Alprazolam, the generic form of Xanax, was the 21st most commonly prescribed drug in the United States in 2017, with 25,516,329 prescriptions for the drug in that year alone. This medication is in the benzodiazepine (“benzos”) drug class, meaning it’s a tranquilizer. While Xanax is currently a popular medication, not many people know much about it. So, just what does Xanax do, anyway? And how long does Xanax stay in your system?
What Does Xanax Do?
Xanax is a sedative that effectively helps calm the central nervous system (CNS). Specifically, it binds to specific reception sites on certain kinds of GABA receptors. This process allows GABA to more easily bind to its own reception site. GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter—aka, it helps calm down our CNS.
This calming can result in some positive effects, such as short-term reduction in anxiety and panic. That’s why people use Xanax to manage conditions like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
What are the Side Effects of Xanax?
Other times, Xanax may produce undesirable side effects, including:
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Issues with memory
- Weakened muscles
Infrequent and rare side effects of alprazolam include:
- Dry mouth
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
What is the Half-life of Xanax?
Half-life refers to how long it takes a certain property of something to decrease by half. For our purposes, the half-life of Xanax refers to how long it takes for the body’s concentration of Xanax to decrease by half. Now, it’s worth noting that it will take more than two half-lives for Xanax to completely exit the body.
The half-life of alprazolam varies based on several factors, like health, race, and age. According to the FDA, the average half-life of this drug is:
- Healthy elderly patients: 16.3 hours
- Healthy young patients: 11 hours
- Obese patients: 21.8 hours
- Non-obese patients: 10.6 hours
These times may be up to 25% longer for people of Asian descent.
How Long Does Xanax Stay in Your System?
The answer to this question will depend on several factors, including how long someone has been using the drug and what testing method they use. That being said, the following are the average times for how long a specific type of test can detect alprazolam after last use:
Notably, many tests do not actually look for alprazolam itself, but rather its metabolite α-hydroxyalprazolam.
How long Xanax stays in your system varies based on several factors. That being said, it may be detected up to 3 months after last use if a hair follicle test is used. Saliva, blood, and urine tests will typically only show traces of alprazolam a few days after final use.
Seeking Help for Substance Abuse
The demand for Xanax has grown considerably in recent years. Along with legitimate prescriptions for alprazolam has come a surge in Xanax abuse cases. According to Addiction Center, the United States experienced 124,902 ER visits in 2010 due to Xanax abuse alone.
Unfortunately, those numbers have continued to climb as well. In 2011, for example, ER visits in the US for benzos totaled almost 176,000. What’s worse, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about half of those cases involved not just benzos like Xanax, but also other drugs or even alcohol. Abusing multiple substances at the same time can unfortunately increase the risk of severe complications.
Those who want help with an addiction may refer to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline. The Helpline is free to use and available 24/7.