Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription drugs designed to treat symptoms of anxiety, panic, and insomnia by activating the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA) and its receptors in the brain. These natural chemical messengers help to calm down the central nervous system, and slow breathing heart rate and blood pressure, which can be elevated during stressful situations.
In 2007, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that 85 million benzodiazepine prescriptions were written in America. These medications are controlled substances in the United States due to their high potential for abuse and possible subsequent addiction.
Klonopin is the brand name version of clonazepam, which is a long-acting benzodiazepine with a half-life of around 30-40 hours, meaning that it stays in the body and remains effective longer than many other benzodiazepine medications. Benzodiazepines such as Klonopin are also only meant to be used on a short-term basis, as long-term use may lead to tolerance, dependency, and a host of other possible health risks and side effects.
Benzodiazepine withdraw syndrome
Klonopin, and other benzodiazepines, activate the pleasure center in the brain, and when abused, they can create a “high” as well as produce feelings of relaxation and calm. Long-term Klonopin abuse can damage the natural reward system and make it harder to feel pleasure naturally without drugs, which can lead to drug cravings and compulsive drug use in an attempt to continue feeling good. These are side effects of addiction, which can manifest with regular and extended abuse of Klonopin.
When the brain becomes dependent on a drug such as Klonopin, removal of it may cause withdrawal syndrome to start. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be intense and difficult to manage without professional help. Instead of stopping a benzodiazepine suddenly, medical detox will likely slowly lower the dosage in a controlled schedule and potentially utilize other medications to manage and lessen withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal may include various symptoms, such as:
- Muscle aches or cramps
- Short-term memory loss
- Weight loss
- Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
- Thoughts of suicide
Benzodiazepine withdrawal generally starts within a few days of stopping a long-acting drug like Klonopin and typically occurs in three phases. The first phase lasts a few days and usually manifests as a rebound of the symptoms Klonopin is meant to suppress, such as anxiety and insomnia. Long-term users of Klonopin may experience more intense symptoms that may require medical detox to manage safely.
The second phase is considered acute withdrawal and may last up to three months with a long-acting drug such as Klonopin. Protracted withdrawal, sometimes termed post-acute withdrawal syndrome, may be characterized by intermittent drug cravings, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping that may continue for a period of two years.
Effects on memory
Klonopin, as well as other benzodiazepines, may damage memory functions and cause lasting damage to the brain when used or abused for a long period of time. The more and longer the drug is abused, the more dependent the brain becomes and the harder this damage may be to reverse. Attention spans and certain memory functions may be impaired in someone regularly abusing Klonopin for an extended amount of time.
Benzodiazepine medications may be particularly damaging to brains of elderly individuals. A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that the risk for Alzheimer’s disease was nearly double in patients with a history of benzodiazepine use.
Many of the negative effects of long-term Klonopin abuse may be positively turned around with the right treatment plan, which will often include a period of detox to first safely remove the drug from the body and brain. Admission counselors at The Recovery Villageare standing by to offer an assessment as to the best course of action for a lasting recovery from the effects of Klonopin abuse.