Mishandling your Xanax can cost you millions and put you behind bars for years. Learn what happens if you’re caught with Xanax and don’t have a prescription for it.

Article at a Glance:

  • A prescription is needed to possess Xanax legally
  • Having more Xanax than you were prescribed is illegal
  • In some states, storing Xanax outside of the original container is illegal
  • First-time offenders can face up to a million dollars and five years in prison
  • Xanax use can be detected in hair follicle tests for up to 90 days following the last use
  • The best way to avoid legal problems is to keep your prescribed Xanax in its original container, safely dispose of any unused amount and never let anyone else use your medicine

Is Xanax Illegal?

Possessing Xanax is illegal when you don’t have a prescription for it, or the amount you have exceeds your prescribed amount. Such offenses can result in legal and financial consequences including arrest, criminal prosecution, a prison sentence, and mandatory drug rehab programs.

Xanax is a highly psychoactive depressant, which calms the central nervous system. Due to its addictive qualities and other risks, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies prescription level Xanax as a schedule IV narcotic with a low potential for abuse and low risk of psychological and physical dependence. Despite its comparatively low risks for abuse and dependence, Xanax is one of the most popular illegally consumed prescription drugs in the United States. The specific penalties associated with unlawful possession of Xanax vary by state and are wide ranging depending upon the amount of the substance in an individual’s possession.

Crimes Associated with Xanax

Xanax is prescribed to patients in the form of pills, bars or liquids, and ranges in concentration from .25mg to 2mg. Xanax is available legally in any of these forms and concentrations, so long as a licensed physician prescribes it. Because of its status as a controlled substance, illicit possession, use, and distribution of Xanax is a crime. For those without a prescription or struggling with a substance use disorder, Xanax is most commonly purchased on the black market or obtained from individuals who have a prescription for Xanax.

Unlawful possession of Xanax results in state-level criminal penalties ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Misdemeanor offenses are typically the result of possession in extremely small amounts, while felony offenses typically apply to larger quantities. State-level penalties are primarily determined by the quantity of Xanax in a person’s possession, how the person acquired the Xanax and their intent of possession. Individuals charged with misdemeanors are most likely to receive probation, small court fines, and limited jail sentences. Felony offenders are subject to penalties of up to 10 years in state prison.

Violations of federal law, such as trafficking Xanax, are subject to federal prosecution under the Federal Controlled Substances Act guidelines for schedule IV substances. These guidelines suggest that first-time offenders receive a fine between $250,000 and $1 million, along with a prison sentence of up to five years. Federal penalties are even harsher for repeat offenders, who face fines between $500,000 to $2 million, alongside 10 additional years in federal prison for the same crime.

Caught Without My Xanax Prescription

Having a prescription is the only legal way to possess Xanax. An individual faces misdemeanor or felony charges if he or she is caught with Xanax without a prescription for it or has a quantity greater than what was prescribed to them. It’s also illegal to attempt to sell or traffic the prescription Xanax. Always keep Xanax prescriptions safely in their original container and use only as prescribed.

Xanax Prescription in a Bottle

When a doctor prescribes Xanax, the patient receive a bottle with a medication label detailing all of their relevant personal information alongside the prescribing physician’s name, the pharmacy’s information, the name of the prescription, its dosage instructions, the medication’s expiration date and the total amount of the prescription contained within the bottle.

As long as the prescription is stored in its original container, the amount contained within the bottle does not exceed the maximum amount listed on the medication label and the prescription has not yet expired, that possession is entirely legal.

Prescription Outside the Bottle

Many states consider it illegal to store prescription drugs outside of their original container. The exception to this is if the patient removed the drug from its original container to take the medication. In states where these laws exist, prescription drugs may not be legally stored in pockets, purses or any storage device other than the original container.

If an individual is caught with a controlled substance outside of its original bottle, even if it was lawfully prescribed, they are subject to arrest and criminal prosecution.

Laws vary from state to state and there are multiple exceptions to these rules. Consult with your physician or an attorney if you have concerns regarding the storage of prescription drugs.

Caught and Not My Xanax Prescription

Possession of a controlled substance without a prescription is illegal throughout the United States. If an individual is in possession of Xanax that was not prescribed to them, they can be arrested.

While Xanax possession without a prescription is illegal, the penalties related to Xanax possession charges are likely to vary depending upon the state you live in. Consult a legal professional about the regulations and laws related to Xanax possession and the penalties associated with breaking those laws in your state.

Getting Caught High on Xanax

Similar to the possession, distribution or trafficking of Xanax, the use of Xanax without a prescription is also illegal and subject to significant criminal penalties. Additional penalties apply to individuals on probation who test positive for Xanax use in random drug test programs. They may face severe legal repercussions, far in excess of the original offense.

Xanax is detectable in a variety of drug tests, including urine, saliva, blood, and hair follicle tests. Because of its relatively short elimination half-life of 12 hours, Xanax generally leaves a user’s system within four days of use. However, despite its short half-life, Xanax remains detectable in urine tests for up to five to seven days, in saliva tests for two to five days, in blood tests for one to six days and in hair follicle tests for up to 90 following use.

If you or someone you love struggles with Xanax, take the first step towards a healthier life by reaching out to The Recovery Village. Individualized treatment programs can help you address your addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Call and begin your healthier future today.

Bryan Hindin
By – Bryan Hindin
Bryan Hindin is a law clerk with years of experience working in personal injury, criminal defense, and employment law firms. Read more
Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Controlled Substance Schedules.” Accessed April 9, 2019.

Schneider Freiberger Law “Understanding Xanax Possession Charges in New Jersey.” Accessed April 9, 2019.

Yeh, Brian T. “Drug Offenses: Maximum Fines and Term[…]and Related Laws.” Congressional Research Service, January 20, 2015. Accessed April 9, 2019.

RxOutreach. “Understanding Prescription Medication Labels.” Accessed April 9, 2019.

US Drug Test Centers. “Probation Drug Testing.” Accessed April 9, 2019.

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.