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What is the Difference Between Valium and Ativan?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are typically prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, and seizure disorders. Sometimes, these medications are used to improve the symptoms of insomnia and even limit the severity of alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are effective in treating these conditions because they are central nervous system depressants that slow down activity in your brain.[1]

Unfortunately, benzodiazepines are known to be habit-forming and highly addictive, especially when used long-term. Many people abuse these substances to experience a sedative and euphoric high. There are many different types of benzodiazepines that people abuse, including Valium and Ativan.

Studies show that up to 17.2% of individuals who take benzodiazepines are abusing them.[2]

Valium and Ativan share many similarities, but there are some differences to be aware of. Knowing the differences between these two medications is important, especially if you are abusing them.

What is Valium (Diazepam)?

Valium is the brand name for diazepam, a prescription benzodiazepine medication primarily used to treat anxiety, acute seizures, status epilepticus (continuous seizures), muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal.[3] You might also receive Valium right before you are given anesthesia before surgery.

Diazepam is only intended to be used for a short period. Even if you use this medication as recommended, taking it for an extended amount of time can lead to addiction.

The side effects of Valium include:[3]

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feelings of fatigue or drowsiness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Inability to control movements

If you are prescribed Valium for more than 4 weeks, your provider will have to gradually decrease your dosage over time to prevent you from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, if you have been abusing Valium without a prescription you must seek help from a medical detox program, as withdrawal symptoms can become severe and life-threatening.

What is Ativan (Lorazepam)?

Ativan is the brand name for a benzodiazepine called lorazepam. Lorazepam is typically prescribed to treat the same conditions as Valium. However, Ativan may also be used to help individuals overcome insomnia related to anxiety and stress.

Like Valium, Ativan is only intended to be used on a short-term basis. If your doctor decides you must be on lorazepam for longer than 2 weeks, you cannot suddenly stop taking the medication.[4] Whether you abuse Ativan or take it as prescribed for long periods of time, you will be physically dependent on Ativan and experience withdrawal symptoms unless you are tapered off of the drug gradually.

The common side effects of Ativan include:[5]

  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Restlessness or excitement
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in sex drive or ability

The Similarities Between Diazepam and Lorazepam

Both Ativan and Valium are benzodiazepines that are only available by prescription. These medications work to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal by increasing the reuptake of (gamma-aminobutyric acid) GABA in your brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the central nervous system (CNS). The increase of GABA leads to decreased brain activity and a calm effect.

Additionally, both substances are Schedule IV drugs, which means they have medicinal uses and a potential for abuse and addiction. Because of the risk of addiction, diazepam and lorazepam are only intended to be used for short periods. If you become dependent on either substance, you cannot abruptly quit taking the medication as you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

These medications are both available in brand name and generic forms as well as oral tablets or injectable solutions.

The Main Differences Between Ativan and Valium

There are plenty of differences between Valium and Ativan to be aware of. First, Valium is approved for use in adults and children over 6 months of age, while Ativan should not be used by anyone under 12 years old.

While both medications treat several conditions in common, Ativan is more suitable for insomnia than Valium.

The typical dosage for Valium is between 2mg to 10mg and can be taken 2 to 4 times per day. When it comes to Ativan, the typical dosage ranges between 2 to 6mg. The maximum dosage for Ativan is 10mg per day while you can take up to 30mg of Valium in 24 hours.

Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine, which means it takes a long time for your body to eliminate the drug. On the other hand, Ativan is an intermediate-acting substance, which means your body will eliminate it faster than Valium.

Lastly, Ativan is known to have fewer drug interactions than Valium. However, it is important to note that you should never mix any benzodiazepine with alcohol or opioids, as this could lead to an overdose.

Finding Help for Benzodiazepine Abuse and Addiction

If you or a loved one frequently abuse a benzodiazepine like Ativan or Valium, you must seek professional help. Benzodiazepine abuse can lead to addiction, severe withdrawal symptoms, and an increased likelihood of experiencing fatal overdoses.

At Carolina Center for Recovery, we can provide you with the tools and support you need to achieve long-term sobriety. To learn more about our benzodiazepine addiction treatment program, contact us today.