Clonidine Addiction Treatment

If you are trying to overcome an addiction to alcohol, opioid drugs or if you want to quit smoking, you may be prescribed clonidine. When used in the treatment of addiction, this medication can help to ease withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Clonidine?

Although primarily used as a treatment for high blood pressure, clonidine is also effective for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, and withdrawal from substances such as nicotine, alcohol, and opioids.

Clonidine is effective as a pharmaceutical treatment if you are detoxing from substances like alcohol, and drugs. It relieves the symptoms caused by withdrawal from long-term use of these substances, such as:

  • hot and cold flushes
  • sweating
  • high blood pressure
  • irregular heartbeat
  • restlessness

As clonidine is a mild sedative, it is sometimes used before surgical procedures as a premedication. It may also be used to treat other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, anxiety disorder, migraines, tics caused by Tourette syndrome, and hot flushes associated with the menopause.

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Brand Names

  • Kapvay
  • Catapres

History of Clonidine

Clonidine was first introduced as a medication to treat high blood pressure in 1966, after being initially tested as a nasal decongestant. It was marketed as Catapres.

In 2010, the US FDA approved clonidine for use in the treatment of ADHD in patients between the age of six and seventeen. It was then approved for adults and was marketed under the name of Kapvay.

Clonidine is either used as a standalone medication for the treatment of ADHD or in conjunction with other stimulant medications.

What Substance Abuse/Addictions Is Clonidine Used to Treat?

  • Alcohol Addiction
  • Opioid Addiction
  • Nicotine Addiction

Is Clonidine Addictive?

Clonidine is a prescription medication and although the risk of addiction is low when taken as prescribed, there is the potential for abuse due to its mild sedative effects. As any mood-altering drug is capable of leading to addiction, there is the possibility that clonidine could become addictive if abused.

What Is the Mechanism of Action?

For the treatment of high blood pressure, clonidine works by stimulating the brain’s Alpha-2 adrenergic receptors. In so doing, it helps to lower blood pressure by decreasing the strength at which the blood is pushed through the circulatory system.

When used to ease withdrawal from substances such as alcohol or drugs, clonidine suppresses withdrawal symptoms, which helps to make a detox more comfortable. It does this by acting on certain nerve cells within the brain to lower blood pressure and stabilise heart rate. When this happens, it can reduce feelings of anxiety. Cravings are typically reduced when attention is improved and impulsivity suppressed.

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How Long Does It Take for Clonidine to Work?

When used to aid detoxification from chemical substances, clonidine may be prescribed as an oral medication or a patch. The length of time for it to take effect varies from one person to another, but it can take effect in less than an hour. The effects usually last for between twelve and sixteen hours for oral tablets and for up to seven days for the patch.

Does Clonidine Have Any Interactions?

There are hundreds of drugs that are known to interact with clonidine. Of the 734 drugs that interact with it, 48 interactions are major, 673 are moderate and 13 are minor. If used with alcohol, clonidine can result in side effects that include headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, and a change in heart rate or pulse.

There are also several illnesses that can interact with clonidine, including:

  • hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • depression
  • renal dysfunction
  • bradyarrhythmia (slow heart rate)

Should Any Precautions Be Taken?

Clonidine should not be taken if you are allergic to it. Due to the many drug interactions caused by clonidine, it is important that you inform your doctor of any medications you are taking. This will include any medication that has been prescribed by a doctor as well as over-the-counter medications, vitamin supplements, and herbal remedies.

Before you take clonidine, it is important that you tell your doctor if you have ever suffered from the following:

  • Slow heartbeat or heart rhythm disorder
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fainting
  • Heart disease
  • Severe coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • A tumour of the adrenal gland

Clonidine should not be used if you are breastfeeding as it can pass through to your baby via breast milk. It is not known if clonidine will harm an unborn baby, so it is important to tell your doctor if you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, before taking this medication. You should also inform your doctor immediately if you get pregnant while taking clonidine.

It is important to determine your reaction to clonidine before driving as it has the potential to cause drowsiness in some individuals.

What Are the Side Effects of Clonidine?

Taking clonidine may result in some unwanted side-effects. Not everyone will suffer side-effects and of those that do occur, most will not require medical attention. However, should your symptoms persist or become severe, it is important that you seek medical attention immediately. Below are some of the side effects associated with clonidine:

  • Constipation
  • Decreased sexual ability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry or itchy eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • A sensation of burning in the eyes
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Swelling of the feet and lower legs
  • Drowsiness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Itching skin
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness

Should you suffer signs of an allergic reaction, you should seek urgent medical attention. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing

Can You Just Stop Taking Clonidine?

You should not stop taking clonidine without speaking to your doctor first. As this medication lowers blood pressure, stopping suddenly could cause a rapid spike in your blood pressure, which could then result in symptoms such as headaches, uncontrollable tremors, and nervousness.

It is recommended that clonidine is taken in reducing doses before you quit completely. This will help to stabilise blood pressure.


Facts/Statistics

  • Although first tested as a nasal decongestant, clonidine has proven to be effective in treating various other conditions, namely hypertension and several neuropsychiatric disorders.
  • Clonidine affects the nerve cells in the brain that are responsible for lowering blood pressure and decreasing heart rate.
  • It also decreases the body’s reaction to the withdrawal of mood-altering chemicals such as cocaine, opiates, alcohol, and nicotine.
  • Clonidine helps to reduce nicotine cravings, thus improving the chances of successful smoking cessation.
  • Clonidine patches are more effective than oral tablets for the treatment of nicotine addiction.
  • The recommended dosage of clonidine varies depending on the condition being treated.
  • The daily dosage of between 0.4 and 0.6 mg is recommended for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal.
  • For the treatment of opiate addiction, the daily dosage is typically between 0.5 and 1.4 mg.
  • The most common side effect associated with clonidine use is dizziness when getting up suddenly from a sitting or lying down position.
  • Most side effects will dissipate on their own within weeks but in some cases, an adjustment of the dosage can help.
  • It is important that a doctor regularly checks blood pressure to determine how the body is responding to this medication.
  • Clonidine has been used to treat withdrawal from methadone and has proven to be effective in less than two weeks, compared to the usual 3-6 months. It has a high rate of success in terms of patients reaching a zero dosage of methadone.
  • Clonidine has not been licenced for the treatment of ADHD in the UK. Use of the drug for this purpose is considered to be off-label.
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