The exact amount of time a drug stays in the body will vary according to factors like the dose, the person’s age, weight, and sex, and their physical health. However, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some average times that drugs will continue to show up in a urine drug test include the following:
There is no way to completely predict just how long a drug will take to be eliminated from your body. The only way to know you’ll pass a drug test is to abstain from drugs.
A common question among people who use drugs—whether illicitly or by prescription—is, “How long will this drug stay in my body?” This question may be asked by those looking to understand how long the drug’s effects will last, when to expect the beginning of withdrawal, or whether they can pass a drug test, but the fact is that this answer is rarely clear and can be highly variable among individuals.
Drugs are a general term used to describe a variety of foreign substances that may be taken to induce some kind of effect. Drugs may be illegal/illicit or prescription. Even everyday household products like cleaning supplies and gasoline may be considered drugs when abused for psychoactive effects.
As large as the variety of drugs, so is the variation in the duration of actions of these drugs in the body. Each drug will last in the body for a different amount of time after it is consumed.
The variation does not end there, though. The time it takes for the body to eliminate a drug from the system depends on many factors beyond just the specific drug type, including:
Because of these factors, two people using the same substance could have a very different experience. A drug like Xanax, for example, is influenced by the age, health, and ethnicity of the person, with the drug lasting longer in people who are obese, older than 64, have liver problems, or are Asian or white.
The above individual differences can influence the way the body metabolizes and eliminates the drug, so people of similar weight, sex, and ethnicity are more likely to metabolize drugs similarly. In general, once a drug is consumed, the body begins to metabolize it by breaking apart the molecule or otherwise chemically changing the ingested substance to facilitate the process of ultimately clearing it from the body.
Some substances, like alcohol, require multiple steps from several enzymes to be completely metabolized. Alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde, a toxic, cancer-causing substance, then acetate, and finally separated into water and carbon dioxide for easy removal from the body.
Regarding our ability to metabolize and clear substances from the body, variations amongst individuals are difficult to isolate and adjust for. It is therefore difficult to precisely determine how long a drug will stay in the body or how long a drug will available for detection in a test, although there are some general guidelines.
For those worried and concerned about a drug being detectable in their body, it’s essential to understand that the only way to ensure a negative test is not to use drugs.
When learning about drugs of abuse and their duration of action, one term is frequently encountered: half-life. A drug’s half-life—sometimes called elimination half-life—represents how long it takes for a drug’s concentration in the body to drop by 50%.
Each substance has a unique half-life determined by the balance of metabolism and excretion rates. Again, these half-lives are average durations that can be greatly impacted by a number of individual factors.
In terms of substance abuse, the drug’s half-life helps to determine how long the effects will last in the body but has little to do with the speed of onset (when the effects will be felt).
Benzodiazepines are a good example of the distinctions between speed of onset and half-life, since they are a large group of chemically-similar drugs often sub-classified by their widely variable onsets of effects and durations of action. With these drugs, long-acting variations with long half-lives can have a rapid or intermediate onset of action and short-acting versions can also have rapid or intermediate onset of action. Changing the route of administration—injecting rather than swallowing a version with an intermediate onset of action—may speed up onset, but it will not change the half-life.
Since drugs with long half-lives stay in the body longer, they will be detectable for a longer period with a drug screen. This means a benzodiazepine with a long-half-life like Valium may, on average, be detectable longer than a drug with short half-life like Xanax.
A drug’s half-life may also be used to roughly predict the timeline for the emergence of withdrawal symptoms when use ends. Withdrawals represent a number of unwanted and uncomfortable symptoms triggered by the drug leaving the body. Drugs with short half-lives like heroin will trigger withdrawal symptoms sooner than drugs with long half-lives with methadone.
The half-lives of some of the most widely used illicit drugs are:
Half-lives of some of those most widely used (and abused) prescription drugs are:
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 the presence of specific substances (both legal and illicit) in the body.
Drug tests commonly look for:
Different situations require the use of drug tests. Drug tests are used for:
Most drugs of abuse stay in the body for at least a few days after the last use and are traceable with urine tests.
Disclaimer: Drug half-lives offer some 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.
As long as there have been drug tests, there have been people trying to cheat the tests. They may go to great lengths to fool the tests or the person administering the test.
The methods used vary by the type of test being administered. For urine tests, people will try to:
The options for trying to cheat drug tests are not limited to urine tests. For tests that sample saliva, there are a variety of gums, capsules, and mouthwashes that promise to yield clean tests. For tests that examine hairs, shampoos, conditioners, cleansing mud, and complete purification systems claim to result in a successful outcome.
People attempting to outsmart drug tests are often disappointed in the end, though. Home and online remedies show little chance of success, and trying to dilute or manipulate the sample may be obvious to the tester or the specific test.
