The Daunting Truth Behind Klonopin (Clonazepam) Abuse and Addiction

Klonopin is one of the top 10 most addictive substances being abused in America. This medication is a type of benzodiazepine. It is used to treat mood disorders and anxiety. It can also be used to treat severe seizures and movement disorders, like akathisia.

The generic form of Klonopin is clonazepam. This medication was first introduced to Americans in 1975, and is similar to drugs like Ativan and Xanax.

Much like these other drugs, patients can only get their hands on this medication if they have a prescription. However, many doctors are quite willing to write a prescription for clonazepam. In 1011 alone, 26.9 million prescriptions for clonazepam were written.

Although Klonopin can be quite effective when taken as prescribed, it can also cause devastating side effects. The withdrawals are particularly painful, and it's easy to get addicted to this medication.

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How Long Does Klonopin Stay in Your System

The active ingredient in Klonopin is clonazepam. In comparison to many other anti-anxiety medications, clonazepam has a rather long half-life. It takes anywhere from 30 to 40 hours for 50% of the drug to leave your system.

This means that it can take anywhere from 6.88 to 9.17 days for Klonopin to completely leave your body. This length of time may also be affected by the dosage that was taken.

When the liver metabolizes Klonopin, it breaks it down into various metabolites. One of these metabolites is 7-aminoclonazepam. The actual half-life of 7-aminoclonazepam is unknown. Most researchers speculate that it's the same as clonazepam, if not shorter. This means that the body should clear everything within 2 weeks of the last dose.

An Overview of How Clonazepam Works

Klonopin acts on the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system in the brain. The GABA system stimulates various pathways in the brain. The GABA molecules are the messengers. They are responsible for sending a ‘stop’ signal to the brain.

Klonopin Addiction

When the GABA molecules aren’t sending enough signals, the brain becomes overstimulated. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and the development of many psychiatric disorders.

To calm down the brain, drugs like clonazepam will attach to the GABA receptors. This enhances the GABA molecules ability to send signals. Basically, it’s like giving the GABA molecules a loudspeaker. Fewer GABA molecules can send a stronger message.

This causes the brain to calm down, which can create a relaxing effect. This is beneficial for treating seizures, panic disorders and anxiety. Essentially, the medication enhances the GABA system every time that the brain starts to panic.

Beneficial Properties of Clonazepam Over Other Benzodiazepines

All benzodiazepines act on the GABA system; however, Klonopin still remains one of the most popular options available. This is due to how clonazepam attaches to the GABA receptors.

Unlike other benzodiazepines, clonazepam only forms a weak bond with the GABA receptors. This means that it doesn't have a strong effect. On top of that, it is not as lipid soluble as other medications. This means that it is less likely to cause side effects like amnesia.

Only a small dose of clonazepam is needed to achieve the results desired. Most doctors will start patients off with a dose of 0.25mg. The medication comes in a tablet form. The pills should be taken twice a day for 3 days.

After which point, the dosage is increased to 0.5mg. The maximum daily dose for Klonopin should not exceed 4mg when treating anxiety and panic disorders. The maximum dose increases to 20mg if the medication is used to treat seizures.

The recommended dosages will decrease significantly if the medication is prescribed to children. Children should take this medication for an even shorter amount of time. Long-term use is not recommended.

Klonopin vs. Xanax

Both Klonopin and Xanax can treat anxiety. Klonopin, however, can be also used to treat co-occurring disorders like restless leg syndrome, burning mouth syndrome, tremors, social anxiety and sleep walking disorders.

Clonazepam is normally only used for up to 4 weeks. As a result, it offers less severe withdrawal symptoms compared to Xanax. It's also usually much easier to withdraw from clonazepam due to this reason.

Xanax, on the other hand, is solely used to treat anxiety and panic attacks. While it is also only used for short-term purposes, it comes with a lot more withdrawal symptoms. It also is more likely to interact with other drugs and medications in comparison to clonazepam. This is not ideal for those who struggle with more than one condition or illness.

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The Addictive Potential of Klonopin

Even properly Klonopin use can lead to tolerance and drug dependency. The risks increase if the use extends over a longer period of time.

