Ativan is a prescription benzodiazepine or tranquilizer. Ativan is prescribed for panic attacks and acute anxiety. While barbiturates, a close cousin to benzodiazepine drugs like Ativan, is used for generalized anxiety and sleep disorders, Ativan is for the sudden onset of anxiety. The medication slows down central nervous system functions which become exaggerated during an acute stress response or panic attack. While the drug is incredibly useful and has improved the quality of life of millions, Ativan can be habit-forming and require Ativan withdrawal treatment.