Klonopin is part of the benzodiazepine drug class. The medication, developed to treat seizure and panic disorders, has become a widely misused drug. Also identified by its generic name clonazepam, Klonopin is a depressant drug that targets unbalanced chemicals in the brain. It helps to suppress brain activity that can lead to anxiety and seizures.
Klonopin misuse has been a growing issue across the U.S. for many years. Prescriptions, as well as mortality rates caused by Klonopin overdose, have increased greatly since the late 1990s.
The number of Americans filling Klonopin prescriptions increased by 67 percent between 1996 and 2013. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports an eightfold increase in the number of deaths caused by benzodiazepine overdose from 2002 to 2016.
Prescription drug abuse in the United States continues to be on the rise with no indication of slowing down.
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Health care professionals warn that Klonopin can be addictive. Some people develop an addiction without even realizing they have done so. Actor and producer Lena Dunham revealed her struggle to get sober after misusing Klonopin for three years. Her doctor prescribed Klonopin to ease her chronic sense of panic after her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a history of anxiety that was interfering with her daily work schedule. Dunham shares that it was not difficult to get high doses of Klonopin from doctors, who were quick to tell her she had extreme anxiety and needed medication to treat it.
Singer Stevie Nicks shared a similar experience of Klonopin misuse. She explains that it took her a long time to recognize that Klonopin was the drug she was actually addicted to and experiencing withdrawal symptoms from because it was being prescribed to her from a doctor.
Another woman shared her experience with Klonopin addiction in the Huffington Post. Like Dunham, this woman was prescribed Klonopin by doctors who insisted she had anxiety and needed a prescription to address the symptoms. She took Klonopin for more than a year at her doctors’ recommendations. It wasn’t until she attempted to stop using the drug that she experienced extreme physical and mental withdrawal symptoms and had the realization that her body had become addicted to it.
Prescription sedatives, like Klonopin, are also misused by people who take them to experience a high, not just to calm anxieties. When taken in high enough doses, sedatives can cause feelings of euphoria or a high similar to the effects of alcohol. This is a dangerous habit, however, as sedative overdoses can be fatal. At the very least, individuals who have become addicted to prescription sedatives are likely to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Klonopin tolerance develops quickly. Klonopin is used most safely as a short-term drug, and researchers express concern for patients who have been using it for more than six months. To be safe, prescriptions should be limited to one to two weeks so that dependence is less likely to occur. Withdrawal symptoms could already be experienced after using the drug for just three to four weeks.
The simplest way to know if you have developed a tolerance to a drug is to remove it from your system and see if you experience any withdrawal symptoms. If you experience any adverse side effects when you stop taking Klonopin, you have likely developed a tolerance for it. Common Klonopin withdrawal symptoms include:
Tolerance is present when you require more and more of a substance to experience the same desired effects. Most frequently, patients can develop a tolerance to the adverse side effects of prescribed Klonopin while still experiencing its calming effects. Over time, however, even the desired effects will be harder to feel with the same dosage amounts.
Doctors work around tolerance by increasing prescription dosages over time or whenever patients are no longer feeling the intended benefits of the drug. If you receive Klonopin through a doctor’s prescription and have had to have your prescription increased, you have likely developed a tolerance. Likewise, if you obtain Klonopin illicitly and have found yourself purchasing more and more of the drug to achieve the desired effects, you also have likely developed a tolerance.
Once you have developed a tolerance to Klonopin, you must be thoughtful about how you manage your dependence. Quitting cold turkey can trigger life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, so it is not recommended.
For people who are ready to quit using Klonopin, the tapering method, or gradually reducing the amount of Klonopin you take over time, is widely accepted as the safest method. This should only be done under medical supervision. The length of the withdrawal process varies greatly depending on the person. It can take just a few weeks or last up to a year.
Doctors may also decide to switch you to a long-acting benzodiazepine. Long-acting benzodiazepines are less likely to cause as severe withdrawal symptoms as short-acting benzodiazepines. This gives you a chance to gradually taper off the substance and encounter fewer and less severe withdrawal symptoms along the way.
While the tapering method helps to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, is important to seek medical supervision to mitigate your risk of suffering from more dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms to be particularly aware of include:
A combination of medically supervised withdrawal and behavioral therapy is the best and safest way to treat benzodiazepine addiction. It is risky to attempt to detox on your own at home, as medical assistance will not be readily available should you experience any of the above conditions.
The first step in addiction treatment is to undergo medical detox safely. This can take place in an inpatient setting, outpatient setting, or even a doctor’s office, depending on the severity of your addiction and your personal health. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains that medications are often used during the detox period to reduce drug cravings and alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Following the detox phase, therapy is used to help individuals gain an understanding of their behaviors and motivations that led to substance use, develop a stronger sense of self, and identify positive and healthy coping strategies that can be applied to many areas of life. Whether you decided to seek treatment in an inpatient or outpatient facility, multiple layers of treatment are likely to be used to address the complex issues surrounding substance misuse.
Comprehensive addiction treatment is multifaceted and aims to help individuals end their drug use, remain drug-free, and become productive members of their families and communities once again. NIDA explains that treatment is not a one-size-fits-all product. Effective treatment meets the unique needs of each client and is adjusted accordingly. This means that treatment plans are designed to meet the client’s goals and expectations, and they are updated throughout the treatment process.
Medically assisted detox is often an essential step in the treatment process, and it often leads to better treatment outcomes, but it is not the only step. Following a safe detox period, individual exploration must take place through various modes of therapy to gain a true understanding of the substance use disorder. Through this process, individuals set themselves up for the best chances of living a healthy life free from substance use.
While Klonopin is easily misused and highly addictive, it has recognized medical benefits, and there are safe ways to consume it. It should only be used in severe cases of anxiety, seizure, or insomnia, and it should only be used for short periods, lasting no more than a couple weeks.
Patients and health care professionals should employ good practices for the use of Klonopin prescriptions. They can work together to understand the risks of developing tolerance and how to safely decrease use.
(October 2013). Benzodiazepines. Center for Substance Abuse Research. from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/benzos.asp
(October 2014). Benzodiazepine Dependence. Patient Platform. from https://patient.info/doctor/benzodiazepine-dependence
(October 2018). I Had No Idea I’d Misused Klonopin Until I Tried to Stop Taking It. Huffington Post. from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/klonopin-withdrawal-experience_us_5bd8b01ae4b019a7ab57ddc3
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(October 2018). Lena Dunham Reveals She’s 6 Months Sober After Misusing Klonopin. Vogue. from https://www.vogue.com/article/lena-dunham-klonopin-anti-anxiety-drug-addiction-misuse-withdrawal-symptoms
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