Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a class of mild tranquilizers or sedatives commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, and insomnia. Ativan is also sometimes used to help with alcohol withdrawal. Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam) are the most frequently prescribed medications in this drug class.
Although there are multiple similarities between the two drugs, including what they are used to treat and their effects on the body, there are also some notable differences.
Xanax and Ativan Similarities
Ativan and Xanax both affect neurochemicals in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps facilitate communication between nerve cells in the brain. While the precise way these benzos interact with GABA is unknown, these medications are believed to enhance GABA’s effects and mitigate the activity of nerves in the brain to induce relaxing effects on both the body and mind.
Since Xanax and Ativan have similar effects, they are often prescribed for similar reasons, namely the short-term treatment of anxiety, panic disorder, and other health conditions.
Both drugs have several side effects, including the following:
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Appetite changes
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Memory impairments
- Impaired coordination
Both medications can also cause rebound anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, insomnia, vomiting, and even death upon cessation of use. To reduce this risk, any person taking either of these drugs must follow their physician’s directions precisely and call 911 if they begin to feel any severe withdrawal effects.
Also, suppose you are taking either Ativan or Xanax. In that case, you should not drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery, as many of the effects of these drugs can impair alertness and delay response time.
Like other benzodiazepines, both Xanax and Ativan can be addictive if used in excessive amounts or over a prolonged period. Because of the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction, these medications should only be prescribed for short-term use and administered the lowest dose that is effective.
Xanax vs. Ativan
Although these drugs are similar in many ways, there is one significant difference between the two: how the body processes each medication. Ativan is active longer in the system than Xanax, with the effects of the drug peaking between 1-6 hours after consumption. When Xanax is ingested, its effects peak within just 1-2 hours.
The half-lives of each substance, or the average amount of time required by the body for the amount of the drug to be reduced by half, also varies significantly. While the average half-life of Ativan is between 14-15 hours, Xanax’s average half-life tends to fall between 11-12 hours.
There are some other differences between Ativan and Xanax, including the conditions they are used to treat. Xanax also may induce a few more side effects atypical of Ativan use.
What They Treat
Both Xanax and Ativan are commonly used to treat anxiety. But these medications can be used for other reasons. For instance, Ativan is also approved for use as a sedative before an operation.
Both drugs have several off-label purposes for other conditions or health conditions, including the following:
- Panic attacks
- Bipolar mania
- Vomiting from chemotherapy
- Alcohol withdrawal
Off-label Xanax use can also address the following:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Severe premenstrual syndrome
Ativan and Xanax tend to have had similar side effects. However, there are some side effects of Xanax that differ from common Ativan side effects, including the following:
- Loss of interest in sex
- Swelling of hands and feet
- Increased sweating
- Stuffy nose
How Does Benzo Overdose Occur?
Even when benzodiazepine medications are legitimately prescribed, overdose can still occur if the individual accidentally takes too much. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), there has been a fivefold increase in the number of overdose fatalities related to benzodiazepine use. However, a benzo overdose is most likely to occur when the medication is combined with other intoxicating or addictive substances, especially alcohol or opioids.
Older adults are especially for overdosing on Xanax or Ativan because many of them also use prescription medications, particularly painkillers. Individuals who are prescribed benzodiazepines should be careful when using these two medications with opioid painkillers, alcohol, and barbiturates.
Symptoms of a Xanax or Ativan overdose on Xanax include the following:
- Extreme fatigue
- Confusion and agitation
- Mood swings
- Slurred speech
- Physical weakness
- Lack of coordination
- Blurred vision
- Depressed breathing
- Stupor or unresponsiveness
- Low blood pressure
Benzodiazepine medications such as Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin enhance the effects of alcohol, and vice versa, making overdose or poisoning much more likely when these substances are combined. It is possible to overdose on Xanax or Ativan alone, but other intoxicating substances, such as alcohol and opioids, are often found in overdose cases on benzodiazepines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, emergency room visits due to non-medical use of benzodiazepines rose by 89% between 2004-2008.
Recognizing Benzodiazepine Abuse and Intervening
It is certainly possible for a person to experience effects similar to a high, even if they are taking the prescription legally and as directed by a health provider. Regardless, if you suspect someone you love is abusing benzos, and you notice pill bottles in his or her possession, now may be the time to intervene.
Intervening regarding a person you know has a problem is never an easy thing to do. We love these individuals, and we do not want to hurt them, but we love them and realize they are hurting themselves and at perhaps a potentially lethal rate. In such extreme instances, professional intervention is highly recommended. If you are trying to help someone you love, keep the following tips in mind:
- Do not refer to the person as an addict or accuse them of being an abuser.
- Do not demand that the individual seeks help, and instead, merely state your concerns.
- Encourage the possibility of professional help, but do not be too forceful.
- Maintain the relationships you currently have with the individual. Acting differently will likely arouse suspicion.
Getting Help for Ativan and Xanax Abuse and Addiction
Ativan and Xanax can help individuals find relief from many different unwanted medical conditions. Still, it’s also essential to remember that these drugs also come with some serious risks, such as dependence and addiction. When used in excess, or prolonged period, a dependence can form. This is why it’s vital to use them with caution and seek help at the first signs of Ativan or Xanax abuse.
Just Believe Recovery center offers various therapeutic modalities and activities, including behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, relapse prevention, aftercare planning, and more.