How Long Do Benzodiazepines Stay in Your System?

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Benzodiazepines are sedatives and anti-anxiety medications that are legally available only by prescription. There are many different kinds of benzodiazepines, from long-acting to short-acting. They include Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Halcion (triazolam) and Librium (chlordiazepoxide).

When you are prescribed these drugs, it is important to know how long they are active in your system so you can avoid interactions with other substances and be alert to signs of unusual or dangerous side effects.

Types

If you try to estimate how long benzodiazepines are active and detectable in the body you have to consider many variables. The drugs vary considerably in how long they are active in the body, which means they will stay in your system a longer or shorter time. Valium is long-acting. Xanax, Niravam, Ativan, Klonopin, and Librium are intermediate-acting. Halcion is short-acting.

With the wide variation by type, it is important to discuss with your doctor how long the drug you have been prescribed will be active in your system. The answer will be on the order of days for the short-acting varieties to over a week for longer-acting drugs.

You can look up the medication guide on the FDA website for the specific drug you are taking to see the precautions for that medication.

Avoiding Interactions When Benzodiazepines Are in Your System

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that produce sedation, induce sleep, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and prevent seizures. Too much of the drug too quickly can cause an overdose. You need to be faithful to the dosage prescribed by your doctor and take your medication on schedule. Ask what to do if you forget to take a dose, as it might be dangerous to take doses too close together.

Be thorough in discussing all of you medications, prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements with your doctor so you can be put on the best dosage. Don't start or stop any other medication or supplement without discussing it with your doctor once you are taking benzodiazepines.

Some of the most critical interactions are with alcohol, narcotic and opiate pain relievers, phenothiazines, MAO inhibitors, illicit drugs, and other central nervous system depressants. Herbal supplements and natural products to be concerned about interacting with benzodiazepines include kava, St. John's wort, grapefruit, and grapefruit juice. Smoking can also decrease the effectiveness of these medications.

Lifestyle precautions include being aware that these drugs can make you drowsy, so you need to be cautious about driving or operating machinery.

Signs of an Overdose

Symptoms of an overdose of benzodiazepines include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Shallow respiration
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Possible death

It is also important that you don't abruptly stop taking any benzodiazepine without discussing it with your doctor as you could have severe withdrawal symptoms.

Detectable in Urine Drug Screens

While benzodiazepines have many appropriate medical uses, they also are a common drug of abuse and may be detected in blood or urine toxicology screens. If you are going to be taking a drug screen for employment or other purposes, disclose any prescription medications you are taking so the lab can interpret your test correctly. The time frame varies for each drug in how fast it is eliminated from the body. It may be detectable for days to weeks and it depends on the dosage. 

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