In This Article
What is Xanax? What Does it Treat?
Xanax, also known as Alprazolam (the active ingredient), is a benzodiazepine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat anxiety, panic disorders, and other mental health disorders.1
Benzodiazepines ("benzos") are drugs that act on the central nervous system by introducing certain chemicals that produce a calming effect.2
Other medications in this family include diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), clonazepam (Klonopin), Klonopin®, Halcion®, and many others. These drugs are also known to be effective in treating other conditions such as insomnia.
Xanax reduces nervous tension, stress, and anxiety by slowing down the chemical imbalance in the brain. This central nervous system depressant works by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a natural neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect including:3
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced stress levels
- Improved sleep
When using Xanax to treat an anxiety or panic disorder, you may feel completely normal with only one dosage. After taking Xanax, some individuals have reported feeling euphoric, which may be due to a dopamine surge. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates the reward and pleasure regions of the brain.
The typical response to taking this drug is a relaxed or weary feeling. A higher dosage will result in a more intense high as well as more side effects.
How Long Do The Effects of Xanax Last?
Xanax easily gets into the blood when taken by mouth and is thus considered a fast-acting benzo. Within half an hour, you should feel the effects, and the medication will reach peak concentrations in your body after one to two hours. However, the effects do not last long as they wear off within five hours or so.
People who use Xanax regularly may acquire a tolerance to it, which means that effects like calmness or sedation may take longer to develop or may not be felt as strongly as earlier.
Xanax's effects on the body (calming, sedation, and relaxing) wear off after about five hours (for most healthy adults). This is why it’s typically recommended to take Xanax three times a day.
However, just because the effects wear off, it does not mean that the drug is fully eliminated from the body. Ideally, one dosage of Xanax can be detected in the body for two to five days or even more, depending on several factors unique to the person taking the dose and the drug test used.
How Long Does Xanax Stay in Your System?
Just like any other medication, the most effective way of knowing how long Xanax lasts in the body is by determining its half-life.
According to studies, the average half-life of Xanax is 11 hours. This means that it takes 11 hours for the body to metabolize and eliminate half of the dose taken. In this case, it will take several half-lives to completely eliminate Xanax from your system.
For most people, Xanax usually clears the body in two to four days. However, the sedative effects of Xanax will wear off before the medication has entirely left your system.
Because everyone metabolizes medications differently, the half-life will vary from one person to the next. According to studies, the half-life of Xanax ranges from 6.3 to 26.9 hours, depending on the person taking it.
Factors Influencing The Rate of Xanax Elimination
- Age. Older adults eliminate Xanax slower than young adults. This is because the half-life of Xanax is higher (16.3 hours) in older people compared to 11 hours in younger adults.
- Ethnicity. According to studies, Xanax has a higher half-life in people of Asian descent (25 percent) than Caucasians.
- Weight. It may be more difficult for your body to break down Xanax if you are overweight. According to the FDA, the half-life of Xanax in an overweight person may range from 9.9 to 40.4 hours, with an average of 21.8 hours.4
- Metabolism. The time it takes for Xanax to exit the body may be shortened if the basal metabolic rate is higher. Sedentary people will eliminate Xanax slower than those who exercise regularly or have higher metabolisms.
Although the average half-life of Xanax is 11 hours, the drug may be detectable in some body parts for a longer duration than others. Below is an analysis of how long Xanax stays in urine, blood, saliva, and hair, as well as how testing is done.
According to a study, not all drug tests can detect benzodiazepines like Xanax. However, a urine test can.5
Up to five days after the last dosage, the metabolite of Xanax may be found in urine. It lasts considerably less time than other benzodiazepines like diazepam, which may be detectable for up to ten days.
When benzodiazepine usage is suspected, urine testing is usually the recommended technique to detect alprazolam metabolites (the end products of Xanax metabolism). This is because metabolites are present in urine for longer than in other fluids. Urine screening is also non-invasive.
The time it takes for labs to detect Xanax in your blood may vary. Within a day, most people will have lost half of their Xanax dosage in their blood.
However, it may take several days for the body to eliminate Xanax. Even if you are no longer experiencing anxiety-relieving benefits, blood tests may still be able to identify Xanax in your blood for up to 5 days.
Xanax does not stay long in saliva. According to research, Xanax is detectable in saliva for about 2 1/2 days.6
The effects of Xanax may linger in your hair for up to three months after you've taken it. The drug's biomarkers get caught in the threads of developing hair. This makes hair drug testing a viable option for long-term detection.
After a dosage, it takes 1 to 7 days for it to show up in the hair. As a result, hair testing is common for situations where long-term or prior usage is suspected. When current or recent use is suspected, bodily fluids, particularly urine, are tested.
In cases where scalp hair is not enough or available, body hair can also be used for analysis.
Factors That Impact Xanax Detection Time
Below are factors influencing Xanax metabolism, each unique to each person's physical makeup and substance use behavior:
- Age. The half-life of Xanax is affected by your age. For example, the typical half-life in young, healthy people is about 11 hours, compared to slightly more than 16 hours in healthy, elderly persons.
- Height and weight. How fast Xanax exits a person's system is affected by their height and weight ratio, commonly known as their body mass index (BMI). Drugs are processed more slowly by people with a high BMI.
