Klonopin Addiction: Signs, Effects, and Treatment
Klonopin is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant medication.1 When used as prescribed, Klonopin can be helpful in the treatment of seizure and panic disorders.2 However, it also carries with it a risk of misuse, dependence, and addiction.2
This article explains Klonopin, how it works, what it is used for, its addiction potential, signs of misuse, symptoms of withdrawal, and details about available options for treatment.
What Is Klonopin?
Klonopin, the brand name for clonazepam, is a relatively potent and long-acting benzodiazepine.2 The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies clonazepam and other benzodiazepines as Schedule IV controlled substances, which means they have a lower potential for misuse than drugs in Schedules I, II, and III.3
What Is Clonazepam Used For?
When taken as prescribed, clonazepam, an oral tablet, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat panic disorders and seizures.4 However, it may be prescribed off-label to treat other conditions, including acute mania, insomnia, and irregular and uncontrollable face and body movements (tardive dyskinesia).2
How Does Clonazepam Work?
Like other benzodiazepines, clonazepam works to inhibit excitation within the brain by interacting with and facilitating the action of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) at its receptors.2,4 Put more simply, clonazepam calms an otherwise overexcited nervous system, specifically resulting in anticonvulsant and anxiolytic (or anti-anxiety) effects.2
Is Clonazepam Addictive?
While the short-term, therapeutic use of clonazepam is generally considered safe and effective, clonazepam does have the potential for misuse and addiction. Individuals with a history of substance use disorder are at an increased risk for developing a clonazepam addiction.5,6
Additionally, misuse of clonazepam often occurs in conjunction with other substance use. For instance, individuals may use clonazepam (or other benzodiazepines) either to enhance the euphoric effects of opioids and alcohol or to reduce the unwanted side effects associated with stimulant use, such as insomnia.7 Engaging in polysubstance use (the concurrent use of multiple substances) increases the likelihood of adverse effects, overdose, and death.4
Longer-term and higher-dose clonazepam use also increases the risk of an individual developing a physical dependence—the body’s adaptation to having the drug present in the system.8 While dependence is not the same thing as addiction, physical dependence does have the potential to escalate the compulsive use of the substance, a characteristic of addiction.4
Signs of Clonazepam Misuse and Addiction
Clinicians use criteria listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose benzodiazepine addiction, or sedative use disorder.9 Some of the symptoms, according to this criteria, include:9
- Using clonazepam in higher doses or for longer periods than they intended.
- Expressing desire or making unsuccessful efforts to cut back or stop their clonazepam use.
- Spending a lot of time and effort obtaining, using, or recovering from clonazepam.
- Having a persistent and strong desire, craving, or urge to use clonazepam.
- Recurring use leads to failure to fulfill responsibilities at school, home, and work.
- Recurring use of clonazepam despite the ongoing negative impact it has on social interactions and interpersonal relationships.
- Experiencing withdrawal when stopping or significantly reducing their use of clonazepam—though the presence of withdrawal symptoms does not meet the criteria when an individual takes clonazepam as prescribed.
As the loved one of an individual struggling with clonazepam use, it’s helpful to understand the above criteria, however, a formal diagnosis can only be made by a healthcare professional.9
Individuals who become dependent on clonazepam may experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop or drastically reduce their use after a period of continuous use.9 As listed in the DSM-5, these withdrawal symptoms may include:9
- Hyperactivity of the autonomic nervous system, such as sweating and an increased heart rate.
- Hand tremors.
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia.
- Repetitive, unintentional movements.
- Short-term auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations.
- Grand mal seizures
Clonazepam withdrawal, like other benzodiazepines, can be severe—and dangerous—and therefore should not be done without medical input and supervision.10 During medical detox, healthcare professionals may administer tapering doses of a long-acting benzodiazepine to mitigate the risk of seizures and severity of other withdrawal symptoms, as well.10
Medical detox, however, is not typically enough for sustained recovery. It is typically the first step in a more comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all aspects of the substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders, too.11
Treatment for Clonazepam Addiction
If you or a loved one struggles with clonazepam misuse or addiction, treatment is available, and as mentioned above, may start with medically managed detoxification, which helps the body rid itself of clonazepam (and other substances). Medical supervision and pharmacological management can help keep you or your loved one safe and as comfortable as possible.10
After detox, you may continue treatment in an inpatient or outpatient program, depending on the advice and recommendations made by your treatment team and your individual needs. In either scenario, services may include group and individual counseling, behavioral therapy, relapse prevention skills training, and treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions. Additionally, aftercare, following the cessation of formal treatment, may include ongoing counseling and therapy, participation in mutual-help groups, and other interventions to promote and support lasting recovery.11
It is important to remember that not every treatment option is the right fit for everyone.11 Effective treatment addresses the whole person, not just the drug misuse.11
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