Klonopin abuse can lead to addiction, so it’s important to understand the warning signs and know how to find effective treatment for a Klonopin use disorder.

Article at a Glance:

  • Klonopin is the brand name for clonazepam, a benzodiazepine drug.
  • As a Schedule IV controlled substance, Klonopin carries a risk of abuse, dependence and addiction.
  • Physical, behavioral and psychological signs of addiction often occur when a person starts to struggle with Klonopin abuse.
  • Help is available if you are trying to stop taking Klonopin.

An Overview

Klonopin, the brand name version of clonazepam, is an especially long-acting benzodiazepine drug. It is FDA-approved for panic and seizure disorders, but it can be used off-label for conditions like anxiety, muscle spasms, some sleep disorders, some movement disorders and vertigo.

Klonopin can create a sense of calmness and a euphoric high that can be very addictive. The drug is meant to be used on a short-term basis to avoid abuse, dependence and addiction, which is why the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies it as a Schedule IV drug. If you or someone you know takes Klonopin, it is important to be aware of the drug’s side effects as well as signs of abuse.

Klonopin Side Effects

Like all drugs, Klonopin can cause side effects. Although some side effects are common and mild, others can be far more serious.

Common Side Effects

Klonopin side effects are similar to those of other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. The most common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Movement problems
  • Behavioral changes
  • Dizziness

Major Side Effects

Klonopin can cause more serious side effects as well. Although some major side effects can occur when Klonopin is taken as prescribed, others are more likely to occur when the drug is taken in excessive doses or mixed with other CNS depressants, such as opioids or alcohol.

Klonopin and Anterograde Amnesia

Anterograde amnesia, or the inability to create new memories, is a known side effect of benzodiazepines. A person might not remember parts of their day after taking a dose of Klonopin. The FDA specifically mentions anterograde amnesia in its list of warnings about the drug.

Benzodiazepines like Klonopin are known to cause sleep-related activities, such as sleep driving, sleep eating and even making phone calls while asleep. Because a person is asleep, they are not entirely aware of what they may be doing when they perform these activities, which can be frightening upon awakening.

Klonopin and Central Nervous System Depression

As a depressant, Klonopin increases the risk for excessive CNS depression, which can lead to an overdose in some cases. This is especially true if Klonopin is mixed with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol or opioids.

Klonopin Overdose

It is possible to take too much Klonopin and experience an overdose. If someone overdoses on Klonopin, it’s important to get them to the hospital quickly because they can die without treatment. The risk of a Klonopin overdose is particularly high if the drug is combined with substances like alcohol or opioids. Overdose symptoms that can occur with Klonopin include:

  • Loss of control over bodily movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness

Signs of Klonopin Abuse

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be abusing Klonopin, you may begin to notice certain signs. While some of these red flags are physical side effects, other signs are changes in the person’s behavior and mental status.

It is important to realize that people can form a physical dependence on Klonopin as well as a psychological addiction. Even people who have a prescription can unknowingly misuse it. This type of misuse happens as people build a tolerance to the drug and take more in an attempt to experience the original sensation.

Klonopin Dependence vs. Addiction

Klonopin is a sedative that decreases electrical activity in the brain, making it an effective treatment for epilepsy and anxiety. While it can cause both dependency and addiction, it’s important to note the difference between the two.

A physical dependence occurs when the brain and body become used to the presence of a substance, meaning that stopping drug use can cause a shock to the system. Because Klonopin can create a physical dependence after just two weeks of daily use, many individuals who take it as prescribed will form a dependence and experience withdrawal symptoms if they miss a dose. Doctors are aware of this and will help patients lower the dosage safely when it’s time to stop taking it.

Addiction is a step above and includes a psychological dependence as well as a physical one. A person with addiction will continue taking the drug even if they know that taking it is harmful to them. They may seek Klonopin in high doses even though they clearly see the negative impact the drug has on their life.

