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How Long Do Prescription Drugs Stay In Your System?

How Long Do Prescription Drugs Stay In Your System? Drugs Half-Life, Short and Long-Term Effects, Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs & Addiction Treatment

Half-Life of Prescription Drugs

How Long Do Prescription Drugs Stay In Your System? A medication’s biological half-life refers simply to how long it takes for half of the dose to be metabolized and eliminated from the bloodstream. Or, put another way, the half-life of a drug is the time it takes for it to be reduced by half.

For example, the half-life of ibuprofen (the active ingredient in pain and fever relievers such as Advil and Motrin) is about two hours. This means if you take a dose of 400 milligrams (mg) of ibuprofen at noon, half of the dose (200 mg) will have been eliminated from your bloodstream by 2 p.m. By 4 p.m., another 100 mg will have been eliminated, and so forth.

It’s important to note that the expected half-life of a drug varies from person to person, depending on factors such as age, weight, genetics, and even specific health issues. For example, the half-life of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), can be significantly affected by a person’s liver function since acetaminophen is primarily processed through the liver.

Prescription drug detox is part of the treatment process for recovering from prescription drug addiction. Prescription drug addiction is a disease that makes people compulsively use this type of substance even though the drugs harm their health and well-being. Quitting prescription drugs suddenly can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. But before we get to the main topic, let’s first learn about this kind of drug.

Prescription drug addiction is a disease that affects a person’s behavior and brain; this condition represents a huge problem in the US. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 52 million Americans older than 12 have used prescription medications nonmedically at some point in their lives. Many become addicted, and that process happens slowly. Some people don’t notice the moment they shift from recreational abuse to intense addiction, but when addiction takes hold, it can be serious.

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What Factors Influence How Long Prescription Drugs Stay in Your System?

How Long Do Prescription Drugs Stay In Your System? Each person is different, so everyone eliminates drugs from their system differently. Two people could take the same dose simultaneously, but one may destroy the drug faster from their system than the other. Certain factors can affect how quickly drugs are cleared from the system, including:

  • Age: An older person will typically have a slower metabolism and excrete drugs at a slower rate than a younger person. Older people have age-related factors that affect organs like the kidney and liver, which may cause them to work less optimally. Additionally, the older a person is, the more likely they are to take multiple medications for health issues. This can interfere with the excretion of prescription drugs. Essentially, the younger someone is, the more likely they will clear a drug quickly.
  • Height, weight, and body fat: To accurately estimate how fast someone will eliminate a drug from their system, their weight, height, and body fat must be considered. This is because a person’s dose is relative to their physical measurements.
how long do prescription drugs stay in your system
It’s important to note that the expected half-life of a drug varies from person to person, depending on factors such as age, weight, genetics, and even specific health issues.

Genetics: Genes play a role in a person’s ability to metabolize drugs, but they also influence how susceptible a person is to becoming dependent or addicted. Certain variants in gene structure affect metabolism differently, and they can also cause people to feel different effects from prescription drugs.

Liver and kidney function: Depending on liver and kidney health, some people may clear drugs faster than others. For example, someone with liver cirrhosis may take much longer to clear something from their system than someone with a healthy liver. Someone who has kidney impairment or failure is also going to have a delayed clearance time.

Metabolism: Drugs are metabolized by a family of enzymes called cytochrome P450 enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for changing the shape of drugs to break them down and make them easier to excrete. Each person has different levels of these enzymes, affecting the rate at which drugs are broken down.

Frequency of Use: Someone who has only used a single dose of a prescription drug is likely to clear the drug from their system faster than someone who uses the drug regularly. If prescription drugs are used frequently over days or weeks, there is an accumulation inside the body. This can greatly affect the clearance time.

Are you or somebody you know at serious risk of an overdose because of drug or alcohol abuse? If so, please call 911 right away. There are addiction rehab center addiction hotlines that can help guide you to proper local therapists & facilities. 


Struggling with substance use disorder? SAMHSA’s Addiction Treatment Helpline can connect you with proper help. (800) 662-4357


If you’re experiencing or witnessing a drug- or alcohol-related poisoning, the poison control hotline can help.  (800) 222-1222            

Prescription Drugs Duration of Effects

While every individual metabolizes prescription drugs differently, the average time it takes for drugs to exit the system has been studied. A 2017 study found the average time window where prescription drugs can still be detected in the urine, sweat, and hair.

  • Opioids: 2-5 days in urine, 7-14 days in sweat, and up to 90 days in hair
  • Benzodiazepines: up to 7 days in urine, and up to 90 days in hair
  • Amphetamines: 2-5 days in urine, 7-14 days in sweat, and up to 90 days in hair

These are rough approximations, and the factors mentioned in this article will affect these estimates.

Prescription Drugs Short-Term Effects

People often forget that common prescription and over-the-counter medications can affect their brains and bodies. For example, many drugs have warning labels about the possible effects of drowsiness or dizziness. So people who use them and then drive cause thousands of car crashes each year. In addition, drugs may blur vision, change depth perception, cause hallucinations, raise or lower blood pressure, and cause one to react too quickly or slowly. Having these effects is especially dangerous when you’re behind the wheel.

