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Side Effects of Klonopin Use

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Anxious woman struggling with Klonopin Use

Klonopin, known commonly by its generic name clonazepam, is a prescription drug commonly prescribed to manage panic, anxiety and seizure disorders. Klonopin belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs—a broad group of central nervous system depressants that includes Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Restoril.

Prescriptions for Klonopin are widely filled across the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that in 2011, nearly 27 million clonazepam prescriptions were filled in the US alone. Klonopin is a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning that while there is a medical benefit, there is potential for abuse and dependence.

Short-Term Effects of Klonopin

As a CNS depressant, Klonopin slows down certain processes in the body and mind and, when taken as prescribed, may induce effects like:

  • Reduced worry.
  • Decreased physical tension.
  • Slowed respiration rate.
  • Slowed heart rate with lower blood pressure.
  • Drowsiness.

These effects are triggered by Klonopin’s ability to amplify the effects of a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), which decreases neural excitation in the brain. Because Klonopin enhances GABA’s efficacy, it can decrease anxiety levels and calm or sedate the user.

Some people take more of the substance than prescribed or use it more frequently than prescribed to boost the desired effects or produce a “high.” Recreational use increases the risk of severe side effects as well as potentially fatal overdose.

Side Effects

Common Side Effects

Common side effects that have been reported by Klonopin users include:

  • Confusion.
  • Amnesia of events that took place after ingestion of the drug.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Insomnia.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).
  • Decreased sex drive.

Severe Side Effects

Severe side effects are seen more frequently in those abusing the drug. These may include:

  • Slowed or shallow breathing.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Inability to urinate.
  • Tremors.
  • Depression.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Aggression and agitation.
  • Delusions (holding false beliefs).
  • Hallucinations.

Effects of Klonopin Overdose

Taking more than your prescribed dose of Klonopin, taking it without a prescription, or using it in combination with other substances such as alcohol (another CNS depressant) can greatly increase your chances of experiencing a life-threatening overdose.

Symptoms of Klonopin overdose include the following:

  • Slowed reflexes.
  • Weakness.
  • Bradycardia (slowed heartbeat).
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Weakness.
  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Chronic memory loss.
  • Delirium.
  • Convulsions.
  • Incoherent speech.
  • Obtundation (severely decreased level of consciousness).
  • Coma.

If you suspect you or someone you know has overdosed on Klonopin, seek emergency assistance immediately.

Klonopin’s Long-Term Effects

As use of Klonopin continues, the user will be at risk of developing physiologic dependence, increasing drug tolerance and, eventually, addiction.

As someone uses Klonopin over time, they will develop a tolerance for the drug. As a person becomes increasingly tolerant to the medication, more Klonopin will be required to experience the intended effects of the drug. Tolerance is a natural effect of continued use of medication; however, it may lead to abuse as users may end up taking more than prescribed to overcome it.

Consistent Klonopin use will almost certainly give rise to a degree of physical dependence—a point at which the body reacts as if it requires Klonopin to function normally and without it will often begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Tolerance and dependence are not the sole indicators of addiction. In fact, they can occur in someone who is taking their medication exactly as prescribed; however, they can be powerful contributors to the development of addiction. Addiction is marked by the continued use of the substance even despite unwanted social, physical, mental, and/ or legal consequences.

Klonopin Withdrawal Treatment

Like all benzodiazepine medications, withdrawal from Klonopin can be quite uncomfortable and may even present some severe health risks – including seizure – that require emergency management.

Insomnia due to Klonopin Withdrawal

Klonopin withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Insomnia.
  • Rebound anxiety.
  • Irritability.
  • Marked agitation.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Tremors.
  • Seizures.

Medically assisted detox provides the safest, most comfortable way to end abuse of the medication and begin a period of recovery. Because abrupt (or “cold-turkey”) cessation of Klonopin can bring about life-threatening symptoms, the dosage of Klonopin is often tapered over the course of days or weeks to keep dangerous symptoms at bay and ensure the client’s safety.

When detox is complete, ongoing treatment will be helpful to maintain a lifestyle free from Klonopin abuse. Options for continuing addiction treatment include inpatient drug rehab and outpatient treatment. Both options typically include some combination of therapy and counseling approaches, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy type looks at connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Family counseling. By treating addiction within the family unit, each person can assist in accomplishing the goal.
  • Motivational interviewing. This person-centered treatment builds motivation and drive from within the person with that abused Klonopin. Support group meetings. Meetings are opportunities to gather with people that are experiencing similar struggles and gaining their feedback.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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