Clonazepam Addiction and Abuse

Benzodiazepines like clonazepam (known by the brand name Klonopin) act as depressants on the central nervous system (CNS). They reduce excited impulses in the brain, causing a person’s mental and physical processes to slow down.

Because of its sedative properties, physicians prescribe clonazepam for therapeutic functions such as anti-anxiety medication, anti-convulsant, and muscle-relaxant. The drug is also known to have hypnotic effects for overly-agitated patients.

However, users tend to build a physical addiction quickly, because of its effect on the pleasure pathways in the brain. Doctors advise patients to use the drug as guided to avoid forming tolerance and dependence.

Unfortunately, there are non-medical users who abuse Clonazepam just to get ‘high’. They capitalise on its ability to diminish worry and anxiety. Using any drug without a doctor’s recommendation is considered abuse and the consequences can be dangerous. Besides developing an addiction, it can ruin your health, as well as other aspects of your life.

What Is Clonazepam?

Demystifying an addictive drug has been known to help patients change their orientation towards it and work on building a resistance to abuse.

Clonazepam is a prescription benzodiazepine, usually sold under the brand name Klonopin. After alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan), it is the third most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine in the UK. While these medicines have similar properties, they differ in speed of interaction and duration of effects.

Clonazepam is primarily used to treat the following anxiety disorders:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Generalised anxiety disorder

Besides its mental health uses, clonazepam is also used to treat spasticity and seizure disorders. Some detox clinics use it to manage acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes it is applied as an induction agent before administering anaesthesia, prior to surgery.

History of Clonazepam

Clonazepam was first introduced commercially in 1975 as an approved medication for epilepsy. Since then, it has become a popular drug of choice for abusers.

Benzodiazepines (‘benzos’) in general were released into the market in the early 1950s as prescription medication for several neurological disorders, such as epileptic seizures, insomnia and anxiety disorders.

Under the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), clonazepam is a Class C drug and unauthorised possession (or sales) is subject to prosecution by the law.

Introduction to Clonazepam Abuse and Addiction

Most clonazepam-dependent users don’t start out abusing the drug. In fact, some people become addicted without knowing it. Because clonazepam is strongly addictive, users tend to develop tolerance if they use it every day for a prolonged period.

The drug exists as a pill and is usually taken orally. Its strength ranges from 0.125mg to 0.25mg, 0.5mg, 1mg and 2mg. Depending on your age and severity of disorder, a doctor may prescribe two 0.5mg tablets per day.

When a person feels the regular dosage doesn’t have the same effect, they are likely to increase the dosage on their own. If this works, they will automatically continue with the new amount.

This kind of tolerance is formed when the brain adjusts itself to the standard prescription. Eventually, tolerance can lead to dependence. You are advised to see your doctor from time to time to avoid such changes. For people who use clonazepam recreationally, tolerance is built quicker, because their prime objective is to get intoxicated and they tend to use much more of the drug that would be prescribed.

Without the drug in the bloodstream, certain withdrawal symptoms might manifest.

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Causes and Risk Factors for Clonazepam Addiction and Abuse

For unwitting addicts, clonazepam dependence can be attributed to developing tolerance after a prolonged period of use. Physicians will often advise patients to taper their medication after some time to avoid becoming dependent on the drug. However, those who fail to do so find themselves abusing the drug eventually.

Conversely, people who deliberately take clonazepam for non-medical reasons become addicted after an extended period of abuse. If they snort the powdered form or inject the liquid, they tend to develop addiction faster.

Certain risk factors are responsible for this addiction-forming behaviour:

  • Genetics. If a person has a history of substance abuse in their ancestry, they are more likely to exhibit addictive behaviour than people who haven’t. Scientists are studying the possibility of an addiction gene.
  • Biological factors. Certain birth defects or brain injuries that affect the pleasure pathway can trigger pleasure-seeking behaviour in some individuals. This tends to cause substance abuse amongst users.
  • Environmental factors. People who have easy access to clonazepam are at high risk of abuse. For instance, teenagers who can access their parents’ medication, or neighbourhoods where the drug can easily be bought without a prescription will have a high prevalence of abuse.
  • Social factors. Social factors such as peer pressure, employment status and similar exposures can affect drug use behaviour. If you regularly attend drug-fuelled parties or have friends who abuse clonazepam, the risk of indulging will be higher than if you don’t.

Deadly Clonazepam Drug Interactions

Taking clonazepam with other substances – particularly intoxicating drugs – is very dangerous and can cause adverse effects on the body. The liver is the main organ for drug metabolism and clonazepam will likely interact with other drugs along the same pathway.

An interaction is when one substance/drug changes the way another works in the body. Doctors usually advise patients to desist from combining various medications, yet it’s not uncommon to see people do this in order to get ‘high’.

