Klonopin is a benzodiazepine drug used medically to treat anxiety and seizure disorders but also commonly abused by people hoping to get high. Klonopin abuse is associated with a long list of side effects and potentially serious long-term physical, mental, and lifestyle consequences.
Taking Klonopin in ways other than prescribed is never safe and places you at risk not only of overdose but also of developing an addiction, a condition that can create havoc with and easily take over your life. Attempting to quit Klonopin alone can be dangerous due to serious withdrawal symptoms associated with the drug, but detox centers and treatment programs can help you safely recover.
What Is Klonopin (Clonazepam)?
Klonopin, a brand name for clonazepam, is a prescription medication that falls into the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines.1 These drugs are commonly prescribed to manage anxiety and panic disorder.2 Klonopin may also be used to treat various types of seizure and movement disorders.1
Benzodiazepines like Klonopin alter the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) throughout the central nervous system.2 Taking the drug enhances GABA signaling, which inhibits brain activity to induce a calming effect.
Klonopin is available in tablet form and intended for oral use. An orally disintegrating tab is approved for use for panic disorder.1 Tablet doses range from 0.125 mg to 2 mg, and the drug has a half-life of approximately 18 to 50 hours, meaning that half of the drug is eliminated from the body within that period of time.3,4 Benzodiazepines like Klonopin are typically prescribed only for short-term treatment because they carry a high risk for dependence and addiction. Because of these risks, doctors recommend that Klonopin users take the drug exactly as prescribed.
Is It a Drug of Abuse?
When taken as directed, Klonopin can be safely used to manage anxiety and seizures. But the drug may also cause a feeling of euphoria and sedation that appeals to many users and may lead to abuse. Unfortunately, many people don’t necessarily realize that taking just a little more Klonopin than prescribed or taking it a bit more often than advised does, in fact, mean that you’re abusing the drug. You can misuse Klonopin in many ways, such as by:
- Taking the drug more frequently or in larger amounts than prescribed.
- Tampering with the drug (e.g., crushing the tablet prior to snorting or injecting).
- Taking the drug without a prescription.
- Taking the drug with the sole purpose of getting high.
Individuals abusing Klonopin may seek out the drug by using another person’s prescription or purchasing the drug on the street. It’s not uncommon for someone addicted to Klonopin to go “doctor shopping” for the drug, which involves seeking out multiple prescriptions from several doctors and pharmacies.
While Klonopin is intended to be swallowed or dissolved in the mouth, some people may try to attain a stronger high by crushing it up and either snorting or injecting it. This practice can be especially dangerous, not only due to the potentially intensified side effects, but also because 1) snorting drugs could lead to local tissue inflammation and eventual perforated nasal septum and 2) injecting any drug is tied to serious risks including gangrene, abscesses, cellulitis, and the contraction of HIV and hepatitis C.4
Klonopin use and abuse is widespread among teenagers and adults across the United States:
- In 2016, more than 6.6 million Americans aged 18 and over reported using Klonopin, and 980,000 Americans reported abusing the drug.5
- Approximately 112,000 American adolescents aged 12 to 17 reported using Klonopin, and 32,000 abused Klonopin that same year.5
- In 2010, there were over 400,000 benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits, a 139% increase from just 6 years prior in 2004.6
The Klonopin High
In the short-term, Klonopin users who take large doses may experience a pleasurable high that includes:2
- Anxiety relief.
- Sense of calm.
To outsiders, a person high on Klonopin may appear confused, disoriented, forgetful, and uncoordinated.1
While the initial effects of Klonopin may be pleasurable, the drug can lead to serious short- and long-term effects, including addiction.
Side Effects and Long-Term Consequences
In addition to the pleasurable and calming short-term effects of Klonopin, users may experience negative side effects of Klonopin, such as:1
- Unsteady gait.
- Blurry vision.
- Thinking and memory problems.
- Muscle or joint pain.
- Increased urination.
- Increased saliva.
- Changes in libido.
- Difficulty breathing.
Klonopin abuse can also lead to long-term health detriments, such as:2,7,8
- Memory problems, particularly in remembering the sequence of recent events.
- Difficulty sustaining attention on tasks.
- Depression and suicidal ideation.
- Worsening cognitive deterioration and dementia in aging users.
The long-term lifestyle consequences of abusing Klonopin are numerous and may include:
- Propensity for accidents or falls.
- Neglect of professional responsibilities, leading to unemployment.
- Increased risk of stealing or violence.
- Relationship problems, break-ups, or divorce.
- Arrests and legal issues.
- Significant financial problems.
Benzodiazepines like Klonopin are the second-leading cause of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States.9 In 2010, they were responsible for approximately 29% of overdose deaths involving pharmaceuticals. In 2015, there were approximately 7,000 overdose deaths involving both benzodiazepines and opioids and around 1,000 deaths involving benzodiazepines alone.10
Benzodiazepines like Klonopin are the second-leading cause of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States.
