The tranquilizer Klonopin, known by the generic name clonazepam, is a medication used to treat panic disorder and certain types of seizure disorders.1
What Type of Drug Is Klonopin?
Klonopin is a benzodiazepine,1 a class of drugs that includes Valium and Xanax.
While Klonopin is very effective for the conditions it is designed to treat, it also has a high potential for abuse and dependence, and withdrawal symptoms may be severe, so detoxing from Klonopin alone is not recommended.1
Also, the drug is typically only recommended for short-term use because of the risks of long-term usage.2
Klonopin Overdose Risk
When benzodiazepines were first introduced as an alternative to more dangerous barbiturates, they were touted as a much safer drug type that could treat similar conditions but with fewer risks. However, overdose on these medications can and does occur, and it may be life-threatening.2
The risk of overdose increases if Klonopin is used in combination with other drugs such as alcohol or opioids.2,3 In 2017 alone, there were more than 11,500 overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines, a majority of which also involved an opioid of some type.4
Symptoms of a Klonopin overdose include the following:2
- Severe confusion.
- Very slowed reflexes.
- Loss of coordination.
Klonopin Addiction and Abuse
Abusing Klonopin is associated with major risks including the risk of addiction; however, even those who use this drug as prescribed may become addicted to it, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.2 This is why this drug is often prescribed only for a matter of weeks.5
Abuse of Klonopin increases the drug-related risks, including overdose and addiction. Unfortunately, abuse of benzodiazepines like clonazepam has soared in recent years, as have benzodiazepine-related ER visits and deaths. Outcomes are particularly severe when people combine these drugs with alcohol or opioids, both of which slow breathing like benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, this type of polydrug use is all-too-common. 3,6
Benzodiazepine abuse is sometimes called “the hidden epidemic” because while benzodiazepines are widely abused with serious risks, opioid addiction has gotten much more media attention, and people may not be as aware of the dangers of benzodiazepines as they are of opioids.
Doctor Shopping for Benzodiazepines
While physicians have cracked down on the overprescribing of opioids, it may still be relatively easy to get a prescription for Klonopin and/or other benzodiazepines from a physician. Someone who abuses Klonopin may “doctor shopping” to obtain more and more of the drug.
A report published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience showed that many people reported doctor shopping for benzodiazepine prescriptions and easily receiving the drugs they abused.7 This easy access may contribute to the larger problem of benzodiazepine abuse, including problems with Klonopin.
How Addictive is Klonopin?
It’s impossible to predict with 100% accuracy who will become addicted to Klonopin or to say just how addictive the drug is, but what is known is that the drug does have abuse potential. The subjective effects of Klonopin, e.g., the feelings of sedation and euphoria, can be very alluring to some people who may turn to the drug to achieve these effects over and over and eventually find themselves unable to stop.
Due to its potential for abuse and dependence, Klonopin is a federally controlled substance. Addiction is a risk not only for those who use it recreationally but also those who receive a prescription for it.1
Klonopin Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction
While they commonly get lumped together, tolerance, dependence, and addiction are not the same.
Tolerance is a marker of how a person responds to a substance.8 As tolerance grows, a person requires higher doses of a drug to achieve the desired effect.8 Tolerance will be different among different individuals.9
Increased tolerance to Klonopin doesn’t imply addiction, but it is a warning sign of a substance use disorder. 9
Dependence is the physical adaptation of the body to a drug where it becomes reliant on the substance to avoid withdrawal.10 In the case of Klonopin, dependence can develop quickly (within a matter of a few weeks),11 and withdrawal can be dangerous. If you’ve developed a dependence on clonazepam, medical support for withdrawal is necessary due to the inherent risks, such as seizures.11
Like tolerance, dependence doesn’t equate to addiction, but it is another warning sign. Addiction is characterized by continued Klonopin use despite knowing it is causing or worsening problems in your life. Often, people who are addicted to Klonopin are also dependent on the drug. This is why treatment for benzodiazepine addiction often starts with a period of safe medical detox where a team of professionals can safely help the person come off the drug.
Signs of Klonopin Abuse and Addiction
Someone abusing Klonopin may regularly show the following signs of Klonopin intoxication:12
- Heaviness in the arms and legs.
- Problems thinking clearly.
- Memory problems.
- Slowed reaction time.
- Reduced sex drive.
Signs that Klonopin abuse has progressed to addiction include the following:9
- Taking more Klonopin than intended.
- Experiencing cravings for Klonopin.
- Trying to quit or cut down on Klonopin without success.
