A pharmaceutical manufacturer can only guarantee Xanax (a brand name of the drug Alprazolam) will be effective and safe before its expiration date. Taking expired Xanax is not recommended.

Expiration dates are something a lot of people have questions or are unclear about. For example, you may be wondering if Xanax expires, or if it is safe to take expired Xanax? You may also have questions about how to properly store or dispose of expired Xanax. This article will answer those questions.

What Is the Shelf Life of Xanax?

The shelf life of Xanax or any pharmaceutical product refers to the time it’s considered to function properly, remain effective and to be stable.

Specifically, shelf life is the period of time that begins from the date a drug like Xanax is manufactured, to the time it’s expected to remain safe and effective as it’s approved for use. Shelf life is usually described as a period of months, and it often ranges from 24 months to 60 months.

What Is Xanax’s Shelf life?

The shelf life of Xanax often ranges from two to three years, and after this time, it may still be as potent as it originally was, or it could lose potency. Since the shelf life of Xanax and the expiration date only indicate a guarantee from the manufacturer that it’s good, it’s difficult to know whether or not it’s okay to take old Xanax unless you talk to a doctor or pharmacist.

Factors that Determine Shelf-Life

When determining the shelf life of a drug, researchers will look at three main parameters, which are potency, physical characteristics, and purity.

As the shelf life is being assessed for Xanax and other drugs, researchers will consider factors such as the active ingredients the formulation contains, as well as the presence of substances like preservatives. The shelf life of Xanax and other pharmaceuticals can also be based on packaging, pH, color, odor and many other factors. There can be considerations of possible interactions between the drug and its packaging, or the potential for bacteria to grow over time.

Some examples of what can happen to Xanax and other drugs over time include moisture exposure contributing to the growth of fungi and bacteria, the breakdown of preservatives that could also allow for bacteria to form, and temperature changes that could lead to shifts in color.

What Do Expiration Dates Mean?

The expiration date of a drug is determined by the drug manufacturer, or sometimes the pharmacist. This date refers to a time when the full potency and safety of a drug is guaranteed. Xanax may still be potent and safe after its expiration date, but it’s not guaranteed.

Some drugs, such as certain antibiotics, can actually be dangerous if taken after their expiration date, but Xanax isn’t one of those. However, if you take Xanax after its expiration date, you may find that it doesn’t work as effectively as it once did.

Manufacturers of drugs like Xanax are required to indicate on the label when a drug expires. It’s a legal requirement. Concerned about liability, manufacturers won’t provide any level of guarantee about a drug’s strength, quality or purity beyond its expiration date. Most drugs in the U.S. have an expiration date from 12 to 60 months after they’re manufactured.

Shelf Life Vs. Expiration Date

Also relevant to the discussion of the shelf life of Xanax is understanding the difference between this term and the expiration date.

When talking about shelf life, the drug may still be safe even following its shelf life date, but the quality isn’t guaranteed. Shelf life can be significantly influenced by factors like exposure to heat, light, and moisture. Also, if you have medicine that’s not kept in its original container, this can have a significant impact on cutting down its shelf life.

The expiration date, on the other hand, refers to the date until which a manufacturer guarantees a drug will be fully potent and safe. Some drugs may remain safe following their expiration date, and this can include Xanax, but it’s still important to check with a doctor or pharmacist before using any medicine beyond its expiration date.

What If You Take Expired Xanax?

Currently, there are no reports of expired medicines leading to toxic outcomes for patients, but physicians and pharmacists do not recommend taking expired medication, because they can’t guarantee it will be safe or effective.

There is, of course, the possibility that if you take expired Xanax, it won’t be as effective. If you were having an anxiety or panic attack and your Xanax had lost some of its potency, it could be problematic.

Risks of Keeping Expired Xanax

There is a big risk that can come from keeping expired medicine around, however. If you have Xanax left in your home long-term, there’s the potential for children or pets to get it accidentally, or for other people to purposely take it to abuse it. Xanax is a commonly abused drug. If you have teenagers or other people in your home who might be susceptible to abusing it, it’s often best to dispose of these unused medicines properly.

How to Dispose of Old Medicine?

Many pharmacies will allow people to drop off and properly dispose of their old medications. The DEA also hosts two National Take Back Days where people have more opportunities to safely throw away old prescriptions.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Don’t Be Tempted to Use Expired Medicines.” March 1, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2020.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Expiration Dates – Questions and Answers.” April 26, 2018. Accessed June 29, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.