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Klonopin, a brand name for the drug clonazepam, is a type of benzodiazepine drug usually prescribed to manage epileptic seizures and, more commonly, anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
Klonopin arrived on the market in 1975. While it is usually the most effective way to manage seizures, it quickly loses its effectiveness as a patient builds tolerance. This makes the treatment of anxiety and panic attacks its most typical use.
How Clonazepam Works
This drug works like all other benzodiazepines, acting on nerve cells in the brain. Specifically, these drugs affect a part of the brain called the GABA receptor to stimulate the release of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is responsible for feelings of calm and contentment.
GABA is involved in transmitting signals between nerve cells in the brain, and it acts as a neurological calming agent to keep signals between nerves even and balanced. Focusing on the GABA receptor is a location to begin treating seizures, as this neurotransmitter causes the brain and body to relax as it evens out excessive electrical nerve activity.
An Addictive And Dangerous Drug
When used properly, clonazepam is a powerful tool to treat a number of afflictions. It is approved as a treatment for:
- Epileptic seizures
- Anxiety disorders
- Migraine headaches
- Hyperekplexia (being easily startled)
- Acute psychosis
- Sleeping disorders
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
- Restless leg syndrome
- Nighttime teeth grinding
Given this wide usage, clonazepam is also a likely source of addiction. Among patients using clonazepam for longer than four weeks, one-third will develop tolerance. At that point, a higher dose must be used, or the patient must cease using the drug.
Benzodiazepines (or “benzos,” as they are called informally) are the second most abused class of drug – second only to opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin or OxyContin. Hospital emergency room visits related to abuse of benzodiazepines now greatly outnumber those for illegal street drugs by more than a three-to-one margin.
One factor in this widespread abuse is how easy it is to get a prescription. Another is its common use to mitigate withdrawal effects of other types of drugs, such as alcohol or heroin. People with already addictive personalities are immediately exposed to another addictive drug, which is likely to result in more abuse.
There have been many famous cases of benzodiazepine addiction. Most prominently, 1970s-era pop star Stevie Nicks spoke out against this type of drug after she completed 45 days of hospitalized detox and rehabilitation. Additionally, actress Margaux Hemingway died of a benzodiazepine overdose, as did actor Don Simpson and famous personality Anna Nicole Smith.
Facts About Klonopin Withdrawal: What To Expect
It takes less than a month to develop a dependence on Klonopin. Once a user has reached this point, they need to keep taking the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from benzodiazepine can be especially hard for those trying to cease use.
It is extremely important for users to refrain from quitting “cold turkey.” This is due to the nature of the drug: Clonazepam provides a neurotransmitter your body needs to function. Stopping this drug suddenly deprives your brain of a chemical necessary for healthy nerve signals.
Suddenly stopping after regular clonazepam use can cause intense shaking, seizures and even death. A person should seek the help of a health care professional or professional drug addiction counselor to begin the long process of weaning themselves off this drug. Even when properly stopping the use of benzodiazepines, a person can expect a number of unpleasant side effects if he or she tries to quit on his or her own.
The severity of the withdrawal symptoms a user can expect depends on a number of factors. A person who used clonazepam for years will have a tougher time and more severe symptoms than someone who used it for a month. The dosage also matters: Long-time users who developed a strong tolerance to the drug may be taking many times their initial prescribed dose, and they will have much more pronounced withdrawal problems.
As unfair as it may be, some people are just more prone to experiencing withdrawal symptoms than others due to their individual chemistry. No matter what factors are at work, all people who stop Klonopin use after developing a dependency will experience negative effects.
Klonopin Withdrawal Symptoms: A Timeline
Klonopin withdrawal occurs in three main phases, each with different symptoms.
The First Phase: Early Withdrawal
The first phase of Klonopin withdrawal is the early withdrawal phase. This phase begins when the last dose of Klonopin has finally left the user’s bloodstream – about 30 to 40 hours after the last ingestion of the drug.
When the clonazepam effect has stopped, the brain will experience a resurgence of symptoms the drug is designed to mitigate. The user may experience severe anxiety and insomnia, as well as the possibility of seizures, high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. These risks are why a medical professional should supervise the detox process.
The Second Phase: Acute Withdrawal
The early withdrawal phase lasts around four days, which is followed by the second phase – acute withdrawal. This phase is the most severe in terms of symptoms. And, unfortunately, it lasts from two weeks to three months.
There are a wide variety of symptoms a user may experience, including:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
- Mood changes
The number and severity of symptoms vary between people. Fortunately, once a person is finished with this phase of withdrawal, the worst is behind him or her.
The Third Phase: Post-Acute Withdrawal
The third and final phase of Klonopin withdrawal is the post-acute withdrawal phase, which some people may not experience. The symptoms of this withdrawal phase are more general in nature: Depression, anxiety and panic attacks may affect a person for up to two years following cessation of the drug. Overall, withdrawal from Klonopin can last for years.
Getting The Help You Need
If you have a loved one who is experiencing Klonopin (clonazepam) addiction, professional assistance is needed to quit. We want to help.
This was originally posted Oct 27, 2016 and was updated August 5, 2019.