How Long Do Prescription Drugs Stay in Your System?

Prescription drugs have become quite an epidemic in our society in recent times. They are most commonly prescribed to people as a treatment for pain management and relief, anxiety support, depression, attention issues and also for chronic coughing in some cases. While the use of prescription pills can be helpful for some, it can also be deadly for others who become addicted to the substances they were once prescribed. Not only that, but there is a large demographic of people who use prescription drugs for recreational use instead of medically prescribe use, which is a growing problem our country faces. According to a recent study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 48 million people (aged 12 and older) have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime. That figure represents approximately 20% of the U.S. population. There has been an overwhelming increase in prescription drug misuse and or abuse over the past several years. Unfortunately, with the rise of both usage and substance abuse, this has also caused an increase in consequent emergency room visits due to accidental overdoses and subsequent drug addictions that lead people to drug treatment facilities.
How Long Do Prescription Drugs Stay in Your System?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies three classes of medication most commonly misused are:


Are usually prescribed to treat pain. These include:

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

Benzodiazepines or Central Nervous System Depressants

Used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. This category includes tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics such as:

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


Most often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®)
  • Amphetamines (Adderall®)
A good indication that you may be abusing your prescription is if you are taking larger doses than what you doctor has prescribed or using them for reasons other than prescribed.

For example, if you were prescribed a pain medication from your doctor to be taken a up to three times per day, but you find yourself taking them five times a day, you are abusing the drug. Also, if you find yourself taking the medication for pain when you don’t have pain, but perhaps are bored or because not taking them makes you feel bad, you are abusing and may have developed a dependence to the drug.

If you find that you are calling your doctor more frequently for refills or asking for an increased dosage, this may also be an indication that you are abusing prescription drugs. Another clear indication is if you are taking a prescription drug without having it medically prescribed to you. Worse, you may be using false or altered prescription forms at a pharmacy to obtain more without your doctors consent. This is perhaps the most tell-tell sign of an addiction and substance abuse disorder.

If you are feeling symptoms of withdrawal when you discontinue using your prescription such as vomiting, mood swings, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness or impaired functions you have most likely developed a tolerance to the prescription, as they are not mean for long-term usage. Many people who find themselves in this situation look for answers about how long it takes for a prescription drug to clear from the system.

First things first, as you can imagine, you must discontinue usage to clear a drug from your system. Often this can trigger a host of withdrawal symptoms that you should understand as you begin the process. To avoid complications such as seizures or alarming changes in blood pressure, a medical doctor should monitor discontinuation of prescription pills.

Once you have completed discontinued ingestion of a prescription drug it’s good to know how long it will take your body to completely excrete the drug. The elimination process differs slightly depending on the pill you have been taking as well as other factors.

No two people are created exactly the same, so this is something to consider when we look at how individuals eliminate prescription drugs. Two people could take the same dose, at the same time, with the same strength, however one may eliminate the drug faster from his or her system than the other person. Factors such as age, body weight, metabolism and liver function can affect how they clear their systems.

  • Age: As can be expected, an older person will typically have a slower metabolism and therefore excrete drugs as a much slower rate than that of a younger person. People who are older have more factors involved that affect their organs, such as the kidney and liver, that may cause them to work less optimally. Not to mention the older a person is, the more likely they are to be taking multiple medications as they tend to have other health issues, which could interfere with excretion of prescription drugs. Essentially, the younger someone is, the more likely they are to clear a drug more rapidly.
  • Body height / weight / fat: In order to accurately estimate how fast someone will eliminate a drug from his or her system, we must take into account their weight, height and body fat. The reason for this is because the dose a person takes is relative in proportion to the measurements of a person.
  • Genetics: Genes play a role in our ability to metabolize drugs and, not only that, who also is more susceptible to becoming dependent or addicted. Certain variants in gene structure affect people’s metabolism differently and also can cause the person to feel different effects of the prescription drugs they take.
  • Liver/kidney function: Depending on the health of someone’s liver and/or kidney’s, they may clear drugs faster than others. For someone who has cirrhosis, for example, may take much longer to clear something from their system than a person with a very healthy liver. Someone who has kidney impairment or failure is also going to have a delayed clearance time.
  • Metabolism: A person with a faster metabolism is going to burn through things such as food, liquids and drugs quickly. Whereas a person with a slow functioning metabolism is going to naturally keep things in the system for longer. Metabolic rates in people vary largely due to genetic factors; however, supplements, diet, exercise and other drugs being consumed have an influence in how quickly someone’s body processes things.
A person who has used prescription drugs only one time as single does is more likely to clear the drug faster from his or her system than a person who uses the drug on a regular basis.

If prescription drugs are used frequently over the span of days or weeks, there is an accumulation inside the body, which can greatly affect the clearance time. However, for a person who uses infrequently or as a single dose, it is less likely that they will accumulate levels in their system that would not be cleared within a couple days.

According to a guide provided by Drugs and Alcohol Information and Support, they indicate some average times for prescription drugs to exit the system. These are rough approximations and the factors mentioned in this article will affect these estimates.

  • Opioids: 3 – 4 days in urine, up to 90 days in hair, up to 12 hours in your blood.
  • Benzodiazapines: 3 to 6 weeks in urine, up to 90 days in hair and 2 – 3 days in your blood.
  • Amphetamines: 1 – 3 days in urine, up to 90 days in hair and around 12 hours in your blood.

Managing Withdrawal Symptoms of Prescription Drugs 

Regardless of knowing how long a prescription drug stays in your system, if you have developed dependence to it, you will most likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the severity of these symptoms, medical attention may be required such as hospitalization and detox. Some substance withdrawal symptoms can be fatal if left untreated, so it’s recommended to consult with a doctor if you feel you are at risk.

Rapid detox or inpatient detoxification may be suggested depending on the level at which someone is using. Typically, there are medications that can be administered to help reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and they can also help prevent any further medical complications.

Medical treatments are good initially, however long term recovery and treatment for substance abuse of prescription drugs should be followed to address the underlying causes of addiction.

Substance Use and Mental Health Estimates from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Overview of Findings, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, <>, 2013.

Misuse Of Prescription Drugs, National Institute On Drug Abuse, <>, August 2016.

How long do drugs stay in your system, Drugs and Alcohol Information and Support, <>

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.