How Long Do Drugs Stay in Your System?

Drugs encompass legal and illicit substances that have several different effects on the body and brain. As the range of drugs used is so vast, so too is the amount of time it takes each to leave the body. Not only is there a variation among individual drugs, but there are also factors that affect each person that will impact the duration for which drugs stay in your system.

People often want to know the answer to the question, “how long do drugs stay in your system?” Some people ask this to determine when they may expect to start experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Others may want to know how long the effects of drugs may last. However, due to the many factors at play, it is impossible to say how long drugs in general stay in your system.

If you or someone you love has a drug addiction, many addiction treatment services can help. The treatment process will ensure that you or they are safe and supported. Treatment also minimizes the likelihood of relapse.

Why Might Someone Want to Know How Long Drugs Stay in Your System?

Due to the growing amount of prescription drugs being abused in the US, the number of employers requiring pre-employment tests, and the volume of drug-related driving accidents, drug tests are becoming increasingly necessary. Though many people think drug tests are irrelevant, they are instrumental and serve to keep both individuals and societies safe.

A drug test refers to the use of a biological sample to see whether a drug and its metabolites (the substances that a drug breaks down into) are present or absent in a person’s body.

There are a variety of reasons for someone wanting to know how long drugs are determinable in the body. However, drug tests are commonly conducted at work, by the police, and within sports.

  • Drug tests in the workplace. Some employers will state in their contracts that they will often conduct randomized drug tests to check if an employee is consuming alcohol or abusing drugs at work. It happens more commonly in job roles that involve operating heavy machinery, working with vulnerable people, or driving. It is a safety precaution to ensure that employees aren’t putting people in danger through drug abuse.
  • Drug tests among the police and legal services. Drug testing may be carried out by the police or other legal services if there has been a driving accident, if someone who has been arrested is suspected to be under the influence of drugs, or as part of a court case.
  • Drug tests within sports. It’s common for sporting officials to require drug tests from athletes to establish whether there has been any cheating through performance-enhancing drugs.

Drug tests are also often carried out by sober living houses, drug treatment facilities, social services, and probation officers.

What Affects Drug Detection?

There are a substantial number of variables that affect how long drugs stay in your system. For example, the rate at which your body metabolizes a drug can significantly vary as factors such as your age and health can affect this.

Essentially, someone with a high metabolism will find that drugs do not stay in their system as long, while those with a slower metabolism will notice that drugs remain in their system for a more extended period.

Because many variables impact how long drugs remain in your system, it is challenging to establish exact times for how long drugs are detectable. However, some factors that determine the length of time that drugs stay in your system include:

  • The dose of the drug
  • The type of drug
  • The potency of the drug
  • How often the drug is used
  • Levels of hydration
  • Drug tolerance
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Metabolism
  • Bodyweight
  • Medical conditions (e.g., kidney problems) that may affect the drug leaving the body
  • Whether other drugs were consumed
  • The drug’s half-life
  • Your level of physical activity

What Is a Drug’s Half-Life?

As noted above, the half-life of a drug can impact how long drugs stay in your system. This refers to the amount of time it takes for the concentration of a drug in the body to drop by 50%. A drug’s half-life helps people understand how long it takes for a specific type of drug to exit their system.

Drugs with a long half-life will stay in your system longer than those with a short half-life and will therefore be detectable in drug tests for a more extended period.

In general, a drug with a short half-life will result in more significant withdrawal symptoms than a drug with a longer half-life. Withdrawal symptoms will also develop faster. However, this is not to say that drugs with long half-lives do not cause significant withdrawal symptoms when abused.

What Are the Different Types of Drug Tests?

There are various ways that a drug test can be conducted, but certain types of drug tests may be more appropriate for detecting certain drugs. However, all drug tests can offer specific and accurate results.

Some of the standard drug tests include:

Urine Tests

Urine drug tests are the most common form of drug test. Urine testing is painless, simple, cost-effective, and produces fast results.

Urine testing can detect a variety of different drugs and can be used to test for alcohol, although this isn’t as common.

Saliva Tests

Sometimes referred to as a mouth-swab drug test or oral fluids drug test, saliva tests are non-invasive and only require a swab to be taken from the inside of the mouth.

When a saliva test is used, various drugs, such as amphetamines, cocaine, and opioid drugs, including morphine, heroin, and cannabis, can be detected. Alcohol can also be detected via a saliva test.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are more expensive. However, they are one of the most effective testing methods and are often used at an accident site to determine whether someone is under the influence of drugs.

Hair Follicle Tests

Hair follicle tests can detect a drug’s presence in the system for a long time, meaning they have the most extended detection window of any drug test. Hair tests effectively determine whether someone engages in casual or chronic drug use.

Breath Tests

Breath tests can detect the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood and are frequently used on roadsides to check that drivers are driving while sober.

What Addiction Treatment Options Are Available?

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, many treatment options are available. Treatment centers for drug and alcohol abuse provide compassionate care, support, and guidance in helping you or your loved one stop misusing drugs.

Under the guidance of a medical professional, you or your loved one will begin to overcome the physical dependence on drugs via a detox program. Following this, mental health professionals will assist in understanding and recovering from psychological dependence.

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are also on hand to help those in recovery connect with others going through a similar thing. In addition, attending support groups will help you to feel less alone.

Due to the dangerous withdrawal symptoms associated with many drugs and alcohol, it is imperative to only attempt detox under the guidance of a health professional. Never try to quit drugs or alcohol cold turkey, as withdrawal symptoms can be fatal.


In understanding how long drugs stay in your system, it’s essential to be aware of the large variety of factors that can influence the rate at which your body can metabolize and process drugs.

A urine drug test, saliva test, blood test, hair test, and breath test can be used depending on the drug being tested for and the time of testing. Drug testing and the type of test also depend on the drug’s half-life, which influences the drug detection times.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, there are many addiction treatment options available to help you recover from substance abuse and go on to live a fulfilled, sober life.

To find out more about treatment, contact us today.

Comments are closed.