You may recognize these names as names of celebrities who have died within the last couple decades. At first thought, you may think their deaths had little in common. Pneumonia, alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses - the cause of each death as varied as the talents of the victims.
Upon closer inspection, though, the deaths of these celebrities all have something noteworthy in common - the presence of a type of drug called benzodiazepines, or benzos, in the bloodstream.
Benzos aren’t considered hard drugs, but they can be dangerous for addicts or for those who mix them with other drugs. Below, we address several common questions about benzodiazepines and how long benzos stay in your system, such as:
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are prescription medications that release a tranquilizing brain chemical. This chemical depresses the central nervous system. In turn, this makes the body less reactive to external stimuli, calming the user. For this reason, Benzos are considered tranquilizers.
Benzos are used to treat insomnia, anxiety disorders, panic attacks and panic disorders, seizures, and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. They are usually taken orally, but are occasionally administered intravenously, intramuscularly, or rectally.
For more information on what benzodiazepines are and how they affect the brain, check out this video.
There are a few different categories of benzodiazepines. The categories are determined based on how quickly you can feel the effects of the benzos and how long they stay in your system. The categories are:
A variety of factors determine which benzos stay in your system longest, but the categories themselves are a good indicator.
When talking about how long a drug takes to break down and leave your system, we use the term “half-life.”
When discussing a drug’s half-life, we are referring to the time interval during which the percentage of the drug within the body is reduced by 50%.
For example, if the half-life of a drug is one hour, then only 50% remains one hour after use. But only 50% of that leaves the body in the following hour, so after 2 hours, 25% remains. After 3 hours, 12.5% remain, and so on.
The categories of benzodiazepines tend to correlate with the drugs’ respective half-lives.
Long-acting benzodiazepines tend to stay in your system longest, and it is most difficult to detox from long-acting benzodiazepines.
These drugs are prescribed by doctors as long-term treatments for issues such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, seizures, panic disorders, insomnia, and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Those who use long-acting benzos habitually will find traces of the drug in their system for anywhere from several weeks to a few months.
Long-acting benzos include:
Short-acting benzodiazepines can also be found in the blood and urine after usage, but tend to metabolize much quicker. Therefore, the flushing-out process takes a much shorter period of time. These drugs are prescribed by doctors for short-term use related to alcohol withdrawal, panic attacks, and bouts of insomnia as well as use in conjunction with anesthetics during surgeries and dental procedures. They aren’t meant to be taken over a long period of time.
Some examples of short-acting benzos are:
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As mentioned above, drugs are often stored in body fat. Body fat, though, isn’t what’s tested for the presence of benzos during a drug test. Traces of benzodiazepines can be found in urine, blood, hair, saliva, and sweat after differing amounts of time and varying degrees of use.
However, traces disappear from some parts of the body much more quickly than others.
Xanax and other long-acting benzos usually stop showing up in urine-based drug tests after two weeks. However, this time period is contingent on the amount of Xanax ingested. Those who use benzos habitually will find the drug in their system for a longer amount of time. People who have taken small doses or have ingested the drug only one or two times can flush their system out in less than three days.
A person’s water intake has a huge effect on the way that they metabolize drugs. Drinking water prompts the liver to process and expel chemicals from the body. Therefore, more water means more trips to the bathroom, and more chemicals exiting the body in the process. The more hydrated someone is, the faster they are likely to lose traces of benzos in their urine.
The half-life of benzos is much shorter in the blood than in the urine or hair - small enough doses can break down within a few hours. Larger doses or prolonged use, though, will lead to the presence of benzos in the bloodstream for a number of days.
Long-acting benzos, of course, stay in the system for a longer period of time. Ativan and Valium, for example, will likely be present for several days if used habitually, even in very small doses.
The chemical byproducts of benzos like Xanax also show up in the hair. However, traces take longer to show up in the hair than in the blood or urine.
This is because it is not the drug itself that is deposited in the hair. Instead, it’s the chemical produced by the body during the process of breaking the drug down. This process will usually take a month or so, depending on the person’s age and the health of their hair.
Once these deposits form in the hair, they can stay present for a number of years depending on frequency and amount of use.
A person who uses benzos only a few times is unlikely to find many traces in their hair. This usually only comes with regular use over a long period of time. If someone stops using benzos, traces of the drug in their hair will disappear as the hair falls out naturally.
Benzos can also show up in saliva. If given a mouth swab drug test, traces of benzos will show up in saliva for around two or three days after use.
This timeline obviously depends on the frequency of use and amount ingested - a more habitual user or someone taking larger doses will find that it takes far longer for the traces of benzos in saliva to disappear completely.
