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Xanax® is a common prescription medication, but it can also unfortunately be a common target of abuse. That means that it’s even more important than usual for people to understand how and why this drug is used, what it does, and how long the drug stays in your system.

Understanding these things about Xanax® isn’t just about being responsible for your prescriptions or understanding how a given medication is best used. In this case, it’s also about being able to identify and intervene in Xanax® addiction, in yourself, and the people around you.
So, here’s what you need to know about Xanax®, what it does, what it treats, how long Xanax® stays in your system, and why it matters.

What Is Xanax®, What Does It Do, and How Does It Work?

The first thing you should know if you or someone close to you is taking Xanax® is what the drug is, what it does, and what it can be used to treat.

One of the challenges, when it comes to medications that can also be drugs of abuse, is dealing with the reality that these drugs can be very helpful and necessary for some people, and extremely detrimental or dangerous to someone else.

So, let’s talk about how Xanax® works, what it does, and what that means for you.

What Is Xanax®

Xanax® is the brand name for the drug Alprazolam [1] and is typically used to help people dealing with anxiety and panic disorders [2]. It’s an effective short-term treatment for a wide range of anxiety disorders, especially if you’re looking for a slightly shorter-term medication compared with other anxiety medications.

That’s because Xanax® is a short-acting benzodiazepine [3], which basically just means that the medication doesn’t last as long as other benzodiazepines. It doesn’t mean that the medication has a particularly short duration, or that it’s any less powerful a medication than other benzodiazepines.

Often, people who take Xanax® also take another medication, like an SSRI or SNRI, to offer long-term symptom relief and better control.
That’s because Xanax®, like other benzodiazepines, isn’t meant to be used long-term. Instead, it’s a good short-term treatment for severe acute symptoms, like if you have a panic attack, or get overly anxious going out in public.

The main advantage of Xanax®, as opposed to other medications that offer long-term benefits, is that Xanax® acts much faster than other medication. That means that you can take Xanax® in the moment when you need it, and you’ll get almost immediate effects.

However, that can also contribute to the problems with Xanax®, because the medication has such an immediate effect it can often be an attractive medication for people who are looking to abuse drugs, or who are looking for a fast-acting recreational drug.

How Does Xanax® Reduce Anxiety?

Xanax®, like other benzodiazepines, primarily works by depressing your central nervous system, which basically means that it slows everything down. That means slower signals, slower release of neurotransmitters in response to those signals, and a general sedative effect.
The reason that’s helpful is that people in the middle of an anxiety or panic attack often have an overactive central nervous system, one that’s trying to give them the energy and motivation to survive a dangerous situation, even when they aren’t actually in danger.

Xanax® can also sometimes be used to help people deal with specific phobias, like when someone is afraid of flying or needs help for a difficult doctor’s appointment. In those cases, the patient can take the Xanax® ahead of the stressful situation, and the sedative effects can help make the whole experience much less difficult.

How Long Does Xanax® Stay In Your System?

There are many good reasons to know how long Xanax® stays in your system before you take this medication, not least that it can be dangerous to take any other medication or drug that depresses your central nervous system before the Xanax® has cleared your system.
Benzodiazepines, like Xanax®, can be particularly dangerous when combined with other sedatives, including common sedatives like alcohol or some sleep medications.

It’s also important for helping spot addiction as it starts to develop in yourself or loved ones since people developing an addiction to Xanax® are likely to start craving the drug before it clears their system and also may have some withdrawal symptoms if they have been taking the drug for more than just a few doses.

The calming effects of Xanax® usually wear off in 4-6 hours, depending on why you’re taking it, how quickly your body uses it (you may go through the sedative effects of Xanax® faster if you’re experiencing extreme anxiety before you take it, for instance), and the dose you take. Age, weight, and metabolism can all affect how quickly Xanax® stops working for you.

But the effective time of a drug, the time that it’s actively performing a specific purpose in your body, and the amount of time that the drug and metabolites left over from breaking down the drug in your system are two different things.

Like most drugs, Xanax® is detectable in your body for quite a while after the drug stops working. In general, Xanax® is detectable in your body for 2 to 5 days [4] after you stop taking the medication. However, it may be detectable for longer depending on your metabolism and the tests performed. For example, hair follicle tests can detect most drugs and medications for up to 3 months after you stop using the medication, and, in rare cases, even longer.

