Klonopin Abuse & Addiction: Symptoms, Overdose Risk, & Treatment
Klonopin is the brand name for clonazepam, a prescription benzodiazepine used to treat panic disorder and some seizure disorders.1 In some instances, it may be used short-term to treat insomnia and alcohol withdrawal, but these are off-label uses. Like other benzodiazepines, Klonopin works on the GABA receptors in the brain, calming down the signal firings of neurons to reduce the risk of panic and relax the individual.
Klonopin is one of the most prescribed anti-anxiety medications in the United States.2 By 2013, there were an estimated 26.9 million prescriptions for clonazepam, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).3
Why Do People Abuse Klonopin?
It is easy for people to become physically and psychologically dependent on Klonopin and other benzodiazepines to treat their symptoms. Many people who take these medications, especially for anxiety or insomnia, may feel like they cannot function without the medication. Other people who may have a predisposition for addiction to substances anyway may begin to abuse these drugs when they are exposed to them through a prescription or through social drug abuse.
Physical dependence develops within two weeks of regular consumption even when the person is taking the drug as prescribed by their doctor. People who take benzodiazepines like Ativan or Klonopin for longer than two weeks are at an increased risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms even if they are not addicted to the drugs.
Klonopin has a long half-life, so the drug’s effects can last for several hours. Unlike some other long-lasting medications though, Klonopin’s effects begin almost immediately after it is consumed. This makes it very dangerous for people who may struggle with addiction.
How Does Klonopin Addiction Develop?
Although benzodiazepine abuse is widespread, the drugs are more often involved in forms of polydrug abuse and less often the sole substance of addiction. American Family Physician (AAFP) found that 80 percent of benzodiazepine abuse involves other drugs, most often opioids but also alcohol and cocaine.2 High-dose benzodiazepine abuse is prevalent among those who also struggle with methadone addiction; these are two long-acting, potent drugs that can quickly cause an overdose.
Some people whose primary drug of addiction is cocaine consume benzodiazepines like Xanax or Klonopin to reduce the negative side effects from the stimulant drug. However, mixing a sedative with a stimulant can actually increase the risk of dangerous side effects, including psychiatric symptoms.
About 3-41 percent of people struggling with alcohol use disorder report abusing benzodiazepines at some point. This may be overlapping prescriptions for anxiety alongside self-medicating symptoms with alcohol, or it could be due to benzodiazepine replacement therapy to treat alcohol addiction.
Drugs like Klonopin are often involved in emergency room admissions. Between 1998 and 2008, hospital admissions involving overdoses from abuse of benzodiazepines rose from 22,400 people to 60,200.4 The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) issued a report that found that in the seven years between 2005 and 2011, there were close to 1 million ER admissions due to benzodiazepines, often mixed with opioids, alcohol, or both.5 When these drugs were combined, the risk of more serious health consequences requiring longer hospitalization increased 24-55 percent. By 2013, there were 22,767 overdose deaths involving prescription medications, and benzodiazepines were involved in 31 percent of these fatal overdoses.6
Klonopin, Valium and other benzodiazepines are often involved in polydrug abuse, especially with alcohol or opioids because the drugs can increase the potency of these substances, therefore increasing the intoxication level. While this is a sought-after effect among people who struggle with opioid addiction or alcohol use disorder, the combination can rapidly lead to overdose and death.
Side Effects and Withdrawal
Side effects associated with Klonopin include:7
- Muscle aches and pains
- Blurry vision
- Memory problems
- Cognitive difficulty
- Rebound anxiety or insomnia
- Decreased appetite
People who are intoxicated on Klonopin may appear drunk since the drugs act on a similar part of the brain as alcohol. And, like alcohol, benzodiazepines can be very addictive because of the relaxation they induce.
Unfortunately, withdrawing from benzodiazepines like Klonopin can cause psychiatric symptoms to surface or reappear.8 Withdrawal symptoms often mimic the psychological conditions that Klonopin is prescribed to treat. Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Panic attacks
- Physical weakness
Additionally, attempting to withdraw from a long-acting, potent benzodiazepine like Klonopin may induce a seizure disorder.
Klonopin Overdose Symptoms and Risks
Although most benzodiazepine overdoses occur in combination with other drugs, it is possible to overdose on Klonopin by itself. Symptoms of a Klonopin overdose may include:9
- Stumbling as though drunk
- Blurred vision
- Lack of response to stimuli
- Increased anxiety or agitation while conscious
- Low blood pressure
- Low heart rate
- Physical weakness
- Rapid eye movements
- Respiratory depression
If a person overdoses on any substance, including Klonopin, they need emergency medical attention. Call 911 to get them the help they need.
It is possible to reduce harm from overdoses or long-term substance abuse, but it requires help from a medical professional to ease withdrawal symptoms, support from counselors and therapists through a rehabilitation program, and the ongoing support from family and friends.
Treatment Options for Klonopin Addiction
Since benzodiazepines like Klonopin are widely abused, there are many prescription drug addiction treatment programs available to help people struggling with this particular substance.10 One of the easiest ways to find these programs is searching with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) treatment finder online. They also have a hotline available for those in crisis to call.
The federal government offers several medical assistance options, which can provide help for those who need assistance overcoming Klonopin addiction. The Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) offers mental and behavioral health services to those who were in the Armed Forces.11 Most states have health insurance exchanges set up through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and help can also be found using the health finder provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). If a person meets certain medical and income qualifications, they may qualify for Medicaid coverage for substance abuse treatment; and older adults, who are at great risk for prescription drug abuse and overdose, can get help through Medicare. People who have private insurance or employee benefits for behavioral problems may use these options for treating substance abuse disorders.
Contacting a physician or treatment program for a referral for detox help, then entering a complete rehabilitation program, is the best process to overcome addiction to any substance, including Klonopin.
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Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. This evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are designed to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result. Please be aware that this evaluation is not a substitute for advice from a medical doctor.