Overdose isn’t limited to people using these drugs illicitly. If you’re abusing Klonopin, even with a prescription, you can overdose at any time.
Klonopin overdose occurs when the user takes more than their body can handle. Benzodiazepine overdose is sometimes called “benzodiazepine toxicity” because the dose is toxic to the body, producing symptoms like:,3,4
- Extreme drowsiness.
- Severe disorientation.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Significantly slowed or stopped breathing.
Many factors up the risk of a Klonopin overdose. First, a growing tolerance will contribute to overdose risk. A person who has developed a tolerance to Klonopin may take more of the drug over time in hopes of feeling the same effects.4 In some cases, this may lead to an accidental overdose.
Polysubstance abuse is another big risk factor for overdose. Combining benzodiazepines like Klonopin with opioids or alcohol is a surefire way to take the negative effects of Klonopin and turn them deadly.
Benzodiazepines and opioids interact in a way that makes them more dangerous when taken together.9 In particular, the perilous side effect of respiratory depression is worsened when you combine two substances that have this same effect, and death from stopped breathing may result.3
Am I Addicted?
People who abuse Klonopin may develop a sedative use disorder, a clinical diagnosis for what is commonly called addiction. The severity of the disorder depends upon how many diagnostic criteria have manifested in the past 12 months. A person who meets 2-3 criteria in this time frame may have a mild disorder, 4-5 may be indicative of a moderate disorder, and 6-7 could indicate a severe disorder. Signs and symptoms of a sedative use disorder include:12
- Continuing to seek out and use Klonopin when doing so is causing you harm.
- Ignoring your responsibilities at home, work, or school due to a singular focus on Klonopin use.
- Using Klonopin in dangerous environments or situations, such as while operating machinery.
- Using Klonopin in spite of conflicts in your relationship caused by doing so.
- Feeling strong cravings to use Klonopin.
- Stopping or cutting back on important work, social, or recreational activities because of drug use.
- Spending a good deal of your time finding and using Klonopin, or recovering from its effects.
- Trying to stop or cut down but not succeeding.
- Using more Klonopin or using for a longer period of time than you set out to.
- Continually feeling the need to up your dose to achieve a high.
- Feeling the symptoms of withdrawal when you try to cut back.
People who are addicted to Klonopin may also display physical and behavioral signs that indicate a growing problem with the drug. These may be especially noticeable to loved ones and include:
- Frequent drowsiness and nodding off.
- Changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns.
- Changes in mood and/or personality.
- Denial or defensiveness when confronted about drug use.
- Accidents, such as falls or motor vehicle accidents.
- Drug paraphernalia, such as prescription bottles, straws, and needles.
- Sudden or worsening financial problems/debts.
- Arrests or other legal problems.
Klonopin and Pregnancy Complications
Taking benzodiazepines like Klonopin while pregnant can lead to serious complications. Babies born to mothers who use this or other benzodiazepines may be at higher risk of experiencing:3,8
- Breathing difficulties.
- Feeding difficulties.
- Low birth weight.
- Preterm birth.
Pregnant women who use Klonopin during pregnancy are also at risk of their babies developing a physical dependence on the drug.2,7 Should this occur, these babies may experience withdrawal from benzos after birth. Initially, babies may appear sedated, with loose ligaments and difficulty suckling.8 After approximately 2 weeks, babies may show more prominent signs of withdrawal, such as agitation, high-pitched cry, and inability to feed properly.
Children born to mothers who use Klonopin may also be at risk of developing the following conditions in childhood:8
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Learning disorders
- Autism spectrum disorder
It is important to speak to your doctor about your Klonopin use if you are thinking about or find out that you are pregnant.3 Also, because Klonopin may be passed on to the child through breast milk, nursing women should speak with their doctors if they are using Klonopin.7
Quitting “Cold Turkey” is Dangerous
Quitting or cutting back on Klonopin often leads to a withdrawal syndrome that is both very uncomfortable and also potentially life-threatening due to seizure risk. Withdrawal occurs only when a person is physically dependent on Klonopin; unfortunately, it takes little time to become dependent on a benzodiazepine like Klonopin, especially if you’re abusing it and taking very high doses.7
Symptoms of Klonopin withdrawal may include:7,8
- Panic attacks.
- Tingling or numbness in the body.
- Pain and stiffness in various body parts.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Changes in appetite and/or weight.
- Dry mouth.
- Metallic taste in the mouth.
- Increased heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Poor memory.
- Gastrointestinal distress.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Sensory hypersensitivity.
- Depersonalization, or feeling detached from one’s body.
- Derealization, or a feeling that the external world is not real.
- Delirium tremens, which can involve hallucinations.
Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within a few days of stopping Klonopin and may persist for 1-2 weeks.8 Some Klonopin users may experience protracted withdrawal, where certain withdrawal symptoms may persist for several months. Symptoms of protracted withdrawal can include:7,8
- Persistent anxiety.
- Pins and needles sensation in extremities (paresthesia).