In general, there are two ways that individuals find themselves abusing or addicted to Klonopin:

  • Misused prescription: Klonopin can be a very helpful medication if taken in the correct dosage for the right amount of time. However, the body builds a tolerance to the drug over time, requiring more and more of it to attain the same results. An individual may take more of the drug than prescribed or see multiple doctors at once to get more of the drug (this is known as “doctor shopping”).
  • Diverted prescription: In some cases, a person may share (divert) Klonopin with a friend or family member. This may be done with good intentions — for example, perhaps the friend or family member has untreated anxiety. However, giving prescription drugs to someone is illegal and unsafe, as your dose is chosen for your specific needs and not someone else’s. Further, Klonopin sometimes trades hands at parties, raves and even at school. As of 2020, 7% of high school seniors had abused a tranquilizer drug like Klonopin.

Physical Symptoms of Klonopin Abuse

Someone who abuses Klonopin is likely to experience side effects. These symptoms can increase when the drug is mixed with alcohol or other drugs. It is never recommended to take Klonopin with alcohol, and it should only be combined with opioids under the close supervision of a doctor. Some Klonopin side effects can be physical in nature and may be intensified with high doses of the drug. These include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Impaired judgment
  • Problems walking

Behavioral Signs of Klonopin Abuse

One of the initial signs of Klonopin misuse is often a preoccupation with the drug. Someone might put a lot of focus on when they’re going to take their next dose, or they might seem very concerned about running out before they can get a new prescription. Someone who’s abusing Klonopin may seek to buy it off the streets or take it more often than directed by their doctor. They also may take higher doses than what they’re prescribed.

As Klonopin addiction worsens, a person may seem to lose interest in school, work or friends. They may be unable to focus on other areas of their lives, and they may continue to use the drug despite negative consequences.

Psychological Symptoms of Klonopin Abuse

A person’s psychological signs may include feeling like they can’t calm down or go to sleep without Klonopin. Some people may even mix it with alcohol or other drugs to intensify its effects. Klonopin may also damage memory function; the drug is especially harmful to the brains of older adults, as it can cause cognitive impairment and delirium.

Some people can have what is called a paradoxical reaction to Klonopin, meaning it causes the behavior it’s meant to prevent. For example, Klonopin can cause increased irritability, anxiety and agitation in some people.

Effects of Long-Term Klonopin Abuse

Chronic use of Klonopin can cause tolerance to develop, which occurs because the body becomes used to the drug’s presence and usual doses are no longer effective. This may cause a person to take progressively higher doses of the drug, which increases the risk of addiction and overdose.

Long-term Klonopin use may also lead to a rebound effect of issues that were initially treated by the drug. For example, anxiety can increase if a person misses a dose.

DSM-5 Criteria for Klonopin Addiction Severity

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, is the gold standard in diagnosing mental health disorders. The DSM-5 recognizes sedative, hypnotic and anxiolytic abuse as its own category in substance abuse. Because Klonopin is a sedative, Klonopin addiction is a recognized diagnosis.

Various criteria are used in the DSM-5 for assessing the severity of a sedative addiction. These include but are not limited to:

  • Recurrent substance use despite dangers
  • Negative impact of substance use on work, school or home
  • Continued substance use despite social or interpersonal problems
  • Cravings or urges to use the substance
  • Increasing amounts of the sedative are used, or it is used over a longer time than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts at quitting the sedative have been made

In general, the more symptoms a person has the more severe their substance use disorder.

Preventing Addiction

If you have a Klonopin prescription, it’s important to monitor yourself and note any changes you feel. It may be helpful to have a close friend or family member help you pay attention to your symptoms. Never take Klonopin at a higher dosage, use it at a higher frequency or take it longer than prescribed. Keep all appointments with your doctor and the laboratory to make sure the medication is doing its job properly and you’re staying safe.

Klonopin Addiction Intervention

The first step in overcoming a Klonopin addiction is to reach out for help. Withdrawal from Klonopin can be extremely dangerous without a doctor’s guidance. With medical assistance, however, you can safely quit Klonopin and get back to a healthy place.

If you or someone you love struggles with Klonopin addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Contact us today to speak to a representative and learn more about how our individualized treatment programs can address addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.