- Rate of metabolism. People who often exercise or have a higher metabolism break down Xanax faster than those who do not exercise or engage in any physical activity. In such people, Xanax has a shorter half-life.
- Duration of use. If you use Xanax frequently, your bloodstream will have a greater concentration of the drug, and it will take longer to remove it completely. If you have developed a tolerance to the medication, you may not experience intense effects as when you started using it.
- Organ function. A functioning liver is required for the body to metabolize Xanax properly. It's also important to have optimal renal function. The majority of the drug is broken down before passing through the kidneys and eliminated in the urine. For this reason, these organs need to be in perfect condition. Otherwise, elimination will be affected, and consequently, the detection time.
- Dosage. The four-day detection period applies to regular prescription usage of Xanax. Because long-term users have developed a tolerance to Xanax, many take far larger dosages than advised. This results in Xanax accumulation in the body. The excess may be stored in fatty tissue making it easily detectable, especially with blood, urine, and hair tests.
- Other drugs. When someone uses other drugs such as alcohol, opioids, or sedatives in addition to Xanax, the body has to do more work.7 The liver is responsible for the breakdown of several medications. If the liver is attempting to metabolize more than one drug simultaneously, the whole process will be prolonged. Certain medications also substantially delay metabolism by inhibiting the liver enzyme CYP3A4, required for the breakdown of Xanax.8
Common Side Effects & Risks of Xanax
Even though Xanax is one of the most prescribed benzodiazepines in the United States, it has its side effects.
Common side effects include:
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Sleep problems (insomnia)
- Slurred speech
- Increased sweating
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Stuffy nose
- Stomach upset
- Appetite and weight fluctuations
- Muscle weakness
Severe side effects include:
- Impaired concentration
- Poor coordination
- Loss of sex drive
- Depression and anxiety
- Memory loss
- Swelling of the hands or feet
People over the age of 65 should use Xanax with care. Older people are more likely to have severe side effects, especially if they mix Xanax with other central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
If you are an older adult using Xanax, talk to your doctor for professional medical advice and other treatment options.
Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, have been linked to fetal malformations and should not be taken during pregnancy or by nursing mothers. Xanax is secreted in human milk and may harm breastfeeding children. It is not advised to breastfeed while using Xanax.
Why Do People Misuse & Use Xanax?
Xanax is a fast-acting benzo, and it can create a euphoric feeling, especially if taken in higher doses. This has made the drug popular among social circles of people who enjoy the "high" that Xanax provides.8 It has become socially normal for these groups of people to get together and share Xanax. Some people even use Xanax together with alcohol to enhance its effects.9
In addition to recreational usage, many people use Xanax to cope with problems like situational anxiety without committing to treatment, which can be costly and time-consuming.
It's considered a fast fix. Because Xanax is not a long-term medication, some individuals "take it as needed" for relief. The brief comfort they experience may be beneficial in a fast-paced environment where they are constantly exposed to negativity, stress, and uncertainty.
It's important to know that misusing Xanax or mixing it with other drugs such as alcohol may enhance its effects, but the consequences can be fatal.
How Addictive is Xanax?
Xanax can induce rapid changes in the brain. For this reason, the drug is considered one of the most addictive benzodiazepines on the market. The risk of addiction is higher among those taking a 4 mg/day dosage for longer than 12 weeks. However, those misusing Xanax are at a greater risk of addiction.
No one is immune to Xanax addiction, although some populations are more prone to it. Women are believed to have greater benzo addictions than males, although this may be due to women being more likely to obtain a prescription for anxiety medications.10 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Xanax use is high among women than men.
Symptoms & Treatment for Xanax Use Disorder
Physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms of Xanax misuse and addiction are often more visible. If you think someone you care about is abusing this medication, check for the following Xanax addiction signs:
- Buying Xanax without a prescription
- Experiencing Xanax withdrawal symptoms such as muscle pains, tremors, and seizures when not using
- Taking high doses of Xanax than prescribed
- Neglecting important duties such as work, family, or school
- Relationship issues
- Mood swings
- Poor memory
- Risky behaviors (such as driving) while high on Xanax
- Difficulty quitting despite the desire to do so
- Run-ins with the law as it pertains to Xanax misuse
If you notice the above signs, the best thing to do is seek professional help. Your doctor can perform a physical examination and recommend treatment. People addicted to Xanax have a high chance of recovery if they're enrolled in rehab centers.
Treatment For Xanax Use Disorder
The first step in the recovery process will be detoxification. Medical detoxification or medical detox is a process that assists patients to safely discontinue Xanax while reducing and managing withdrawal symptoms. The detox process is typically performed under supervision by a qualified healthcare provider.
Xanax usage is often tapered down over time. This means you take less and less of the medication until it is no longer in your system. This is known as tapering, and it may take up to 6 weeks.
During Xanax addiction recovery, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be recommended. This is one of the most common therapies used in benzodiazepine addiction treatment.
CBT focuses on the mechanisms that can lead to substance use disorders. It includes meeting with a therapist to create a set of healthy coping skills. CBT is helpful in decreasing benzodiazepine usage over three months when used in conjunction with medical detox and tapering.