- Musculoskeletal pain.
- Chronic insomnia.
- Gastrointestinal distress.
- Poor memory.
Withdrawal intensity will depend upon the severity of physical dependence and how quickly the drug is discontinued.7 People who regularly take higher doses of and/or abruptly stop taking Klonopin are at higher risk for dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and delirium tremens. These symptoms can be avoided by gradually tapering the drug with the help of a medical professional. Medical detox centers can develop a safe tapering plan, closely monitor withdrawal symptoms and vital signs, and administer appropriate medications to alleviate symptoms. Medical professionals in a detox center can also identify people who are at risk for more serious withdrawal symptoms and take measures to prevent them from occurring.
SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator provides a directory of local treatment facilities, including detox centers, throughout the United States. You can also find a detox center by calling SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
When researching detox centers, take some time to think about what type of program you are looking for and questions you might have for the admissions staff. You may also be able to tour the facility to get an idea of where you will be staying. When looking for a detox center, you may want to consider:
- The location of the facility.
- Duration of treatment.
- The cost of treatment and whether health insurance is accepted.
- The type of therapy, amenities, and services that the program offers.
- Whether the program offers further treatment after detox is complete.
How to Find Help for Klonopin Addiction
Once you’ve safely cleared Klonopin from your body, you can next effectively address the behavioral and psychological issues that need to be managed for you to recover from addiction. This rehabilitation phase can take place in a number of settings:13
- Inpatient treatment centers offer daily therapy sessions and support groups focused on helping people understand and cope with their addictions. Inpatient programs also provide all meals and housing for the duration of treatment. Different types of inpatient treatment programs exist.
- Hospital-based inpatient treatment programs take place in a hospital setting staffed by medical and addiction professionals. These programs focus on providing relatively intensive medical treatments for addiction and mental health issues, in addition to therapy and support. Treatment stays in hospital-based inpatient programs are typically brief (days to weeks) as compared to stays in residential programs, which often last 1-3 months.
- Residential treatment facilities offer longer-term treatment in a house or dorm-like setting. These programs may also include different amenities, such as yoga, equine therapy, and/or recreational activities.
- Therapeutic communities (TCs) focus on helping people overcome their addictions and develop life skills, such as job training, that will be beneficial after treatment has ended. Treatment stays are typically longer than other types of inpatient treatment and may last a month to a year (sometimes longer).
- Outpatient treatment centers offer several hours of therapy each week without housing. The frequency and amount of treatment depend upon the type of program.
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) typically offer treatment 4-8 hours per day, 5 days per week.
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) offer treatment 9-20 hours per week.
Because Klonopin is an effective treatment for anxiety, some people abuse the drug in an attempt to alleviate mental health symptoms. Co-occurring or dual diagnosis programs specialize in treating both addiction and mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These programs offer therapy and support that focuses on helping people cope with their mental health issues without drugs and alcohol.
People in recovery may benefit from aftercare upon completing rehab to help prevent relapse. Some people may stay involved with aftercare for several months or even years after they complete treatment. There are several different types of aftercare:
- Psychotherapy is a type of outpatient treatment that is typically held once or twice per week for about an hour. People in recovery may benefit from transitioning to group or individual psychotherapy after completing a more intensive outpatient program.
- Sober living homes are drug-free residences for people in recovery. Sober living homes require that residents follow certain house rules, such as abstaining from drug and alcohol use, abiding by a curfew, and attending recovery meetings.
- Recovery groups are free support groups for people who struggle with substance abuse. Meetings are open to anyone who would like to quit using drugs and alcohol. Twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Pills Anonymous offer a spiritual approach to recovery. SMART Recovery is another recovery group that teaches tools to help people manage their cravings and prevent relapse.
Quitting Klonopin can be difficult and risky because of the potential for severe withdrawal, but with the right help you can find freedom from addiction. If you or someone you know is abusing Klonopin, consider seeking the help of a treatment program.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Clonazepam.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Misuse of prescription drugs.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Label: Klonopin-clonazepam tablet.
- Ashton, H. (2005). The diagnosis and management of benzodiazepine dependence. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18(3), 249-255.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). The DAWN report: Highlights of the 2010 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits.
- Longo, L. P., & Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines-side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. American Family Physician, 61(7), 2121-2128.
- Authier, N., Balayssac, D., Sautereau, M., Zangarelli, A., Courty, P., Somogyi, A. A., … & Eschalier, A. (2009). Benzodiazepine dependence: Focus on withdrawal syndrome. Annales Pharmaceutiques Francaises, 67(6), 408-413.
- Jones, C. M., & McAninch, J. K. (2015). Emergency department visits and overdose deaths from combined use of opioids and benzodiazepines. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 49(4), 493-501.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Overdose death rates.
- Mathias, R. (1997). Rate and duration of drug activity play major roles in drug abuse, addiction, and treatment. NIDA Notes, 12(2).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 08-4126. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2004, reprinted 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.