Xanax and Ativan are both members of the benzodiazepine family and are used for the treatment of anxiety related disorders. They can also be used for muscle relaxant and anti-convulsive effect.
For a list of ways to fight anxiety in general, see The Top 25 Anxiety Tips.
How does Xanax vs Ativan compare?
First, they are both high potency. This means that they are relatively strong among their class of medication.
Xanax has a half life of 6-20 hours while Ativan has a half life of 10-20 hours. This means that your body gets rid of both of these medications relatively quickly. By comparison, Valium, another popular benzodiazepine, has a half life of 20-100 hours.
This is both good and bad. It’s good in that you clear the drug out of your system quickly. It’s bad in that it means that drug delivery is relatively quite rapid. When you stop taking the medication, it quickly clears from your body, which can result in horrible withdrawal.
Both are fairly addictive when used for long periods of time.
In a survey of 31 clinicians with detox experience, 84% said that Xanax is “especially problematic” for withdrawal. Ativan is also highly addictive and has similar withdrawal incidences, but has somewhat less of a bad reputation.
Both Ativan and Xanax are highly effective for the short term treatment of anxiety and neither has been indicated for the long term treatment of anxiety. Both work at fairly high rates to treat panic symptoms.
One study of 74 patients showed that the two have similar efficacy for treating of anxiety at around two weeks.
Remember, both have very similar chemical activity and similar half-lives.
Both have similar side effects.
Xanax and Ativan both cause some degree of memory impairment. One study showed that Ativan was among the “most frequently associated with amnestic effects” in the benzodiazepine class.
The way that memory impairment is tested for is as follows. Participants are told to memorize a set list of numbers or words then are given the medication and asked to recall them. This, or some variant, is used to show if memory impairment happens.
It’s somewhat artificial and does not replicate the more realistic use of the medications over several weeks. It has been shown that the memory impairment side effect may be attenuated to some degree over time. On the other hand, other studies have shown that long term use of Xanax or Ativan can cause memory and attentional problems.
Both Xanax and Ativan are also both associated with sedation. One study showed that Xanax was among the least sedating of the benzodiazepines while Ativan was among the most sedating.
Another study showed that Ativan has slower onset of sedative and memory effects, but that they lasted longer than with Xanax.
There are very few studies that directly compare Ativan vs Xanax. This is likely because drug companies have no reason to run comparison studies when there is the chance that their medication may come off in a bad light.