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Klonopin Vs. Ativan: Which Works Better for Panic Attacks?

Updated on October 8, 2013
Klonopin tablets, like the ones shown here, are extremely effective at controlling anxiety disorders.
Klonopin tablets, like the ones shown here, are extremely effective at controlling anxiety disorders. | Source

A Brief History of Anti-Anxiety Medications

Millions of Americans suffer from panic attacks. Sometimes, a simple anti-depressant is the only medication that is needed to put an end to these debilitating episodes. For some people, however, stronger prescription medication is required. Since the 1960s, a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines are the "gold standard" used by psychiatrists to treat people who have panic disorders.

Within the benzodiazepine class, there are many different drugs like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin. Ativan, also known by the generic name lorazepam, and Klonopin (whose generic name is clonazepam) are two of the most widely prescribed drugs in this class of medications. Both drugs can be habit forming, so it is important to take them only as directed by a doctor. But which medication is better at managing panic attacks?

Ativan, pictured here, is one of the fastest-acting anti-anxiety medications.
Ativan, pictured here, is one of the fastest-acting anti-anxiety medications.

Ativan Acts Very Fast

According to the MedLine drug database, Ativan is an extremely fast acting medication. After taking a dose, your blood level of lorazepam quickly rises, and reaches it's peak within just a couple of hours. This makes it an extremely good drug for treating spur-of-the-moment panic attacks. Because it is so fast-acting, many people report feeling relief within minutes of taking Ativan. Although Ativan works quickly, the effects of the lorazepam also wear off quickly, as the drug has a half-life of 8 hours or less in most people. This means you can take it, get anxiety relief, and then have it wear off without feeling groggy or drugged later that night or the next day.

The Differences Between Ativan & Klonopin

This is a double-edged sword though. Because Ativan is so fast-acting, and the half-life is so short, some people find that their panic attacks quickly return and they need more and more lorazepam to keep them at bay. Many people have found that this is not the case while taking Klonopin. With clonazepam, blood levels of the active drug rise much more slowly, which means it can take a bit longer to achieve complete relief from an actue panic attack. Once the drug is in your system, though, it has a half-life of 30 hours or more. This means that the drug is still working for more than a day after you take your last dose.

A Pharmacist Explains the Method of Action of Klonopin

Picking the Medicine That's Right for You

For this reason, Klonopin can be better at controlling chronic panic attacks better than Ativan. Whereas people find they need to take more and more Ativan to achieve the same symptom relief, people taking Klonopin are often able to take a dose just once a day to achieve complete symptom control. If you only have panic attacks once in a blue moon, Ativan might be a great drug to help you combat them when they do come up. But if you are having panic attacks almost daily, klonopin might be the better choice for you. As with all psychiatric medication, only a physician can tell you if lorazepam or clonazepam are right for you.

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