Common clonazepam interactions and their effects include

  • Alcohol. Since they are both depressants, a mixture of alcohol and clonazepam can cause slow reflexes, dizziness, drowsiness, and respiratory depression.
  • Other benzodiazepines. Mixing clonazepam with benzos such as triazolam, lorazepam and midazolam can result in heavy sedation and drowsiness.
  • Opioids. Taking clonazepam with opioids such as codeine or hydrocodone is very dangerous. The effects may cause severe drowsiness, depressed respiration, coma or even death.
  • Cocaine. Since cocaine is a stimulant and clonazepam is a depressant, this combination can send the body into chemical conflict. While one substance acts to stimulate the CNS, the other seeks to depress it. The result can cause seizures, as well as mental disturbances.

What is Clonazepam Addiction?

When you develop physical dependence on clonazepam, it is described as an addiction. This means the brain has grown so accustomed to its effects that it is unable to function without the substance.

If you abuse clonazepam consistently over a long period of time, you’re likely to become dependent on it. When this happens, sudden discontinuation of the drug can trigger violent reactions such as intense shaking and seizures. Such acute withdrawal symptoms are a sign of addiction.

How Clonazepam Addiction Starts

Clonazepam is a benzodiazepine. This class of drugs are known for their depressant effects on the central nervous system. Clonazepam works by stimulating production of gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), a chemical that works by sending calming signals to the CNS.

If the quantity of GABA in your system is low, your body will be in an excited state. So, by increasing its levels, clonazepam causes you to feel a relaxing, subdued sensation. This is an effective treatment for people who are agitated or experiencing panic attacks.

However, clonazepam also triggers pleasurable sensations, because it blocks the reuptake of ‘happy hormones’ serotonin and dopamine by their receptors in the brain. This causes abusers to keep taking the drug for the prolonged pleasurable effect. This continued abuse builds tolerance until the brain becomes fixated on the presence of clonazepam in the bloodstream.

When this occurs, the individual is unable to function normally without the drug. Since the body now recognises clonazepam as part of its normal functions, it will react negatively in its absence. The addicted individual tends to experience a series of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Why is Clonazepam So Addictive?

The effect of using clonazepam can be described as ‘comforting’ or ‘relaxing’. People who wish to keep feeling this way all the time are tempted to use it excessively. For example, a person who always feels agitated or under pressure may seek and abuse clonazepam.

For non-medical users, the first-time experience is the most intense. This inspires the individual to use again and again to relive the pleasurable feeling. Unfortunately, after the first trial, the brain quickly adapts to the feeling, so subsequent uses can never replicate that particular experience.

Recreational users will naturally increase the dosage to heighten the sensation. Before long, the drug abuse causes the brain to become tolerant and addiction soon follows. The inhibited reuptake of dopamine and stimulation of the brain’s pleasure centres caused by clonazepam make it an addictive drug.

Signs, Symptoms and Effects of Clonazepam Abuse and Addiction

One of the best ways of preventing abuse leading to dependence is to recognise the signs early on. If you’re in denial of an abusive habit, knowing what signs to look for should make you seek professional help immediately.

Similarly, if someone you know is abusing clonazepam, you can identify the signs and act straight away. Avoid enabling a loved one or relative, as this won’t help them get better. In fact, you could be making it even worse for them.

Short-Term Effects of Clonazepam on the Body

The desirable effects of clonazepam can be felt within one hour of taking the drug orally. Depending on the severity of the symptoms the drug is treating, the effects may last for six to 24 hours.

The pleasurable effects include:

  • A mild feeling of euphoria
  • Relaxed mental attitude
  • Calm body with reduced muscular tension, rigidity and agitation
  • Drowsiness and prolonged sleep patterns

However, there are also negative side-effects such as:

  • Break out of hives or rashes
  • Respiratory depression in some cases
  • Seizures

Ironically, clonazepam-dependent users who suddenly discontinue the drug tend to suffer a rebound of the ailment the drug was treating – for example, seizures and agitation.

Long-Term Effects of Using Clonazepam

Most benzodiazepine medications are meant to be used for short-periods of about three to five months. However, people use them for longer periods of time. When this happens, they often build tolerance or dependence on the drug. Some long-term effects include:

  • Tolerance
  • Cravings
  • Respiratory depression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cardiac complications
  • Liver problems (when abused with alcohol)
  • Bleeding nose (for those who crush and snort it)
  • Skin abscesses (for people who inject it)
  • Co-occurrent disorders

It is not uncommon for long-term clonazepam abusers to develop an associated mental health disorder (dual-diagnosis). Many substance abusers like to combine benzos with alcohol for a more heightened effect.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Clonazepam Abuse and Addiction

You can tell when a person is abusing a prescription drug by certain changes in their behaviour and physical appearance. For one, they might appear dehydrated much of the time due to vomiting and diarrhoea.