Additionally, the drug can show up in sweat for several days. People who are prescribed Xanax and similar substances often report that they sweat heavily during and after taking the drug.
This sweat is sometimes accompanied by a pungent odor. This is because, when sweating, the body is attempting to expel toxic chemicals through the pores in the skin. A heavy odor can be a byproduct of this process.
Though not widely used, a sweat-based drug test has also been developed. This test consists of wearing a patch on the skin for several days at a time. The benefit of this kind of test is that the presence of drugs can be continuously monitored.
So, why does it matter how long it takes to rid your body of benzos? Well, benzodiazepines can cause many unwanted side effects that can be both dangerous and unpleasant.
These side effects can happen short-term, during or immediately after use; or they can occur as a result of long-term use. These symptoms of long-term use can occur days after use - or, in some cases, for months or years afterwards.
For many users, even short-term, legal and appropriate use can cause serious problems. Benzodiazepines were not considered to be addictive until fairly recently, so doctors and other medical professionals were often not prepared to deal with the problems that resulted from this addiction or physical tolerance.
Watch this video to learn more about some of the most intense outcomes of benzodiazepine use. It’s important to keep in mind that help is available for those who need it, and that almost all prescription drugs have some side effects.
The short-term side effects of benzos are often a reality even for those taking the drug safely under a doctor’s orders. Often, these short-term side effects are weighed against the user’s original problem (what the benzos will be treating) to determine if use is worth it. At low or moderate doses, these side effects include:
At higher doses, more extreme side effects are likely. In addition to the symptoms of low doses, those who take higher doses can expect the following side effects:
When benzodiazepines are removed from the body more slowly, they can cause longer-term effects that are drawn out until all benzos are out of your system, sometimes several days later or more. These include:
Still have questions about benzodiazepines, how they’re tested for, and what it’s like to detox? It’s normal to have more questions, and being as informed as possible can help you use and detox from benzos wisely. Keep reading to learn more.
Several different drug tests can be used to detect the presence of benzos in the system. An employer, for example, may have a urine test administered to detect the presence of any drugs in your system.
Urine tests are among the least expensive forms of drug-testing. They are also not as invasive as other methods of testing. Both of these facts make them more popular as a drug test of choice.
In some cases, however, companies may conduct hair or blood tests to detect the presence of drugs in their employees. As detailed above, these tests can detect the presence of benzos after varying lengths of time, so they are often used in different contexts.
Other groups, such as courts, will sometimes conduct hair-based drug tests. Hair-based drug tests can be the most accurate way to show drug use within a 90-day time period. However, testing hair follicles is quite expensive, so this is not among the most common forms of drug-testing.
A common form of drug-testing used by employers is the 5-panel drug test. This is usually a urine test that shows the administrator whether or not their employee has marijuana, cocaine, meth, PCP or amphetamines present in their system. While the 5-panel drug test does not detect the presence of benzos in your system, the 6-panel upgrade does.
Oftentimes, employers will use upgraded, several-paneled drug tests to detect drug use. These tests can have as many as twelve panels. Any paneled drug test with more than 5 panels tests for benzodiazepines.
For example, a 12-panel urine-based drug test detects the presence of cocaine, marijuana, PCP, amphetamines, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, methadone, propoxyphene, Quaaludes, Ecstasy and MDA, and Oxycodone and Percocet.
Detoxing from Xanax, Ativan, or other benzodiazepines can take a long time and have intense side effects. This is one of the reasons that doctors recommend that their patients wean off the drug slowly, even after taking it as prescribed. Someone who uses benzos regularly and legally for years can take several months to wean off their prescription properly.
A non-addicted user of benzos who has only used the drug occasionally may be able to flush the drug out of their system quickly without any side effects. However, someone who uses benzos habitually should not attempt to detox within 24 hours.
Detox should take place over a longer period of time, and in most cases, under the care of a medical professional. If the process is not done correctly, the chances of relapsing or of never truly detoxing at all are considerably higher.
If you or someone you know is a regular user of Xanax, Ativan, or any other benzodiazepine, know that it can take a few weeks to detox from the drug. The length of this process is affected by a variety of factors, so some users are at a much higher risk of harsh symptoms during detox.
However, the symptoms of detox are worth it if you’ve been abusing benzos or have become addicted to them. Continuing to engage in benzo abuse puts you in danger, both from chemical dependence and the possible adverse effects of mixing benzos with other substances.
With the help of a professional, a steady hydration routine, and discontinued use of the drug, you can remove benzos from your body entirely - sweat, saliva, blood, hair, and urine.
There are many resources that can help you in your detox and recovery process - doctors and counselors, to begin with. Getting benzos out of your system is safer, more comfortable, and more permanent with the help of others.