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Clonazepam is a generic name for a benzodiazepine medication most commonly sold under the brand name Klonopin. This medication is typically prescribed to treat panic disorders or seizure disorders. It can also be used off-label to treat insomnia, tremors, pain associated with multiple sclerosis, and alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Since clonazepam is a benzodiazepine, which is a class of medications called CNS (central nervous system) depressants, it slows the mind down by affecting the GABA receptors. The neurotransmitters associated with those receptors moderate the speed of nerve signals in the brain, and by slowing these down, seizures can be reduced or prevented, and panic attacks can be lessened in severity. An individual taking clonazepam will feel calm and relaxed.
Typically, clonazepam and other benzodiazepines are prescribed for a very short period of time, between two and four weeks. This is because benzodiazepines are very habit-forming, and they can lead to physical dependence, increased tolerance, and addiction. People who do not develop an addiction are still likely to develop tolerance to the medication after two weeks, so the original dose will not work as well. Unless there is a life-threatening reason to continue the medication – such as effective treatment of seizure disorders – most people should receive a prescription for clonazepam for only a few days or weeks.
However, some people do become addicted to the euphoric and relaxing effects of benzodiazepines. Sometimes, a person may combine clonazepam with other CNS depressants, like alcohol or narcotics, to enhance the effects of those substances. This is dangerous and can lead to overdose.
A person taking clonazepam, either as prescribed or for nonmedical reasons, can experience side effects. People who recreationally abuse clonazepam are more likely to experience negative effects from the drug, due to the buildup of the drug in their body.
Effects on the Brain
Common mental and emotional side effects associated with clonazepam include:
Addiction is a serious potential side effect of taking clonazepamwithout a prescription, longer than prescribed, or at higher doses than prescribed. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, developing physical dependence, developing tolerance, or experiencing cravings for the drug or obsessing about the next dose are all potential signs of addiction.
Another potential side effect linked to addiction and dependence involves changes to brain structure, particularly found in long-term benzodiazepine users. These changes are associated with long-term dependence, increased tolerance and larger doses, and abuse of the drug, even without other drugs involved. These changes to brain structure can lead to cognitive and memory impairment, personality changes, and reinforced problems with addiction.
Effects on the Body
Common side effects felt in body systems include:
Less common side effects can harm the liver or kidneys, leading to jaundice, cloudy or bloody urine, bladder pain, diarrhea, and other harmful side effects. This is not likely to occur without a pre-existing condition or unless the individual has struggled with addiction to clonazepam for a long period of time.
Rarely, the person receiving a clonazepam prescription may be allergic to the medication. Swelling in the lips, tongue, or face, or an outbreak of hives or itchy rash, can indicate an allergic reaction. The individual should seek medical attention immediately, by calling 911.
When a person takes clonazepam as prescribed, they may experience mild withdrawal symptoms when their prescription is finished, as their body has likely developed tolerance to or dependence on the drug. These symptoms are likely to clear up in a few days after the final dose, and they are not likely to be very serious, especially if the person has combined their short-term clonazepam prescription with appropriate therapy.
However, for people who abuse clonazepam or become addicted to the drug, withdrawal symptoms are more likely to be serious. Typical clonazepam withdrawal symptoms include:
Clonazepam is a long-acting benzodiazepine, with a half-life between six and 12 hours. Withdrawal symptoms start within 1-3 days, and they can last about two weeks on average. Physical symptoms will taper off, but psychological symptoms, such as mood changes or cravings, are less likely to dissipate quickly or easily.
In some cases, protracted withdrawal syndrome, also called PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) or benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, can occur. This is more likely in those who have struggled with long-term addiction to high doses of clonazepam. Symptoms can last up to six months, and they include a higher risk of seizures, memory deficiency, depression, suicidal ideation, and psychosis.
Prescription doses of clonazepam are not likely to lead to an overdose, but people who take too much of the medication, either recreationally or accidentally, may suffer overdose symptoms. These include confusion, reduced reflexes, somnolence, and coma.
Benzodiazepine prescriptions have increased since the early 2000s, and this class of medications is now widely prescribed all over the world. This puts more people at risk of becoming addicted to these drugs, since they are easily available through prescribing doctors as well as illicitly.
According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 30 percent of prescription medication overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines like clonazepam in some way. This was second only to opioid overdose deaths, which outpace all other medications. Most overdoses involving benzodiazepines involved other drugs, but 25 percent of those overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines alone.
People who struggle with addiction to benzodiazepines like clonazepam, or who abuse clonazepam in combination with other drugs, need professional help to overcome their substance abuse problems. A rehabilitation program can help clients to taper their use of the drug to end the body’s dependence on clonazepam and address the psychological aspects of addiction via various therapies. Help is available, and it is very possible to overcome addiction to clonazepam.