Klonopin is the brand name for the benzodiazepine clonazepam. It’s a controlled substance that’s commonly prescribed for people with panic, sleep, and seizure disorders but is also used to help people through alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines produce a calming effect by increasing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA slows electrical activity in the brain. Equate it to a cup of chamomile tea, calming and soothing jumpy and jittery nerves.
In cases of severe alcohol addiction, Klonopin can alleviate some of the more severe side effects of withdrawal, like seizures, irritability, and anxiety. (It should only be used temporarily, however, due to its addictive nature.)
Klonopin tends to be safe when used as directed, but if it (and other benzodiazepines) are misused or used for too long, the patient may risk physical or emotional dependence.
Is Klonopin Addictive?
Klonopin abuse and Klonopin addiction are real concerns. There are differences between dependence and addiction. A person adjusts to the presence of the substance in question (or develops a tolerance) and experiences withdrawal upon stopping or slowing use. Medical intervention or tapering doses can help in such cases.
Addiction can include physical dependence, but it’s also characterized by the desire to continue use despite negative outcomes.
Klonopin has a longer half-life compared to other benzodiazepines—like Xanax (alprazolam) or Halcion (triazolam)—but it’s a higher-potency version. Lower potency benzodiazepines include Serax (oxazepam), which has a short half-life, or Valium (diazepam), which has a long half-life.
The half-life of a drug is the amount of time it takes for a drug to actively reduce by half its original strength. A shorter half-life means a drug’s effects wear off faster, increasing the likelihood a person may wish to re-dose quickly and more often.
Because of that potency, Klonopin may quickly become habit-forming. As a result, people are advised to only take it as prescribed. Larger or more frequent doses are not advised. Neither is mixing with other medications, like opioid pain relievers.
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Klonopin Side Efects
Side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, and lack of coordination. More serious side effects may occur as well. Those include:
- Shortness of breath, dizziness, or losing consciousness
- Elevated heart rate, headaches, impaired memory, irritability
- Swelling of the face (usually a sign of an allergic reaction)
- Unusual sleep behaviors, like driving or eating while asleep
- Emotional extremes, thoughts of self-harm
If a person has taken too much, it’s good to note the signs of overdose, including drowsiness, slowed reactions, and confusion. A coma—and even death—are possible, too. (In that case, seek emergency medical help immediately.)
Benzodiazepine Use On the Rise
The opioid epidemic may have gotten the bulk of headlines in recent decades, but benzodiazepines do carry their own dangers, too, including that high risk of dependence.
An estimated 136 Americans die each day after overdosing on opioids, but benzodiazepine use (and abuse) is up dramatically. Statistics on both opioids and benzodiazepine use in the U.S. paint a grim picture:
- Prescriptions for benzodiazepines increased from 8.1 million to 13.5 million from 1996 to 2013.
- 16% of 2019’s overdose deaths involved both opioids and benzodiazepines. More than 10,000 people in the U.S. died from benzodiazepines in 2018.
Because opioids and benzodiazepines work as central nervous system depressants, they can suppress breathing and lower cognitive functioning and pose a greater danger when used together. Klonopin, like all benzodiazepines, can be addictive at any dose. It will depend on the patient—their weight, their age, the dosage, their unique chemistry, how frequently they take Klonopin, and if they have any co-occurring disorders. Those factors complicate the answer of how long it takes to get addicted to Klonopin as well. One person might be able to take measured doses for a month and be fine and taper off without issue. Another person may develop a dependence on Klonopin after four weeks of use, however. Some may have issues even sooner. Benzodiazepines aren’t advised among people ages 55 and older, either. That’s because older adults metabolize things differently, so the side effects of benzodiazepines may be amplified, resulting in falls or confusion. There’s even a fear they may contribute to the onset of dementia.
Is Klonopin Addictive at Small Doses?
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Klonopin, like all benzodiazepines, can be addictive at any dose. It will depend on the patient—their weight, their age, the dosage, their unique chemistry, how frequently they take Klonopin, and if they have any co-occurring disorders. Those factors complicate the answer of how long it takes to get addicted to Klonopin as well. One person might be able to take measured doses for a month and be fine and taper off without issue. Another person may develop a dependence on Klonopin after four weeks of use, however. Some may have issues even sooner.
Benzodiazepines aren’t advised among people ages 55 and older, either. That’s because older adults metabolize things differently, so the side effects of benzodiazepines may be amplified, resulting in falls or confusion. There’s even a fear they may contribute to the onset of dementia.
To stop using Klonopin cold turkey can result in serious and dangerous side effects. Seizures, hallucinations, trembling, and stomach and muscle cramping may follow when a person who is addicted to Klonopin (or other benzodiazepines) suddenly quits taking them.
More common withdrawal symptoms include:
Withdrawal side effects can go on for several and range from mild discomfort to severe pain. Over the course of a month, the patient may experience:
- Week 1: Stomach upsets, panic, anxiety
- Week 2: Diarrhea, insomnia, trembling
- Weeks 3-4: Once the early and acute withdrawal symptoms of the first two weeks fade, hallucinations, seizures, and anxiety may develop in more severe cases or if they’re not treated.
The specific timeline (and the addiction treatment approach) will vary; however, depending on a person’s age, how long they’ve taken Klonopin, if they’ve taken other substances (polydrug use), the dosage, and if they have any other co-occurring disorders.
In the case where a Klonopin dependence has set in, it’s best to wean off the medication with the help and oversight of a medical professional. They may prescribe a longer-acting benzodiazepine, like diazepam, which will reduce anxiety and other withdrawal symptoms without shocking the system so much. That will make the detoxification process progress more safely and comfortably—and especially when paired with talk therapy—can reduce the likelihood of relapse and overdose.
- nami.org – Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- drugabuse.gov – Prescription Drug Abuse
- medlineplus.gov – Clonazepam
- drugabuse.gov – Benzodiazepines and Opioids
- nami.org – Benzodiazepine-Associated Risks
- https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2121.html – Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines — Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives
- health.usnews.com – Are Older Adults Taking Benzodiazepines Safely?
- accessdata.fda.gov – Klonopin Tablets
- healthywa.wa.gov.au – Benzodiazepine withdrawal
- sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Klonopin Withdrawal Duration, Symptoms & Treatments
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.