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Klonopin (Clonazepam) Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 1, 2019

Klonopin abuse can cause drowsiness, depression, loss of coordination, and psychotic symptoms. It also raises the risk of overdose and may lead to physical dependence and addiction.

Klonopin is the brand name of clonazepam, a benzodiazepine drug used to treat seizures and panic disorders. It depresses the central nervous system, helping the body relax. Though it has a similar function to anti-anxiety medications like Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam), it is less frequently used for anxiety than for more serious conditions.

Though Klonopin is classified as a Schedule IV substance, meaning that it has a low potential for abuse and addiction, many individuals become physically and mentally dependent on it. The risk of this happening increases when someone abuses Klonopin or takes it in any way other than how it was prescribed.

How Is Klonopin Abused?

Klonopin (clonazepam) not only helps a person feel calm, it can also produce a sense of euphoria. Some individuals take more of this drug than their doctor recommends, while others obtain it illegally (without a prescription) to self-medicate or experience a high.

Generally, Klonopin is abused orally, either by ingestion or dissolving it sublingually (under the tongue). Klonopin comes in tablet form, and some people crush and snort it. Others inject it, though most benzodiazepines do not dissolve well in water and may be less effective when injected.

Dangers Of Klonopin Abuse

Klonopin (clonazepam) has potential side effects that can occur with regular use. Abusing this drug increases the chance, and possibly the severity, of these side effects.

Side effects of Klonopin abuse may include:

  • drowsiness
  • depression
  • dry mouth
  • irregular heart rate
  • muscle pain or weakness
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • confusion and hallucinations
  • loss of coordination and bodily control

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This drug can also produce paradoxical side effects like increased anxiety, aggression, and difficulty sleeping that become more likely with long-term abuse. Prolonged Klonopin abuse may also cause memory loss, reproductive issues, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems.

How someone abuses Klonopin poses a unique set of risks. While the pill is meant to be taken orally, snorting or injecting it can cause physical damage. Snorting (insufflation) erodes the tissue inside of the nose and can harm the throat and lungs as well. Injecting raises the risk of bacterial infection, abscesses, and disease transmission from unclean needles.

Risk Of Klonopin Overdose

As a long-acting benzodiazepine, Klonopin (clonazepam) stays in the body longer than other benzodiazepines with comparable effects, like Xanax (alprazolam). Because of this, a person may take a second dose of Klonopin before the first has been completely cleared from their system. This can cause a build-up of the drug—especially with prolonged use and abuse—which raises the risk of Klonopin overdose.

Klonopin overdose signs may be:

  • confusion
  • lack of coordination
  • clammy skin
  • dilated pupils
  • excessive sedation
  • depressed breathing
  • bluish fingernails or skin (indicating lack of oxygen)

The likelihood of Klonopin overdose is higher if someone takes the drug with another central nervous system depressant. Alcohol, opioids, and other benzodiazepines are all depressant drugs which can have fatal consequences when combined with Klonopin. Polysubstance abuse with any drug increases overdose risk because it becomes harder to regulate how much is “safe.”

In some cases, it is possible to reverse a Klonopin overdose with Flumazenil (romazicon), which blocks the brain’s benzodiazepine receptors. This can help someone awaken from a coma and reduce the sedation that causes severe overdose symptoms. Flumazenil must be administered by a medical professional, so emergency help should be sought immediately if someone overdoses.

Klonopin Tolerance And Dependence

Klonopin (clonazepam) is prescribed to give people short-term relief from seizures and panic attacks. With long-term use, the body develops a tolerance, requiring a higher dose of Klonopin for it to work effectively. This may lead to physical dependence, when the body needs the drug in order to function.

Physical dependence can form in as little as two weeks of everyday use, warns the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Individuals who abuse Klonopin put themselves at an even higher risk. Physical dependence is indicated by physical withdrawal symptoms if a person stops taking the drug.

Doctors often taper people off of benzodiazepines to avoid or lessen withdrawals. This process slowly reduces dosage. It may last several weeks, but can be more bearable than abruptly stopping Klonopin use. Tapering may also help to prevent relapse.

Klonopin Withdrawal And Detox

The withdrawal process begins when someone stops taking Klonopin or reduces their dosage. As the body breaks down the drug and excretes it, withdrawal symptoms intensify. It can take several days for the body to metabolize Klonopin. The worst part of withdrawal for most people comes when the drug is completely out of their body.

Withdrawal symptoms prompt many individuals who abuse Klonopin to continue taking it because it is too painful or uncomfortable to stop. These symptoms may include hallucinations, muscle cramps, vomiting, and insomnia. Withdrawing from benzodiazepines can also cause seizures, which may be life-threatening.

Since it is difficult and dangerous for someone to detoxify alone, medically supervised detox programs are available to ease the process. These programs monitor an individual’s vital signs and may administer medication if needed. They may also provide counseling to help prevent relapse and prepare people to enter an addiction treatment program.

Signs Of Klonopin Addiction

Klonopin (clonazepam) works by stopping receptors in the brain from properly regulating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the chemical responsible for keeping the brain calm. This intensifies the effects of GABA, which helps the central nervous system relax, preventing seizures and panic attacks.

As Klonopin enhances the function of GABA, it actually changes the brain’s structure. In a healthy brain, GABA would allow appropriate levels of calm and excitement. If someone abuses Klonopin, their brain may stop regulating GABA naturally and become mentally dependent, or addicted.

When this happens, a person experiences psychological cravings for the drug. They are unable to control their use of Klonopin, and continue taking it even if it affects them negatively. Addiction can consume a person’s life as the drug becomes more important than anything else.

Signs that someone may be suffering from Klonopin (clonazepam) addiction are:

  • a belief that they need Klonopin to function
  • promises that they will cut back but an inability to do so
  • multiple prescriptions from different doctors (sign of “doctor shopping”)
  • illicitly obtained Klonopin in baggies or unmarked containers
  • financial difficulties
  • poor work performance
  • less interest in social activities
  • missed obligations
  • strained relationships with family and friends

Klonopin Addiction Treatment Options

Many people are unable to overcome addiction alone. A comprehensive treatment program for Klonopin addiction supports individuals through the recovery process. The best drug rehab centers create treatment plans that are tailored to the individual, combining evidence-based treatments to give them the best chance at success.

Treatment for Klonopin addiction may include individual and group counseling, behavioral therapy, fitness, and meditation. The goal is to prepare each person to live substance-free in the face of temptation. These therapies teach coping skills so people struggling with substance abuse can find healthier ways to deal with stress.

Recovering from addiction may occur in an outpatient or inpatient setting. For many individuals, inpatient or residential treatment is more beneficial because it removes the distractions and negative influences in their familiar environment so they can focus fully on recovery.

National Alliance on Mental Illness - Clonazepam (Klonopin)

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System-Mediated Effects

U.S. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed - LABEL: KLONOPIN - clonazepam tablet

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