In addition, Xanax® can affect different population groups differently, which can impact how long Xanax® stays in your system.
Certain Asian populations, for example, have a genetic mutation that changes the way their bodies process Xanax®. For people who have that mutation, Xanax® lasts longer than average, and can also be significantly more potent. Doctors often choose other medications for people with Asian ancestry, just to be on the safe side, because of how significant those differences can be.

In addition, if you’ve been taking a lot of Xanax®, or have been taking Xanax® for a long time, then it might be detectable in your body a little longer than someone who is only taking the medication occasionally for anxiety. So if you’re dealing with a Xanax® addiction and want to stop taking the medication, it might take a little longer for the drug to truly clear your system.

People who have liver damage, are older, or who have a higher body weight may all also eliminate Xanax® more slowly than others, though they shouldn’t have stronger effects or a significantly longer effective time, unlike people of Asian descent.

Another interesting difference is that people who smoke may metabolize Xanax® up to 50% faster than people who don’t, while people who drink while taking Xanax® (which is dangerous) will slow Xanax® metabolism.

What If I Have To Take A Drug Test While On Xanax®?

What If I Have To Take A Drug Test While On Xanax®?

Most drugs are less variable than this, with much more predictable active and detectible timeframes that don’t vary so much based on other factors. The fact that Xanax® acts as different as it does in different people and populations makes it even more important to pay attention to how this drug works for you, including how long the drug stays active.

If you have to take a drug test while taking Xanax®, it may also be important to report when you took your last dose, and if you’re taking any other medications at the same time, had a drink around the same time, or have any other physical factors that could change how you metabolize Xanax®. That will help the tester establish a baseline of how long they expect a dose of Xanax® to last for you, and what concentration they should expect based on when you took your most recent dose.

The good news is that, so long as you have a valid prescription for the medication, it shouldn’t be a big deal with Xanax® is detected during a drug test. However, you should talk with your doctor about the results of the test, especially if the detectible levels of Xanax® in your body were different than what you and your doctor anticipated, so you can talk about what that means for you and whether you should continue taking Xanax® or should switch to a different medication.

Is Xanax® Addictive?

Yes. Like all benzodiazepines, taking Xanax® can come with a relatively significant risk of addiction, even when you’re taking the medication with a prescription. Taking Xanax® recreationally, or as a way to self-medicate without doctor’s supervision, can greatly increase your risk of developing an addiction.

If Xanax® and medications like it weren’t so helpful when it comes to treating and controlling anxiety, they would probably be much more tightly controlled. As it is, prescriptions are often limited to just a handful of doses. You may even be prescribed as little as a single dose of the medication depending on why you’re getting the prescription.

The one bit of good news is, if you or someone you care about does get addicted to Xanax®, there are lots of treatment options and there should be care providers available who are familiar with treating benzodiazepine addiction and know exactly how to help.

Are You In Need of Help For a Xanax® Addiction?

One of the complications for many people who get addicted to benzodiazepines, including Xanax®, is that they often also have underlying mental health conditions that can made addiction treatment more difficult.

Called dual diagnosis, the good news is that there are plenty of treatment options for people who have this kind of complicated addiction. But, having a dual diagnosis often means that you will need added support, or a different treatment approach, compared with someone who is dealing with addiction alone.

Fortunately, treatment centers like Heights Treatment, are fully equipped to be able to provide that additional support, including teaching adaptive coping mechanisms that can help people with dual diagnoses overcome their addiction and learn to manage their mental health so they can live happy, healthy, addiction-free lives.

If that sounds like the kind of addiction treatment you want, contact the Heights Treatment Center today. We’re happy to help.


[1] (2021, December 14). Alprazolam. Retrieved from on 2023, March 31. [2] Cuncic, A. VeryWellMind. (2023, March 28). How is Xanax Prescribed for Social Anxiety Disorder? Retrieved from on 2023, February 16. [3] Griffin, C. et al (2013). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System–Mediated Effects. Retrieved from on 2023, February 16. [4] How long does Xanax last for / stay in your system? (2023, January 28). Retrieved from on 2023, February 16.

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