At first glance, Klonopin (clonazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam) are extremely similar. They are both members of the benzodiazepine family, central nervous system depressants, and anxiolytics, which means they are most often used to treat anxiety or panic attacks.
Benzodiazepines, according to Psychology Today, are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse lists central nervous system depressants as one of the most commonly abused classes of drugs. For this reason, benzodiazepines are not usually prescribed for long-term use.
Both Klonopin and Xanax affect the brain in the same way by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This increase helps the body and brain slow down by reducing the amount of activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions and rational thought. The two drugs can also cause individuals to experience similar side effects, such as:
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Loss of coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
Even though Klonopin and Xanax seem similar, they do have a list of qualities that set them apart, such as:
- Duration of the drug’s effectiveness
- Half-life of the drug
- Off-label uses
Duration and Half-Life
Klonopin and Xanax are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how long each drug stays in the body. Per the University of Lausanne, the half-life of a drug is defined as the time it takes for half of the drug in the bloodstream to be eliminated. Similarly, the duration of action of a drug refers to the amount of time that it lasts in the body. Short-acting drugs usually have a short half-life, and vice versa. As a result, short-acting drugs are most likely to produce withdrawal symptoms more quickly.
The Center for Substance Abuse Research states that the classification of drugs as short-acting or long-acting helps to determine a drug’s use, tolerance, abuse, and dependence potential. The rate of action influences the risk of tolerance, abuse, and dependence because the rate of action of the drug impacts the brain in different ways.
Xanax is classified as a short-acting drug. Drugs.com describes the average half-life of Xanax as 11.2 hours, with the peak drug concentration occurring one or two hours after the drug is taken. For Klonopin, on the other hand, the half-life is listed as anywhere from 18 to 50 hours. Peak drug concentration for Klonopin is between one and four hours.
Most medications, while listed for and marketed as treating certain diseases or conditions, can be used to decrease symptoms or treat other issues.
Klonopin is not only used to treat anxiety, but for other conditions, including the following, per Stanford School of Medicine:
- Bipolar disorder
- Seizure disorders
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia
Stanford lists the following as other uses for Xanax:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Pain associated with some cancers
- Severe symptoms of PMS
- Agoraphobia (fear of places that may cause panic)
In the 1950s, the first benzodiazepine was discovered; CESAR states that the first benzodiazepine medication, Librium, was placed on the market in 1957. Two decades later, benzodiazepines were the most commonly prescribed medication in the world, and the practice of over-prescribing these medications, as well as cases of dependence, was prevalent. Because of this, the British Journal of Medical Practitioners explains, the Committee of Safety of Medicines instigated certain regulations on how long physicians may prescribe the medications and under which circumstances.
The American Academy of Family Physicians lists benzodiazepines as one of the drug classes often associated with drug abuse. This is due to multiple factors, including the fact that benzodiazepines are a controlled substance by the DEA, and they trigger the reward center in the brain. Benzodiazepines are generally Schedule IV drugs, which the DEA indicates as having a lower risk of abuse than drugs that are Schedule III (e.g., ketamine, Tylenol with codeine, etc.) but a higher risk of abuse than Schedule V medications, which contain only a small amount of narcotics.
Benzodiazepines are generally introduced into the drug trade by individuals who obtain multiple scripts for multiple doctors, forging their own prescriptions, or purchasing the drug from an online or overseas pharmacy. The DEA lists Xanax as one of the three top drugs introduced to the illicit market by an individual who obtains the drug legally.
Both Klonopin and Xanax are often abused recreationally, and in many instances, these drugs are mixed with other substances of abuse, such as alcohol. This practice is incredibly risky and can result in a life-threatening overdose. If you, or someone you love, have been abusing Klonopin, Xanax, or any other substance, help is available today.