Klonopin is the brand name for the anti-anxiety and anticonvulsant medication clonazepam. It is a benzodiazepine, meaning it is in the same family of medications as Xanax or Valium. Benzodiazepines like Klonopin bind to the GABA receptors in the brain, and this reduces neuron excitement and induces feelings of calm and wellbeing. This prescription psychiatric medication is prescribed to treat several conditions, including:
- Seizure disorders
- Mild or moderate anxiety, with or without agoraphobia
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Panic disorder
- Mania related to drug or alcohol abuse
- Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
- Depression resistant to other medications
- Nerve pain
- Bipolar disorder
Klonopin’s Potential Side Effects
Klonopin is typically prescribed in small doses for a period of two weeks to one month. This medication has a long half-life, and it can be very habit-forming. Many people can become addicted to Klonopin, and even patients with prescriptions who do not become addicted can still develop a tolerance to the drug. It is important for prescribing doctors to prescribe the lowest dose possible to treat their patient’s symptoms; however, if a person becomes addicted to Klonopin, they may develop drug-seeking behaviors and take more than the prescribed dose to get the original “high” they experienced.
Strong benzodiazepines like Klonopin are more likely to induce side effects. Side effects of Klonopin include:
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Unsteady gait
- Tremors or shaking
- Increased saliva production
- Behavioral disturbances
- Anxiety, irritability, or mood swings
- Loss of coordination
- Memory problems
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
- Reduced cognitive ability
- Abnormal eye movements
- Slurred speech
- Changes in appetite
These side effects can occur in people who take Klonopin as prescribed, but they are more likely to be serious or long-lasting in people who recreationally abuse Klonopin.
Prescription drug abuse and overdose are on the rise in the US, and benzodiazepines like Klonopin are some of the most abused drugs. According to data gathered from the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys from 1996 to 2013, the number of people with prescriptions for benzodiazepines rose from 8.1 million to 13.5 million adults. Data from the Centers for Disease Control reports that the number of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines between 1999 and 2013 rose as well – from 0.58 per 100,000 people, to 3.07 per 100,000 people.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, US abuse of benzodiazepines rose to 6 percent of prescription drug abuse cases in 2005, and between 2001 and 2005, Klonopin abuse and addiction nearly doubled. The DEA notes that benzodiazepines are some of the most abused prescription drugs because of their rapid onset, and taking more than prescribed quickly produces a euphoric effect, or “high.” The elderly and some minority populations are, according the CDC’s data, at the greatest risk of benzodiazepine overdose.
People at risk of developing an addiction to Klonopin are most often those who receive a prescription. Even if the person receives a low-dose prescription and only takes the medication for 2-4 weeks, they could develop an addiction to their medication. People who struggle with addiction to other drugs, like alcohol or opioid painkillers, are more likely to concurrently abuse benzodiazepines, especially if they received a prescription for these medications to treat withdrawal symptoms. Diversion, or the illegal selling of prescription medications, is another way that people discover Klonopin or other benzodiazepines. People who illegally obtain Klonopin are more likely to abuse the drug recreationally.
Detox: Cold Turkey vs. Tapering
Because people who take Klonopin or other benzodiazepines can develop a physical dependence fairly quickly. Whether or not they also struggle with addiction to Klonopin, it is important to work with a medical professional to taper down their dose of the drug. Suddenly ceasing to take the medication, also known as quitting “cold turkey,” is not recommended because withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
Medical professionals agree that dependence on Klonopin and other benzodiazepines occurs most commonly in people who have used the drug for six months or longer. Klonopin withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Abdominal problems, including nausea or upset stomach
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Irritability or mood swings
How Long Does Klonopin Withdrawal Take?
Klonopin withdrawal symptoms typically begin about 3-4 days after the last dose. Because Klonopin is a long-acting benzodiazepine, the medication can continue to have an effect on the body well after the last dose. Psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation or anxiety, may begin before physical withdrawal symptoms take hold.
Klonopin’s long half-life means that metabolites of this drug will remain in the body for 5-14 days. If a person quits Klonopin suddenly, withdrawal symptoms will likely last up to two weeks, but that can vary depending on how long the person has struggled with Klonopin addiction and how large their regular doses were.
People who struggle with an addiction to Klonopin can also develop acute withdrawal symptoms that can lead to serious side effects, called benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Symptoms of this condition include:
- Tremors and shaking
- Rebound insomnia and anxiety, generally lasting 1-4 days
- Muscle and joint pain
- Perceptual changes, from cognitive disturbances to hallucinations
This withdrawal syndrome can be physically dangerous, which is why it is important to get the help of a medical professional when a person decides to quit using Klonopin.
Tapering off the drug takes longer but it is most effective in cases of benzodiazepine withdrawal. This procedure, which occurs with the help of a medical professional, can take weeks or months. By reducing the dose slowly over time, however, withdrawal symptoms are less intense, if they occur at all. Although Klonopin is a long-acting benzodiazepine medication, a doctor may prescribe a different benzodiazepine, like oxazepam, diazepam, or clorazepate, which has less addictive potential. Benzodiazepines used to replace Klonopin should be prescribed at the lowest possible dose.
In some rare cases, withdrawal symptoms like cravings may occur after the individual has stopped using Klonopin, but these are manageable with the help of a rehabilitation program. While medical detox addresses the person’s physical dependence on Klonopin, therapy must address issues of psychological dependence. Detox is important but it must be used in conjunction with therapy to ensure long-term recovery.