- Spending much time and effort getting and using Klonopin, as well as recovering from the effects.
- Avoiding work, school, social, and family responsibilities to take more of the drug.
- Performing risky behaviors, such as driving, while intoxicated.
- Developing a tolerance to Klonopin, which means taking larger doses to get the original effects.
- Giving up hobbies or other important activities to use Klonopin.
- Continuing to use despite awareness of the harm it is causing.
- Tolerance to the drug.
- Dependence on the drug (experiencing withdrawal when trying to cut down or quit).
Long-Term Side Effects of Klonopin Use
Klonopin can be dangerous in the short-term, causing side effects ranging from lack of coordination to slowed breathing. However, long-term use is associated with its own dangers, including:13
- Dependence and addiction.
- Higher risk of motor vehicle crashes.
- Increase risk of hip fracture in older individuals.
- Cognitive decline.
Numerous studies, such as this one from the British Medical Journal, have linked long-term use of benzodiazepines with an increased risk of developing dementia.14
Using Klonopin with Other Drugs
It’s common for people to abuse benzodiazepines like Klonopin in combination with other drugs like alcohol or opioids to enhance their high. This is a form of polydrug abuse, and a very dangerous one. The combination of benzos with alcohol or opioids results in a significantly increased risk of serious health outcomes, including death.15
In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, benzodiazepines combined with alcohol or opioids were linked to a 24-55% increased risk of a more serious health outcome than benzodiazepines used alone.15
Can I Quit Klonopin Cold Turkey?
Klonopin withdrawal symptoms can be very serious and may include the following:16
- Rebound anxiety.
- Panic attacks.
- Insomnia/sleep problems.
- Weight loss.
- Heart palpitations.
- Muscle pain and stiffness.
- Psychotic symptoms.
Due to the risks associated with Klonopin withdrawal, attempting to quit Klonopin cold-turkey without first consulting a medical professional is not recommended. With a medically supervised detox program, withdrawal symptoms can be safely managed.
How to Prevent Klonopin Addiction
While it’s easy to simply advise not taking Klonopin recreationally to avoid addiction, some people do need the drug for legitimate medical reasons. And those people with a prescription are also at risk for dependence and abuse/addiction.
Long-term use may result in the patient increasing their dose over and over to manage their symptoms and it may also result in a worsening of the original condition the drug was meant to treat.11 This may result in an increasing physical and psychological dependence of the drug. Careful, short-term use of Klonopin may prevent abuse and addiction.
Klonopin Addiction Treatment
Quitting Klonopin alone is not only very difficult but potentially very dangerous. In extreme cases, withdrawal from Klonopin (and other benzodiazepines) can cause seizures and psychosis. This is why it’s very important to speak to a reputable research-based addiction treatment facility that can help you detox from Klonopin in a safe environment.
Treatment centers can also provide other support to assist in long-term recovery from Klonopin abuse and addiction.
This may include:
- Individual or group therapy sessions.
- Family and/or interpersonal therapy.
- Peer support groups, such as 12-Step programs.
- Exercise and nutritional support.
- Alternative/recreational therapies.
A combination of a medically-managed detox and programs designed to address underlying issues contributing to the abuse of Klonopin can greatly reduce the chance of relapse and help the individual learn how to enjoy a life free of benzodiazepines.
- Genentech, Inc. (2010). Klonopin Medication Guide.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2019). Clonazepam (Klonopin).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Benzodiazepines and Opioids.
- National Institute on Drug abuse. (2019). Overdose Death Rates.
- Behavioral Health Virtual Resource. (2014). Prescribing and Tapering Benzodiazepines.
- Schmitz A. (2016). Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A review. The mental health clinician, 6(3), 120–126.
- Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2012). Doctor shopping: a phenomenon of many themes. Innovations in clinical neuroscience, 9(11-12), 42–46.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Neurobology of Drug Addiction.
- American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction: What’s the Difference?
- Brett, J., & Murnion, B. (2015). Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence. Australian prescriber, 38(5), 152–155.
- Mayo Clinic. (2017). Drug addiction (substance use disorder).
- Brian Johnson, MD & Jon Streltzer, MD. (2013). Risks Associated with Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use. Am Fam Physician, 88(4), 224-225.
- Billioti de Gage, et. al. (2012). Benzodiazepine use and risk of dementia: prospective population based study. BMJ, 345:e623.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). The DAWN Report: Benzodiazepines in Combination with Opioid Pain Relievers or Alcohol: Greater Risk of More Serious ED Visit Outcomes.
- Pétursson H. (1994). The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Addiction, 89(11), 1455-9.