Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, with tens of millions of people affected every year. According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), about 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Klonopin is a prescription drug in the benzodiazepine class that’s used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, and seizures. With increased activity, it acts as a tranquilizer and muscle relaxant. Klonopin is intended for short-term therapeutic use, and it’s more likely to lead to adverse effects when taken longer than recommended.
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If you take them consistently for several weeks or months, drug dependence, cognitive impairment, and other physical and mental side effects can occur. However, people who develop an addiction or dependence to Klonopin can usually recover from negative side effects within a few months after withdrawal.
However, withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. How dangerous?
No benzodiazepine has been more lethal to millions of Americans than Klonopin, according to Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR), a mental health watchdog group.
Read on to learn more about Klonopin withdrawal and the properties of this highly addictive drug.
How Does Klonopin Work?
Klonopin is the brand name for a type of benzodiazepine called clonazepam.
Normally, they respond to a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid and, when activated, it produces a sedative or relaxing effects. Benzodiazepines are GABA agonists, which means that they bind to the receptor and activate it.
When benzos like Klonopin bind to GABA receptors, the effect can be strong enough to induce sleep, calm anxiety disorders, and relax muscles.
After several weeks of regular use, your brain may become used to the effects of Klonopin and the way it affects brain chemistry.
When you build up a tolerance to the drug, it’s usually because your brain is compensating for the neurochemical effects it is producing.
In nervous system depressants like benzos, alcohol, or barbiturates, the brain might slow down the natural production of endogenous nervous system calming chemicals.
For this reason, abrupt cessation of Klonopin can have withdrawal side effects that include a rebounding of anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms caused by nervous system overactivity.
Klonopin is primarily used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, but it can also be used to treat a movement disorder called akathisia. It can begin working within an hour and lasts for 12 hours. If you use it for longer than four weeks, you risk building tolerance and becoming dependent.
If you decide to stop using it after becoming dependent, cut back slowly. Abruptly quitting can lead to dangerous symptoms that are sometimes deadly. More on that later.
Klonopin Withdrawal Symptoms
Klonopin is one of the few types of drugs with potentially dangerous withdrawals. Barbiturates and alcohol can cause tonic-clonic seizures and delirium tremens upon withdrawal, as do benzodiazepines like Klonopin.
These dangerous effects with a host of other uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms, make it unwise to go through withdrawal on your own.
Tonic-clonic seizures experienced in Klonopin withdrawal are the same as episodes that are associated with epilepsy.
According to Healthline, Tonic-clonic seizures are named as such due to their two distinct stages. The tonic stage of the seizure is characterized by muscle stiffening, which causes you to lose consciousness and fall. The clonic stage consists of a series of convulsions or rapid muscle contractions.
While they are not typically deadly on their own, seizures can cause life-threatening medical complications in some people, like heart arrhythmia or aspiration of vomit. Plus, if you experience a seizure on your own, you may injure yourself or get into an accident.
These seizures typically last one to three minutes. However, a seizure that lasts longer than five minutes is considered a medical emergency.
Delirium tremens (DTs)
Delirium tremens (DTs) is even more dangerous and may cause seizures as well. Delirium is a state of confusion, hallucinations, and shaking brought on suddenly by Klonopin withdrawal. It can cause irregular heartbeat, respiratory depression or arrest, and aspiration of vomit, which can all be life-threatening.
In some cases, benzodiazepine withdrawal after abrupt cessation can cause a symptom called catatonia, which is when a person becomes immobile and unresponsive even though they are still conscious. Though rare, catatonia from Klonopin occurs due to the rapid decrease in GABA transmission in the central nervous system (CNS), according to research.
DTs can also come with strange behaviors like positioning the limbs in strange positions, negativism, and stupor. In extreme cases, as with Delirium tremens, symptoms can come on suddenly with over-excitement, fever, autonomic instability (unstable central nervous system), and fatality.
With intensive care treatment, mortality for DT rates can be as low as 5 percent, but without any treatment, it is as high as 35 percent, according to Medscape. Medical detox facilities are prepared to treat symptoms of alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal to respond to or avoid DTs.
Nevertheless, like other benzodiazepines, Klonopin produces a host of physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
According to Verywell Mind, the physical symptoms of benzo withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Grand mal seizures
- Dizziness or unsteadiness
- Blurred vision or other visual disturbances
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Troubled sleeping (nightmares, waking in the night)
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
The psychological symptoms can manifest as:
- Problems concentrating
- Trouble remembering things
- Auditory or visual hallucinations
- Panic attacks
- Irritability and agitation
- Strange bodily sensations
- Strange perceptual changes (things touch, taste, or feel different)
- Feelings of unreality
- Distorted body image
Because Klonopin withdrawal is so dangerous, it’s important to seek medical help if you believe you’ve become dependent. If you have tried and failed to cut back or quit Klonopin use don’t stop suddenly.