Since clonazepam acts on the GABA system, it will alter the body's ability to produce these signals. After a while, the body will begin to adjust to the increased levels of GABA molecules. This is known as developing a tolerance. When this happens, the patient will need to take a larger dose to achieve the same results. The dangers of Klonopin lie in how quickly tolerance and dependence can develop.

After awhile, the body will function sub-optimally unless there's Klonopin in the system. This causes the body to become dependent on the drug. Once drug dependence is established, withdrawal symptoms will kick in when quitting.

Some patients are more at risk for developing dependence and tolerance. Risk factors that affect the likelihood of a patient getting addicted include:

  • The length of the substance use
  • The dosage taken each time
  • The frequency of the drug use

Those who have taken the medication for a longer period of time are more likely to get addicted to it. The same can be said for those who have taken larger doses or who take their doses more frequently.

Mixing Klonopin with Other Drugs and Alcohol

The effects of this medication become more pronounced if it is mixed with other drugs and alcohol. It's actually very dangerous to mix this medication with alcohol. These substances both affect the same chemical pathways in the brain. This means that their effects are significantly magnified.

Those who decide to drink with Klonopin still in their system are likely to experience symptoms like:

  • Difficulties breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory problems
  • Motor function impairment
  • Strange, erratic behaviors

There's also a much larger chance of overdosing. It’s best to stay away from alcohol when taking this medication. Mixing the two will only cause harm to your body. It’s best to abstain from drinking when taking this medication. Talk to your doctor to determine when it is safe to drink again.

Side Effects Involved with Clonazepam Use

Clonazepam use has been linked to some side effects. Some side effects are quite mild, while others can be quite severe. Talk to your doctor, so you know what to expect.

Some of these side effects will subside with time, and are considered to be less serious. The intensity of these symptoms will depend on the length of use and the dosage prescribed. These side effects include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drooling
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of coordination or balance
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Skin rashes
  • Slurred speech
  • Sore gums
  • Weight changes 

While these side effects are considered to be quite mild, report them to your doctor. It's important that the side effects are documented. Your doctor may need to alter the dosage or the treatment. If the side effects are intense enough, your doctor might switch you to a new medication altogether.

Some side effects require immediate medical attention. They may indicate that your body is not tolerating the medication well at all. This could be due to your biological makeup or other factors. These side effects include:

  • Behavioral changes resulting in risky decisions
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Hallucinations
  • Painful urinations
  • Pale skin
  • Pounding heartbeats
  • Seizures
  • Unusual or involuntary eye movements
  • Unusual thoughts or behaviors
  • Weak or shallow breathing

In these situations, stop taking the medication immediately. Document when the side effects occur and the intensity of them. You’ll need to give your doctor this information for him or her to make an informed decision about your condition.

Klonopin Overdose Symptoms

Since it is so easy to build tolerance to Klonopin, it's also easy to overdose on this medication. From 1999 to 2006, 17% of opioid overdose deaths involved the use of Clonazepam. This percentage is only rising more and more each year.

It’s important to know what an overdose looks like. You’ll need to react quickly to reduce the damage that it may cause. Some common signs of a Klonopin overdose include:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Amnesia and difficulties concentrating
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and extreme fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Mood changes
  • Physical weakness and loss of coordination
  • Respiratory depression
  • Slurred speech
  • Unresponsiveness or stupor

In worst-case scenarios, an overdose can result in coma or death. Those who mix Klonopin with alcohol and other drugs are much more likely to overdose. The potency of all substances in the mixed cocktail will increase. This makes them more dangerous. Dealing with an overdose like that will also be much more difficult. The damages are more severe, and are likely to be permanent.

How to Deal with a Klonopin Overdose

Dealing with an overdose can be scary. If someone you know is overdosing, it's important to act quickly. Every second that you waste can make the situation graver.

Always work out an action plan before you take the medication. In the event of an overdose, the first thing that you should do is call 9-1-1. You should also:

  • Keep the affected individual talking as much as possible if they are conscious
  • Make sure that the Klonopin addict does not choke on their own vomit
  • Roll unconscious individuals to their side

To treat an overdose, the emergency responders may administer medication like flumazenil. This medication is a benzodiazepine agonist, and can reverse the effects of an overdose. The drug will bind to the same receptors as clonazepam. In most cases, it only takes 10 minutes for flumazenil to reverse the effects of a benzodiazepine overdose.

