Benzodiazepines are prescribed most often for anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. In 2017, more than 120 million prescriptions were filled in the United States. Nearly 30 million of those prescriptions were for clonazepam (name brand Klonopin).
These central nervous system depressants work by boosting the activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The result is the anxiety-producing signals are blocked, replaced by a feeling of calm.
Benzodiazepines like Klonopin are also prescribed for people going through alcohol withdrawal. A person severely addicted to alcohol can experience anxiety, hallucinations, seizures, or delirium tremens. There’s a lot of evidence that benzodiazepines are extremely helpful in treating those painful (and sometimes life-threatening) side effects.
While Klonopin and other drugs in its class can help with addiction, benzodiazepines can also be addictive and difficult to quit.
A person can become physically dependent on many drugs—where they experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using—or become addicted. Addiction can include dependence, but it also means a person will continue to seek out a substance despite the harm it causes. Addiction doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a physical dependence.
A person’s weight, age, the strength of the prescription, how frequently they take the pills, and other factors can raise the likelihood of addiction.
Studies that compared benzodiazepine addicts to non-addicted benzodiazepine users found those with certain psychological traits were more vulnerable. Those included:
- Neuroticism, where a person might experience anxiety, depression, or mood swings
- Introversion, or a tendency of being shy
- People whose coping responses are emotionally driven rather than problem-focused
One person may be able to take benzodiazepines long-term without issue, but another may become physically dependent after as little as two weeks of use.
Klonopin withdrawal symptoms may vary and can occur in stages. Anxiety is the most common side effect.
- Other short-term symptoms include:
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Sensory hypersensitivity
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When a person stops using Klonopin, medical supervision is important to make sure things go safely and smoothly. Exactly how long a person will experience withdrawal, and exactly which symptoms, will depend on the individual.
A person with a co-occurring disorder like trauma or anxiety may experience more intense withdrawal symptoms. How long a person has been taking benzodiazepines also can factor into how they’ll experience stopping use.
Dangers of Cold Turkey
Quitting Klonopin cold turkey isn’t a good idea if a person has been taking it for a long time. Suddenly stopping can lead to uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Those include tremors, nausea, sweating, vomiting, headaches, muscle aches, heart troubles, and seizures. In some cases, a person could die.
Tapering or weaning off Klonopin tends to be a safer approach. In that case, the dose will gradually be lowered over a period of weeks, or even months, to cut the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms. The exact amount and the exact schedule will depend on the patient’s personal history and needs.
It may be worth noting that some studies have found that benzodiazepines may have a limited amount of efficacy for most patients. They aren’t usually effective over the long term for helping insomnia. The anxiety-busting effect tends to last longer. After four to six months of regular usage, however, benzodiazepines become less effective. They may be prescribed, usually in a tapering timeline with gradually reduced doses, to offset withdrawal symptoms (helping keep anxiety at bay).
Klonopin Withdrawal Timeline
The longer a person has taken Klonopin, the more likely they’ll experience withdrawal. Withdrawal from Klonopin, or detoxing, may occur in stages.
Usually there is an early stage, a middling—or acute—state, and late withdrawal.
Within a month of cutting back, the worst usually passes, but for the first week of detox a person may experience nausea, restlessness, anxiety, and episodes of panic. The second week may bring diarrhea, appetite loss, insomnia, and shaking. Weeks three and four may see some withdrawal symptoms fade, but some may experience hallucinations, seizures, and severe agitation. For those reasons, it’s important to have a doctor oversee the process.
Klonopin can be a bit more challenging to stop using among addicted individuals. Like Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin has a high-potency. It also has a long-half life, meaning that it takes longer for the drug to metabolize. (Xanax, in contrast, has a shorter half-life, meaning its effects wear off faster.) Their higher potency can be problematic for some.
Sometimes Valium (diazepam), a benzodiazepine that is long-lasting and less potent, may be switched out in place of Klonopin to reduce the likelihood of relapse.
- deadiversion.usdoj.gov – Benzodiazepines
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond
- sciencedirect.com – Psychosocial characteristics of benzodiazepine addicts compared to not addicted benzodiazepine users
- simplypsychology.org – Stress Management
- nami.org – Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- aruma.com.au – 6 facts about sensory hypersensitivity
- nami.org – Benzodiazepine-Associated Risks
- aafp.org – Addiction. Part I. Benzodiazepines — Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives
- sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Klonopin Withdrawal Duration, Symptoms & Treatments
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System-Mediated Effects
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