Klonopin Withdrawal Timeline
How long will you have after your last dose before you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms? It’s an important question.
Prescription drugs can be hard to get when you run out and, with such dangerous symptoms, it’s important to know when you might start to feel the effects. Will they begin to happen on a long flight or before you can get into a detox program?
Klonopin is short-acting but has a relatively long half-life of 22 to 54 hours, according to Medical News Today. Thus, Klonopin can remain in your system longer than many addictive drugs or benzos like Xanax.
This means you have one to three days before you start feeling the first symptoms.
The length of withdrawal and how it manifests can be influenced by a variety of factors, including a patient’s health, the amount they’ve consumed, their substance abuse, and mental health history. Other factors that can impact the withdrawal timeline is whether they have abused Klonopin with other substances like alcohol or opioids, a common practice known as polysubstance abuse.
Nevertheless, Klonopin’s long half-life and time before withdrawal combine to form a double-edged sword, because it also comes with a long period of symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can last for up to four days until their peak and can linger for months. Without treatment, specific symptoms can last for years.
Here is a general timeline for Klonopin withdrawal:
Days 1-3: Because of its unusually long half-life, Klonopin symptoms can take a few days to manifest. During this interim, users can experience early Klonopin withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings.
Days 7-10: This is the peak stage of Klonopin withdrawal when symptoms are at their most acute. People can experience seizures and tremors at this stage. The initial symptoms of early withdrawal could heighten as well. Without the care of a medical professional, these symptoms could seem uncontrollable. Relapse occurs most often at this stage.
Weeks 3-4: Klonopin’s half-life is such that withdrawal symptoms can last for multiple weeks. However, during the third and fourth week after last use, most withdrawal symptoms will start to subside.
Month 1 and Beyond: At this juncture, most of the withdrawal symptoms will have largely faded. However, psychological symptoms like anxiety and cravings can also linger.
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Why Should I Detox?
Medical detox is the safest way to get through potentially dangerous drug withdrawals without relapsing. Medical professionals with expertise in treating addiction and drug dependence can help alleviate your symptoms and monitor for potential medical complications. Going through withdrawal alone can be extremely uncomfortable, at best. And at its worst, it could mean deadly symptoms without help.
Through medical detox, you will also have help preventing relapse that would mean having to go through withdrawal symptoms all over again. Finally, withdrawing from benzos means the possibility of deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Going through detox in the care of others means having support while overcoming adverse psychological and emotional symptoms as well as physical ones.
Withdrawing from any chemical dependence on your own would be a painful experience, but benzodiazepines like Klonopin can be much more dangerous. If you are experiencing benzo withdrawal signs and symptoms, entering professional treatment is your safest, most effective course of action.
What Is the Next Treatment Step?
In some cases, the effects of Klonopin dependence can last well beyond the withdrawal symptoms. Psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression, and drug cravings are unusually persistent, particularly without long-term treatment. Drug cravings can be powerful and lead to relapse unless you learn how to combat them. Addiction rewrites the way your reward center perceives Klonopin. Your brain will become used to the feelings of euphoria and relief it provided, treating the drug like any other life-sustaining activity, like eating, drinking, and sleeping. Long-term addiction treatment is, in part, about training you to overcome drug-seeking impulses caused by triggers and cravings.
The best way to learn these techniques is to engage in a continuum of care. After detoxification, long-term addiction treatment — 90 days or more — has shown to be the most effective option for achieving lifelong sobriety.
Starting with intensive treatment options like inpatient or residential treatment can give you the structure and accountability you need as you learn to identify triggers and overcome cravings.
As you continue in treatment, you can scale back intensiveness with outpatient treatment or sober living environments. Once you complete treatment, support groups and twelve-step programs can connect you to a community of people committed to recovery.
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Brown, M., & Freeman, S. (2009). Clonazepam withdrawal-induced catatonia. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19567771
Cadman, B. (n.d.). Clonazepam vs. Xanax: Differences, dosage, and side effects. Retrieved from from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323330.php
Delirium Tremens (DTs). (2019, June 14). Retrieved from from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/166032-overview#a7
Healthline. (n.d.). Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure (Grand Mal): What to Know. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/generalized-tonic-clonic-seizure
National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Any Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml
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O, C., & Osborn, K. (2018, November 29). How Long Does Withdrawal From Klonopin Last? Retrieved from from https://www.verywellmind.com/klonopin-withdrawal-symptoms-timeline-and-treatment-4176203