Looking to the internet can be an expensive exercise in futility because most of these products do not live up to their claims of cleansing, detoxing, or fooling drug tests. Many of these products simply do not work at all. Not only do they not work, but they can be very costly.
Even in the rare case that such a product leads to a negative drug test, the product itself will likely be traceable in the urine sample. This finding would raise a red flag and lead to additional drug testing and attention in the coming days and weeks.
People have long tried to beat drug tests, but again, it’s impossible to know just when the drug will be out of the system because it’s so unpredictable. Though falsified test results may help you avoid immediate repercussions, you may be only be prolonging an underlying bad situation or delaying much-needed help should a substance use disorder or addiction be a factor. If you’re abusing drugs and you can’t stop, professional treatment is the best way forward.
People who decide to end their drug use may experience withdrawal symptoms if their bodies have adapted to the drug’s presence (known as dependence). Many drugs are associated with distinct withdrawal syndromes—some may be managed with emotional support but others could require emergency medical intervention depending on symptom severity; just how severe withdrawal will be will be dependent on many factors including the drug type and the individual’s health.
The term “detox” is often used casually to refer to clean eating, drinking water, fasting, and generally flushing “toxins” out of the system. For a very casual substance user who wants to feel healthy, a period of drinking a lot of water, eating well, and not using drugs may be enough for them to feel like they’ve detoxed their bodies. However, in the case of physical dependence on a substance, “detox” refers to the set of interventions used to manage the body’s readjustment to not having the drug; this readjustment is knowns as withdrawal, and it can be an extremely dangerous time, depending on the drug on which the person is dependent.
Dependence may develop quickly, depending on the patterns of use and the drug. Some people who’ve been using only for a matter of weeks may experience withdrawal upon quitting. Certain prescription drugs may also lead to significant dependence, and individuals abusing prescription drugs may be just as at-risk of withdrawal complications as a person using illicit substances.
If you’ve been using one or more drugs consistently and want to quit, it’s a good idea to meet with a medical professional to gauge your risk of withdrawal and best determine the appropriate method for you to end your substance use. You may be advised to undergo medical detox if you are at risk of severe withdrawal, for example if you’re dependent on alcohol or benzodiazepines.
Depending on the substance, severe symptoms could include:
When you meet with a medical or addiction professional to discuss the safest way to quit using one or more substances, they will gather information regarding:
When appropriate, non-medical or socially managed detoxes are residential treatment options that provide supportive care and compassion from the staff to help people through withdrawal and encourage recovery. Though helpful for many, these detoxes may not provide sufficient support for someone dependent on opioids, alcohol, or sedatives.
Some people with relatively few acute health risks may be able to detox on an outpatient basis. Outpatient detoxes may offer similar medications and treatment plans to manage withdrawal while permitting the individual to live at home. For outpatient detox, the person will be required to keep regularly scheduled appointments with their doctors for evaluation and treatment.
Depending on the course of treatment, detox can take just a few days, several weeks or more. The decisions made during detox are aimed at making the withdrawal process as safe and comfortable as possible.
If you’re living with addiction, worrying about drug tests, half-lives, and expensive products to detoxify your body will only waste your time and money and keep you living in the spiral of this disease.
Addiction is marked by a compulsion to get and use drugs. When addicted, drugs and alcohol push all important people and priorities to the background, which results in unwanted consequences like:
Professional addiction treatment addresses all the factors that lead to and sustain addiction. With a combination of behavioral therapy and medication management, the person can begin to understand their addiction and triggers while beginning to restore their physical and mental health.
Like detox, addiction treatment occurs in inpatient and outpatient settings. Inpatient/residential settings are good options for people who have severe addictions, limited supports at home, limited success with previous treatments while outpatient options are best for people with less intense addictions, more natural supports, and previous treatment success.
Inpatient/residential treatments more closely resemble home-like settings than the hospital-like environment of medical detox. Outpatient treatments often occur in community health centers, doctors’ offices, or a dedicated rehab facility. Levels of outpatient treatment include:
Your treatment team will guide you in the most helpful direction based on your needs. Getting help for addictions does not begin and end with professional treatment, though. A number of support group options are available to complement and extend the benefits that one can get from professionals.
Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are organized and led by other people with a history of addiction. These groups create a sense of community and fellowship that aids the recovery process.
Addiction treatment can last for long periods of time, which may seem overwhelming, but since longer periods of treatment tend to result in longer periods of recovery, time in treatment is a worthwhile commitment.
Remember, drugs stay in your system as long as you keep putting them there. Don’t fret about another drug test ever again; with treatment and diligent aftercare efforts, you can remain drug-free, sober, healthy from here on out.