Xanax vs. Ativan: What’s the Difference?

valium and ativan pills

Xanax and Ativan are both potentially addictive benzodiazepines that are used to treat anxiety and other clinical disorders. Ativan and Xanax withdrawal symptoms can both be severe, however, there are several main differences between these two drugs as well. This blog explains the primary difference between Xanax and Ativan, as well as the side effects of abuse, withdrawal, and common signs of addiction.

Xanax vs. Ativan: What’s the Difference?
Xanax and Ativan are both benzodiazepines that are used to treat anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. The primary difference between these two drugs is that Ativan leaves the body more quickly than Xanax does, reducing the user’s likelihood of experiencing negative side effects.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax (alprazolam) is a Schedule IV drug and a prescription benzodiazepine that is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Although it can cause physical dependence and addiction, it is effective in treating these conditions. It works by producing feelings of calmness as a result of  increased levels of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.

Xanax is safe and effective for treating anxiety and panic disorders, despite its risk of addiction. People who take alprazolam medically are more likely to become addicted if they take it for a long time or consume larger or more frequent doses than was prescribed by a doctor. Some people may also abuse Xanax by taking it with other prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol to enhance its effects.

Many people who abuse Xanax also misuse opioids, which is an extremely dangerous combination. Since benzodiazepines and opioids both act as central nervous depressants in the body, misusing both simultaneously could cause dangerous side effects like cognitive problems or difficulty breathing. Not surprisingly, more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses also involve benzodiazepines like Xanax.1

Xanax abuse is very common in the United States. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), two percent of the American population, or 5.4 million people ages 12 and older, misused prescription benzodiazepines like Xanax in the last year.2

Common street names for Xanax include:3

  • Bars
  • Benzos
  • Blue footballs
  • Bricks
  • Handlebars
  • Planks
  • School bus
  • White boys
  • White girls
  • Yellow boys
  • Xannies
  • Z-Bars
  • Zanbars

How Long Does Xanax Stay in Your System?

The duration of time Xanax will stay in your system depends on several different factors. However, Xanax generally stays in the body for about four days after the last dose.4

Xanax can also be detected via drug test, but the amount of time it remains detectable in your body depends on:

  • Your age
  • Your metabolism
  • Dosage amount
  • Frequency of use

Approximate Drug Test Detection Times for Xanax

Urine testDetectable for 5-7 days
Blood testDetectable up to 24 hours
Saliva testDetectable for up to 2.5 days
Hair follicle testDetectable for up to 90 days

Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-xanax-stay-in-your-system-80348 

Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Addiction

Xanax addiction is often coupled with several noticeable signs and symptoms, including:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of Xanax wear off
  • Having strong cravings and urges to use Xanax
  • Feeling like you need Xanax to function normally
  • Having financial problems due to your Xanax abuse
  • Experiencing problems in relationships due to your Xanax abuse
  • Needing larger or more frequent doses of Xanax to achieve the effects you want (tolerance)
  • Losing interest in normal hobbies and daily activities
  • Continuing to abuse Xanax despite the physical, emotional, and relational problems it causes
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family
  • Lying about your Xanax use or hiding it from others

What Are Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms?

If you are physically dependent on Xanax, you may experience Xanax withdrawal symptoms when its effects wear off. Common Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:5

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Memory and cognitive problems
  • Coordination problems
  • Excessive sweating
  • Twitching
  • Dizziness
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you choose to quit Xanax cold turkey without medical assistance, you are more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, especially if you’ve been using Xanax for a long time. Although rare, benzodiazepine withdrawal can be fatal, especially if psychological symptoms of withdrawal are unmonitored.

Xanax withdrawal symptoms are best managed with a medical detox program that can provide 24/7 medical and clinical monitoring. This will ensure individualized care, treatment for uncomfortable Xanax withdrawal symptoms, and an effective detox process.

Compare Other Drugs


What Is Ativan?

Ativan (lorazepam) is a benzodiazepine that is used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders. Much like Xanax, Ativan works by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain.6 It is a Schedule IV drug that can be highly addictive, especially if you take it for an extended amount of time.