You are responsible for knowing the effects of the medication you take. You can get a DUI even if you were under the influence of cough syrup, so consider that before you drive. Talk to your doctor and know the risks to others and yourself while you’re on the road if you take the following medications:

  • Antianxiety medication
  • Amphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Stimulants
  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Allergy medicines
  • Blood sugar medicines
  • Antidepressants
  • Tranquilizers
  • Blood pressure medicines
  • Motion sickness medications
  • Ulcer medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Antiseizure medicines
  • Paregoric
  • Antinausea medicine
  • Sedatives
  • Cough syrups
  • Alcohol-containing medicines
  • Caffeine-containing medicines
  • Decongestants

Remember, combining alcohol with other drugs hugely increases the effects that either drug would have on its own. Don’t mix alcohol, drugs, and driving. It’s a fatal mistake.


  • Short-term effects: Relaxation, indifference to emotional or physical pain, drowsiness, constipation, slow breathing, and death.

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants

  • Short-term effects: Slows normal brain functions, and gives a drowsy feeling, but over time the effects fade as the body builds tolerance.


  • Short-term effects: Alertness, focus, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and high body temperature.

Long-Term Effects of Prescription Drugs


  • Long-term effects: Opioids are highly addictive. As the body builds up a tolerance for the drug, more is needed to maintain the desired feeling. Withdrawals can be long and physically painful. Combining opioids with alcohol and other drugs can lead to death from respiratory failure.

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants

  • Long-term effects: Addiction to depressants can result, painful withdrawal, and the drug may cause seizures and death. Mixing these depressants with alcohol or other drugs can kill you.


how long do prescription drugs stay in your system
Drugs may blur vision, change depth perception, cause hallucinations, raise or lower blood pressure, and cause one to react too quickly or slowly.

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How Long Do Prescription Drugs Stay In Your System?

When people wonder about drug half-lives, they are often concerned with how long a drug is measurable in the system because they are facing a drug test. A drug test is a tool that looks for specific substances (both legal and illicit) in the body.

Drug tests commonly look for:

  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Cocaine
  • Sedatives
  • Amphetamines/meth
  • Steroids

Different situations require the use of drug tests. Drug tests are used for:

  • Employers often require drug tests, especially if job duties may result in serious injury if the employee is substance-impaired.
  • Sports participation. High school, college, and professional athletes often undergo drug testing to confirm the absence of performance-enhancing or other drugs to ensure safety and fair play.
  • Legal purposes. People accused of crimes may be tested by law enforcement at the scene of the crime, shortly after that, or long-term as a part of their parole or probation.
  • Monitoring therapeutic doses of medications. Doctors may order urine tests to ensure patients are taking the directed dose of their prescription.

Most drugs of abuse stay in the body for at least a few days after the last use and are traceable with urine tests.

  • Opioids like heroin and oxycodone are detectable for between 1 and 3 days after last use.
  • Stimulants including cocaine, meth, and ADHD medications are detectable for about 2 or 3 days.
  • Benzodiazepines and MDMA generally flag a urine test for up to 4 days after the last dose.
  • Marijuana stays in the system a bit longer, with amounts being detectable for between 1 and 7 days after last use.
  • Barbiturates, another prescription sedative, will usually be detectable in urine for up to 3 weeks after the last dose.

Disclaimer: Drug half-lives offer good information about how long a drug stays in the body, but they aren’t perfect indicators of how long a drug can be detected in a test. You should not use these averages to try and trick a test. Also, drugs can be detected in blood and hair for longer than urine.

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Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The most commonly misused prescription drugs are opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants.


Opioids are usually prescribed to treat pain. These include:

  • Fentanyl (Duragesic®)
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil®)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
  • Meperidine (Demerol®)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)

Benzodiazepines or CNS Depressants

These medications are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. This category includes tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics, such as:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax®)
  • Diazepam (Valium®)
  • Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal®)


Stimulants are often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Common types of prescription stimulants include:

  • Amphetamine salts (Adderall®)
  • Dextroamphetamine salts (Dexedrine®)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®)

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Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment Near Me

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the piece ‘Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report. How can Prescription Drug addiction be treated?’, years of research have shown that substance use disorders are brain disorders that can be treated effectively. Treatment must take into account the type of drug used and the needs of the individual.

Successful addiction treatment may need to incorporate several components, including detoxification, counseling, and medications, when available. Multiple courses of treatment may be needed for the patient to recover fully.

The two main drug use disorder treatment categories are behavioral treatments (such as contingency management and cognitive-behavioral therapy for addiction) and medications. 

Behavioral treatments

Behavioral treatments help patients stop drug use by changing unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, teaching strategies to manage cravings and avoid cues and situations that could lead to relapse, or, in some cases, providing incentives for abstinence. Behavioral treatments, which may take the form of individual, family, or group counseling, also can help patients improve their relationships and their ability to function at work and in the community.

how long do prescription drugs stay in your system
Behavioral treatments help patients stop drug use by changing unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior; teaching strategies to manage cravings and avoid cues and situations that could lead to relapse.

Medically-Assisted Rehab Treatment

Drug addiction to prescription opioids can also be treated with buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These drugs can prevent other opioids from affecting the brain (naltrexone) or relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings (buprenorphine and methadone), helping the patient avoid relapse. Medications for the treatment of opioid addiction are often administered in combination with psychosocial support or behavioral therapies, known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Medication to reduce the physical symptoms of withdrawal (lofexidine) is also available.

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[1] Prescription Drug Addiction – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) –

[2] ‘Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report. How can Prescription Drug Addiction be treated?’ – National Institute on Drug Abuse (

[3] ‘Opioids’ Prescription Drug Addiction – National Institute on Drug Abuse (