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What Is the Difference between Clonazepam and Xanax®?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Clonazepam and Xanax® (alprazolam) are two commonly prescribed benzodiazepine medications. Each works effectively for anxiety, but clonazepam is also used as a muscle relaxant and anti-seizure drug. The medications differ in how quickly they work, how long they stay in the body, and how appropriate they are for certain conditions. Benzodiazepines share similar side effects, but clonazepam side effects may be more noticeable.

Perhaps the biggest difference between clonazepam and Xanax® is that clonazepam is used in a greater number of applications. Physicians sometimes employ the drug to treat the sudden onset of a seizure, or they may use it long-term in the treatment of seizure disorders. Clonazepam is not a first-line treatment for many seizure conditions; generally, doctors use another benzodiazepine called lorazepam for emergency treatment of seizures.

Clonazepam is also used as a muscle relaxant. Again, a similar benzodiazepine, diazepam, may be preferred to clonazepam, in this respect. Clonazepam at least can be effective, and may work slightly longer than diazepam. It might be useful to prescribe for patients who have already developed diazepam tolerance.

Benzodiazepines are often classed as short, intermediate, and long-acting, referring to drug half-life, or the time it takes a medication to be reduced by half in the body. A difference between clonazepam and Xanax® is that they aren't in the same class. Clonazepam is an intermediate-acting drug, and Xanax® is short-acting. The expected half-life of Xanax&reg is six to 12 hours, and in clonazepam the half-life is 18 to 50 hours.

Though the half-lives are different, the time it takes these two drugs to work fully is similar. Xanax® is usually most effective within one to two hours of ingestion, and clonazepam can go to work as quickly as Xanax® or it may take up to four hours to be fully effective. In this way, the two drugs are nearly comparable and may both provide quick relief to anxiety.

Physicians may compare clonazepam and Xanax® by their usefulness to treat certain conditions. Since Xanax® has a shorter half-life, it is associated with quicker development of drug tolerance. Long-term use is complicated because it may require continually increasing doses to provide the same effects.

Due to this, clonazepam may be used more frequently to treat anxiety that is long-standing. Xanax® is more often considered for short-time use. Essentially, clonazepam's half-life suits it better for daily use, though it ultimately creates dependence, too.

Differences regarding side effects are often related to the half-life of clonazepam and Xanax®. Quicker clearance of Xanax® usually means that side effects like drowsiness, poor concentration, and motor skill impairment may be noticed less and are unlikely to persist for long. Given the much longer half-life of clonazepam, some patients could note side effects for several days. Some patients prefer alprazolam's quicker clearance to avoid side effects, while others may choose the longer coverage of anxiety symptoms that clonazepam can provide.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon943076 — On Mar 31, 2014

I have been taking clonazepam for about 12 years. Now I'm up to prescribed 2 mg morning, 2 mg afternoon, 1 mg bedtime. It was the only thing that stopped debilitating anxiety attacks and migraines that were happening several times a week. Now, I rarely have an anxiety attack, and if I do have a bad one with a migraine (they happen at the same time for me), I have imitrex inhalers. I did, at the beginning, try xanax, but their half life is short and did not work for me. I would say if your anxiety is not too severe or often, Xanax is a good choice. If they are often and severe, clonazepam is the way to go.

By fBoyle — On Oct 13, 2013

@SarahGen-- Xanax is fast acting and stronger but leaves the body quickly. It's best for emergency situations and cannot be used as a long-term treatment. Clonazepam, when compared to Xanax, takes longer to show affects and is not as strong but stays in the system longer. It's better for mild and generalized anxiety rather than anxiety attacks.

By ZipLine — On Oct 12, 2013

@SarahGen-- I think they both work well for anxiety attacks, but they have different half-lives and may have different side effects. For some people, clonazepam works better and for others, alprazolam. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and have him or her direct you to a drug. If one doesn't work, you can always ask about switching.

I have been prescribed both Xanax (alprazolam) and clonazepam in the past. I personally prefer clonazepam because it gives me less side effects than alprazolam. I also feel like alprazolam is more addictive because of its short half-life. I have to take more every ten hours for relief, whereas with clonazepam, I only need one tablet every twenty-four hours.

But if you only need temporary relief and if you don't have anxiety issues every day, alprazolam might work great for you. Like I said, ask your doctor.

By SarahGen — On Oct 12, 2013

Which drug is better for anxiety and panic attacks -- clonazepam or xanax?

I have panic attacks related to illness. When my blood pressure rises, I panic and cause it to rise even more and end up hospitalized. The ER doctor suggested that I take something for anxiety. I will be seeing a psychiatrist about this soon but I want to learn a little bit about my options before I go.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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