If a person is prescribed Ativan for medical purposes, his or her dosage will vary depending on their medical condition and response to treatment. It is hardly ever prescribed for longer than four months, due to its ability to cause addiction. However, someone who previously abused prescription drugs or had a substance use disorder may have an increased risk of developing an Ativan addiction.

Some people may abuse Ativan to get high, as it can cause a brief high with side effects like euphoria, calmness, and relaxation. Most often, people misuse it by consuming very large doses or taking it with alcohol to enhance its effects. As is true with many other benzodiazepines, taking Ativan with other illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol can greatly increase your risk for overdose.

Common street names or slang terms for Ativan include:

  • Goofballs
  • Heavenly blues
  • Stupefy
  • Simply benzos

How Long Does Ativan Stay in Your System?

Just like with Xanax, the duration of time Ativan stays in your system will vary from person to person. However, Ativan usually stays in your system for about three days after the last dose.

Approximate Drug Test Detection Times for Ativan

Urine testDetectable for 6-10 days after a dose
Blood testDetectable for 6 hours-3 days after a dose
Saliva testDetectable for 6-8 hours after a dose
Hair follicle testDetectable for up to 90 days

Signs and Symptoms of Ativan Addiction

Some common signs of Ativan addiction often include:

  • Being unable to control Ativan usage
  • Having strong cravings and urges to use Ativan
  • Hiding Ativan or lying about Ativan use
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of Ativan wear off
  • Seeing multiple doctors to get Ativan (“doctor shopping”)
  • Losing interest in hobbies and daily activities due to Ativan abuse
  • Experiencing financial, personal, and relationship problems due to Ativan use
  • Continuing to use Ativan despite the problems it’s causing
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family

Ativan Withdrawal Symptoms

Ativan withdrawal symptoms can range from minor to severe but commonly include:7

  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Tingling arms and legs
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Insomnia
  • Severe mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to touch, light, and noise

Medical detox is often recommended for benzodiazepine withdrawal, including Ativan. Getting professional treatment during this time reduces the likelihood of experiencing severe or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and greatly increases the likelihood that you will remain sober after detox is over, especially if you choose to continue your addiction treatment with residential or outpatient rehab.

Xanax Uses vs. Ativan Uses

Both Xanax and Ativan are used to treat anxiety and may also be used for similar medical treatment.

Xanax is used to treat:


  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders
Ativan is used to treat:


  • Anxiety disorders
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
  • Sedation before a medical procedure
  • Seizures

Although Xanax and Ativan have legitimate medical uses, both of these drugs are commonly abused for recreational purposes as well.

Xanax vs. Ativan: Addiction and Dependence

Both Xanax and Ativan are Schedule IV drugs and carry a risk of dependence and addiction. The risks are higher for people who:

  • Misuse these drugs in any way
  • Have had previous substance use disorders
  • Take these drugs for an extended period of time
  • Misuse of other prescription or illegal drugs

Xanax vs. Ativan: Side Effects of Abuse

Since both Xanax and Ativan are benzodiazepines, the side effects of misusing them are very similar. Xanax or Ativan abuse can cause the following side effects:8

  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Loss of memory
  • Impaired judgment
  • Blurry vision or double vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Seizures

Get Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment Treatment Today

Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan are powerful drugs that can cause physical dependence and addiction, even if you take them as directed by a doctor. If you are addicted to Xanax or Ativan, you may feel like it’s impossible, but you can take your life back and recover with the right treatment and support.

When you’re ready to get sober, call the drug detox professionals at Briarwood Detox Center and we can help you manage uncomfortable Ativan and Xanax withdrawal symptoms. Our programs offer individualized and comprehensive care and we accept most forms of insurance. Call (888) 857-0557 today to learn more.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2017-nsduh-annual-national-report
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf
  3. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/benzo.pdf
  4. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-xanax-stay-in-your-system-80348
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846112/
  6. https://www.drugs.com/lorazepam.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7841856
  8. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/benzodiazepine-abuse

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