dose of Xanax may achieve the same therapeutic effect as a larger dose of Ativan. Therefore, dosing considerations are essential when switching between these medications.
Xanax is not only prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders but also for certain forms of depression and, at times, to manage the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). On the other hand, Ativan is also used as a sedative before surgical procedures or to treat insomnia, in addition to its use for anxiety disorders.
Side effects associated with both Xanax and Ativan include drowsiness, dizziness, memory problems, and potential dependence when taken for extended periods. Both drugs have a risk of withdrawal if discontinued abruptly. However, the specific side effect profile and intensity can vary between Xanax and Ativan, making it crucial for patients to discuss any concerns with their healthcare providers.

Comparison Chart

Generic Name


Primary Uses

Anxiety and panic disorders
Anxiety, insomnia, premedication



Duration of Effect

Shorter duration
Longer duration

Potential for Dependence


Xanax and Ativan Definitions


A medication with sedative effects.
After taking Xanax, he felt drowsy.


A member of the benzodiazepine class.
Ativan, like Xanax, is a benzodiazepine.


A benzodiazepine drug.
She took Xanax to calm her nerves.


A prescription drug for anxiety and insomnia.
She takes Ativan to help her sleep at night.


A tablet to manage panic disorders.
Xanax has helped many with severe anxiety.


Known by the generic name lorazepam.
Lorazepam, often referred to as Ativan, can be prescribed for various conditions.


A prescription medication for anxiety.
I was prescribed Xanax for my panic attacks.


A medication with tranquilizing properties.
He felt relaxed after his dose of Ativan.


A drug known by the generic name alprazolam.
Alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax, is often prescribed by doctors.


Used as premedication before procedures.
Before her surgery, she was given Ativan to calm her nerves.


An antianxiety agent (trade name Xanax) of the benzodiazepine class


Tranquilizer (trade name Ativan) used to treat anxiety and tension and insomnia


Which has a quicker onset, Xanax or Ativan?

Xanax has a quicker onset compared to Ativan.

What is Xanax commonly used for?

Xanax is primarily used for anxiety and panic disorders.

How does Ativan differ from Xanax?

Ativan is also used for anxiety but has applications for insomnia and as premedication.

Are both Xanax and Ativan benzodiazepines?

Yes, both are benzodiazepines and affect the central nervous system.

How about Ativan? Is it addictive?

Yes, Ativan also has the potential for dependence.

Can I drink alcohol with Xanax?

Combining alcohol with Xanax can enhance sedative effects and is not recommended.

Can I use Ativan for sleep?

Yes, Ativan is sometimes prescribed for insomnia.

How are Xanax and Ativan metabolized?

They are metabolized differently, affecting their onset and duration of action.

Are there generics available for Xanax and Ativan?

Yes, alprazolam for Xanax and lorazepam for Ativan.

How should I store Xanax and Ativan?

Both should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from light and out of reach of children.

How long does the effect of Xanax last?

Xanax has a shorter duration of effect compared to Ativan.

Can I take Ativan before a surgical procedure?

Ativan is sometimes used as a premedication before surgical procedures.

Does Ativan have the same withdrawal concerns?

Yes, Ativan also has withdrawal concerns if discontinued suddenly.

What's the generic name for Xanax?

The generic name for Xanax is alprazolam.

Is dependence a concern with Xanax?

Yes, Xanax has the potential for dependence.

Can I use Xanax for sleep?

While primarily for anxiety, some people might feel drowsy with Xanax.

Can pregnant women take Xanax or Ativan?

Both should be avoided in pregnancy unless benefits outweigh risks and only under a doctor's guidance.

And for Ativan?

The generic name for Ativan is lorazepam.

Is it the same for Ativan?

Yes, combining alcohol with Ativan can also be dangerous.

Are there withdrawal symptoms with Xanax?

Yes, discontinuing Xanax suddenly after prolonged use can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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