Klonopin (clonazepam) is a drug in the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. All benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants affect the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the most ample inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Inhibitory neurotransmitters have the function of suppressing or decreasing the activity of the other neurons in cells in the central nervous system. This action results in a reduction or suppression of a number of other activities in a person’s system.
Benzodiazepines are typically designed to treat:
- Psychological disorders: Anxiety disorders (e.g., panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, etc.) and other psychological disorders that have a high component of anxiety to them can be treated by benzodiazepines. For instance, some people with clinical depression have a high level of irritability and anxiety. Benzodiazepines may be used as an adjunctive treatment to other antidepressant use to treat this anxiety.
- Epilepsy: Benzos are used in the management of seizures in individuals with epilepsy or other conditions that lead to seizures.
- Insomnia: Some benzodiazepines can be used as sleep aids for individuals with insomnia.
- Physical dependence on drugs: Benzodiazepines are often used as withdrawal management medications for individuals undergoing withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs.
- Anesthetics: Benzos may be used as anesthetics or preanesthetic medication for surgical patients.
Initially, Klonopin was used in controlling panic attacks for people with panic disorder and for controlling seizures in individuals with epilepsy. This is because Klonopin has a relatively slow onset of action (it takes longer for one to feel its effects than other benzodiazepines), and it has a longer half-life (meaning that it remains in an individual’s system longer than many other benzodiazepines). Thus, individuals who will experience unpredictable bouts of anxiety or seizures need a drug that remains in the system a long time and works for a long time. This results in them not needing to continually take drugs all day to treat and deal with unpredictable seizures or panic attacks.
Klonopin can also be used for other anxiety-related issues and in withdrawal management, but due to its relatively long onset of action, it is not necessarily a good drug for initiating sleep or for use as a preanesthetic. It also has uses as a treatment for the tics associated with Tourette’s syndrome, restless leg syndrome, and migraine headaches. It may be useful as an adjunctive medication in the treatment of individuals with severe psychotic disorders.
All benzodiazepines are controlled substances by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, though some benzodiazepines have a higher potential for the development of physical dependence and abuse than others. Klonopin is a Schedule IV controlled substance, indicating that it has a moderate potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence.
Klonopin produces effects that make it a particularly attractive drug of abuse. Individuals who take Klonopin can initially experience:
- Anxiety reduction: the sensation of a decrease in anxiety or stress
- Stress reduction: a feeling of relaxation and mild sedation (These feelings will increase if one takes higher doses of Klonopin and may evolve into feelings of lethargy, sleepiness, drowsiness, and even produce unconsciousness at higher doses.)
- Satisfaction: mild feelings of wellbeing and euphoria
- Decreased motor functioning: a decrease in motor coordination, reflexes, and speed of thought
Like most benzodiazepines, the effects of Klonopin are similar to the effects of alcohol at small and moderate doses. Like alcohol, continuing to use Klonopin will result in a rather rapid development of tolerance and physical dependence.
Because of its psychoactive effects and its potential for the development of physical dependence, Klonopin is a drug that can be readily abused as are most benzodiazepines. There are relatively few reliable statistics regarding Klonopin abuse, as most of the data relates to overall abuse of and addiction to benzodiazepines. According to much of the data, the majority of emergency department cases involving benzodiazepines also involve the use of other drugs, such as alcohol or narcotic pain medications. A slight majority of emergency department cases involving benzodiazepine abuse are male, and the age group associated with the most frequent abuse of benzodiazepines includes those 18-34 years old. The majority of individuals admitted to emergency apartments for benzodiazepine abuse are unemployed. However, Klonopin abuse is not restricted to individuals who meet these descriptions. It can potentially affect anyone from any age group, economic background, or gender.
Signs of Klonopin Abuse
There are a number of signs and symptoms that are associated with abuse of benzodiazepines like Klonopin.
- The abuse of Klonopin typically does not start with getting a prescription for the drug from a physician for use as an aid for an anxiety disorder or some other disorder. Most individuals who use drugs under the supervision of a physician for medicinal reasons do not develop substance use disorders even if they become physically dependent on the medication. The abuse of Klonopin typically occurs when individuals procure it without a prescription and use in conjunction with other drugs, such as alcohol or narcotic pain medications.
- When individuals begin to use Klonopin and other drugs to deal with everyday stressors in life, they are most likely expressing a substance use disorder.
- Continually obtaining Klonopin without a prescription, or an individual with a prescription for Klonopin using it in ways not defined by their prescription, is a sign of abuse.
- Individuals who attempt to get prescriptions from multiple doctors (doctor shopping) are most likely abusing the drug.
- A person who begins to fail to adhere to important commitments in their life, such as commitments at work, home, school, etc., as a result of Klonopin use is expressing a sign of a substance use disorder.
- A person who regularly uses more Klonopin than they had originally planned, or uses it for longer periods than they had originally planned, is expressing a sign of Klonopin abuse.
- A person who spends a significant amount of time trying to obtain Klonopin, or recovering from its use, is expressing a sign of Klonopin abuse.
- Any individual who uses Klonopin with other drugs of abuse is expressing a sign of a substance use disorder.
- Individuals who abuse Klonopin may often appear intoxicated (e.g., slurred speech, decreased reaction time, issues with balance and coordination, etc.).
- Individuals who use Klonopin when it can be physically dangerous to do so are expressing a sign of a substance use disorder.
- Common side effects of Klonopin abuse are issues with memory, attention, and problem-solving. Individuals who suddenly begin to display these symptoms without any other alternative explanation, such as having a head injury, being depressed, etc., may be abusing benzodiazepines like Klonopin.
- Signs that the person may be undergoing mild withdrawal symptoms when they haven’t used Klonopin, such as frequent periods of flulike symptoms, lethargy, irritability, depression, insomnia, etc., may indicate that the person has a substance use disorder related to Klonopin.
- Often, individuals who abuse drugs become very defensive or even angry when someone attempts to discuss their drug use with them. If this occurs when discussing an individual’s use of Klonopin, this may be a sign that they have a substance use disorder.
- When struggling with addiction, the person often continues to use Klonopin despite obvious negative effects of such use. These can be negative effects associated with finances, work, personal relationships, family responsibilities, school, or even issues with the legal system.
Individuals who have a formal substance use disorder (e.g., a benzodiazepine use disorder) will display several signs at the same time. While the above signs are guidelines that can result in suspicion that one may have a formal issue with Klonopin abuse, only a licensed mental health clinician can diagnose a substance use disorder in anyone. Any reader suspecting that they, or someone they know, have a substance use disorder should consult with a licensed mental health professional.
In addition, any individual with suspected Klonopin abuse or a benzodiazepine use disorder should seek treatment from a licensed mental care provider. Treatment will most likely need to include some type of withdrawal management program, as individuals abusing Klonopin are highly likely to have developed a physical dependence on the drug as a partial manifestation of the symptoms of their substance use disorder. Since benzodiazepine withdrawal can be dangerous and even life-threatening, medical detox is required. After detox, individuals should participate in a comprehensive addiction treatment program to address the issues that led to substance abuse.