Once the affected individual's condition is stabilized, the doctors may pump their stomach. This is to remove the rest of the drugs in their system.

Intravenous fluids are then given to the patient to stabilize their condition and blood sugar levels. The intravenous fluids will also keep them hydrated. The administration of intravenous fluids can prevent seizures and heart attacks.

If you know someone who has overdosed, it’s time to talk to him or her about his or her addiction. Reach out to them about your concerns, or even stage an intervention.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Klonopin Abuse

There are a plenty of withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting benzodiazepines, like Klonopin. Sudden withdrawals can cause as many as 40 side effects to emerge at the same time. These withdrawal symptoms can be range from mild to severe. 

Depending on the withdrawal symptoms that emerge, you may need to medically detox from the medication. Some of the more common symptoms of include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anxiety
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Difficulties with coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures and tremors
  • Sleeplessness and restlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Vomiting or nausea

Those who try to quit cold turkey will be more likely to experience intense withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can potentially become life threatening. In worst-case scenarios, patients can go into a coma and may even die. For the best results, attempt to get sober under medical supervision and with a customized treatment plan.

A Look at the Rebound Effect

Most people take benzodiazepines, like Klonopin, to treat anxiety and insomnia. While these medications can be quite effective, quitting may cause the initial diagnosis to worsen.

This is known as the rebound effect. The rebound effect will be much more pronounced in patients who do not withdraw properly. Quitting cold turkey can cause anxiety levels to increase 10% from before treatment. Users who slowly taper off of clonazepam are less likely to experience rebound effects. For many of these people, their anxiety never returns.

Clonazepam Withdrawal Schedule

Klonopin withdrawals can last for quite a long time. The withdrawal period will result in intense emotions. Most people will feel depressed and emotional after about 24 hours of quitting.

  • General withdrawal symptoms can start anywhere from 1 to 3 days after the last dose. It will likely include rebound systems that the medication was treating. This includes symptoms like insomnia and anxiety.
  • After 4 days, these symptoms will begin to subside. Unfortunately for some patients, this is when acute withdrawal symptoms may kick in.
  • Acute withdrawal symptoms can peak around two weeks after the last use. These symptoms can last anywhere from weeks to months.
  • During acute withdrawal, patients experience general symptoms that are much more pronounced.  They will experience rebound symptoms, and their anxiety may worsen. Former Klonopin users are also highly susceptible to seizures during these time periods.
  • Once acute withdrawal symptoms subside, protracted withdrawal symptoms can appear after several month. Some patients have even reported experiencing protracted withdrawal symptoms years after quitting clonazepam. These symptoms emerge without any warning at all.

The Dangers of Acute or Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms

Those who experience acute or protracted withdrawal symptoms will be able to tell you just how dangerous Klonopin use can be. Some patients will experience permanent long-term damages seemingly out of nowhere. Protracted withdrawal symptoms appear in as many as 10 to 15% of patients. 

Unfortunately, nothing can be done to reverse these effects.

Protracted withdrawal symptoms can include psychosis, muscle pain, tinnitus, paraesthesia, painful tremors and more.

Safely Recover from a Klonopin Addiction

Klonopin abuse can lead to deadly withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, this medication is easy to misuse. Even when using the medication as prescribed, patients can still develop tolerance and dependence on the drug. It's that addictive.

Withdrawing from clonazepam without any supervised medical help can be dangerous. Improper withdrawals can lead to rebound effects and a longer withdrawal timeline. It is not recommended at all. Most people won't achieve sobriety successfully without help.

It's always a good idea to seek help from a rehab center. The treatment programs at Ashwood Recovery are tailored for each individual. Our medical staff will assess your condition and keep an eye on your withdrawal process to ensure that you get the detox medications you need. We provide intensive treatment programs that prevent relapses, and make recovery much safer. In the event that anything unexpected occurs, our staff will be notified immediately.

The first 90 days of recovery is vital. This is the time when most patients will relapse, whether they want to or not. Our medical staff works diligently around-the-clock to keep that from happening. We provide a safe and relaxing environment, so you can focus on getting better.

Contact us for more information. We'll not only provide you with the resources you need to make an informed decision, but we'll also check your insurance coverage for you. Rest assure that you will be in good hands.

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