Other physical symptoms include:

  • Poor muscular control and clumsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Slurred speech

Is a loved one taking more than the recommended dose of clonazepam? Are they more interested in obtaining the drug than the actual treatment? If so, there’s a high chance they could be abusing it.

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Psychological Signs and Symptoms of Clonazepam Abuse and Addiction

If someone you know is abusing clonazepam or any other prescription drug, they will often complain about how ineffective the standard dose has become. Many prescription drug abusers visit several doctors for multiple opportunities to source the drug.

Psychological signs include:

  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Hallucinations

While clonazepam addiction is typically a physically-dependent drug, people who frequently abuse it will experience some psychological symptoms during withdrawal.

Signs of Clonazepam Withdrawal and Overdose

Withdrawal occurs when you suddenly stop taking a drug on which your body has become dependent. In the case of clonazepam, this may occur within 24 to 72 hours of your last dose. Since the brain regards the chemical as vital to its functions, it will trigger negative reactions when levels in the bloodstream are low.

The negative reaction occurs in stages and consists of both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Impaired muscular controls
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Shallow breathing

In most cases, the affected person will sweat profusely, even if the room isn’t hot.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Concentration difficulty
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucination
  • Mood changes
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to feel pleasure

There is usually a rebound of the ailment the drug was originally used to treat. For instance, if you were initially taking clonazepam to treat anxiety, the symptoms might well return, forcing you to use the drug again.

Undergoing withdrawal on your own brings the risk of relapse and a high chance of overdosing. An unsupervised withdrawal patient may feel forced to take large quantities of the drug for instant relief. Unfortunately, this can lead to an overdose. Signs of overdosing include severe seizure, respiratory depression, vomiting, high temperature, coma and (in worst-case scenarios) death.

Therapy, Treatment and Rehab for Clonazepam Abuse and Addiction

The first step towards treatment and recovery is counselling. An addiction expert will determine your level of dependence and suggest a good clinic/rehab centre for detoxification. Detoxing purges all traces of clonazepam from your system by making you go through withdrawal.

While withdrawal may be unpleasant, a qualified doctor will be on call to administer medication to help you bear the discomfort.

After successful detox, rehabilitation therapy follows. An addiction psychiatrist will help you uncover the root cause of your addiction and teach you how to overcome cravings by adopting various abstinence techniques. Rehab may last 30 days or more, depending on the progress of recovery. During this time, you will be taught how to build support groups and maintain sobriety after rehab.

Staying off Clonazepam/Individual Counselling

Leaving rehab does not signify automatic immunity to clonazepam cravings. In fact, some of your biggest challenges might come during this period. An aftercare programme provided by most of our rehab centres can help you maintain contact with various support groups, including a therapist. Individual counselling sessions with a therapist can help you establish yourself as a mentally-resilient, abstinent person.

Family Therapy

The family is a primary part of your support group. Since they have known you the longest, it’s likely that they might understand the origin of your drug abuse. A therapist can conduct family sessions to help you resolve any lingering family issues and start sobriety on a clean slate. It is not only therapeutic, but also builds resolve against cravings.


FAQs

Is Clonazepam Addictive?

Yes, it is. The psychoactive effects can lead to abuse.

What is Clonazepam Addiction and Treatment?

Addiction is the term used when a person becomes physically dependent on clonazepam and exhibits withdrawal symptoms when they no longer use it. Treatment involves detoxification and therapy to enable them to function normally without clonazepam.

When does Clonazepam Addiction occur?

This occurs when you abuse clonazepam frequently and the brain becomes fixated on it. Eventually, the body will be unable to perform without clonazepam in the bloodstream.

How long Does it Take to Become Addicted to Clonazepam?

This will vary from individual to individual, depending on factors such as the quantity they use at a time, their body mass, age, health status and mental resolve. For some, it may take a few months, whereas for others, it could be several months or even years.

What is the Clonazepam ‘High’ Like?

A user appears generally calm and satisfied with life. They may also exhibit delayed physical responses and mild euphoria.

Do Controlling Parents Increase the Risk of Addiction?

Some teenagers may feel pressure from the dysfunctional life around them. A typical reaction may be to use drugs as a means of escape, especially if the parents also use clonazepam. While this is not a certainty, it is a distinct possibility.

What is Clonazepam Abuse?

Using clonazepam without a doctor’s recommendation or exceeding the standard prescription of your physician is considered drug abuse.

How is Clonazepam Legally Classified?

Under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), Clonazepam is classified as a Class C drug. This means it is a prescription-onlyu drug and if you are caught in possession or dealing illegally, you could be prosecuted.

What are the Dangers of Mixing?

Mixing different drugs tend to cause various interactions in the body. This means the normal functions of the drug may be altered. Mixing clonazepam with substances like alcohol or opioids can lead to overdosing or liver complications.

What are the Dangers of Overdosing?

If you use too much clonazepam, your body will likely go into shock. Typical reactions include seizures, intense shaking, respiratory depression, coma or even death.

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