Clonazepam (brand name Klonopin) is a prescription medication indicated to treat seizures, anxiety, and panic disorder. Clonazepam is currently classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule IV controlled substance in the U.S. This designation indicates that it has legitimate medical purposes but also some potential for abuse and dependence. Moreover, the use of clonazepam without a prescription is considered to be unlawful.
Clonazepam belongs to a class of prescription anti-anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines (benzos). Benzos work in the brain and body by increasing levels of a neurochemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that decreases activity in the CNS and incites feelings of relaxation and calm. Benzos are depressants, meaning that their primary purpose is to reduce activity in the brain and body.
The risk of severe complications, including overdose, is highest among persons over 65. That is, older individuals are more sensitive to clonazepam’s effects and should be prescribed smaller doses to prevent unwanted effects.
Clonazepam is difficult to overdose on when used independently and a lethal overdose will typically only occur only due to an interaction with other intoxicating substances in the system. According to recent statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), in 2016, more than 10,500 people died from overdoses involving the use of benzos. Also, the CDC estimates that more than 30% of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzos.
After clonazepam is ingested, the human body will eventually cleanse itself of the substance through a process known as metabolism in which it is broken down using enzymes into byproducts. However, some substances can undermine enzyme activity, making it more difficult for the body to eliminate clonazepam. As such, clonazepam levels can build up and become toxic, particularly when accompanied by depressive substances with a similar mechanism of action.
Substances that inhibit the activity of monooxygenase enzymes include the following:
- Some antifungals
- Prescription opioids, such as oxycodone
- Illicit opioids, such as heroin
- Muscle relaxers
- Serzone (nefazodone), an antidepressant
- Fluvoxamine, a medication that treats obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Tagamet (cimetidine), a heartburn remedy
Common Clonazepam Side Effects
Like other depressant medications, even low doses of clonazepam can induce mild side effects, such as the following:
- Blurry vision
- Sleep disturbances
These side effects are usually relatively mild and brief and subside within a few hours or days following clonazepam use. The onset of side effects during a prescribed therapeutic regimen does not indicate an overdose. However, if these side effects are intense and impair daily life, a health provider should be notified. He or she will likely opt to decrease the dosage or switch medications altogether.
Signs of Clonazepam Overdose
Symptoms of a clonazepam overdose can range from mild to severe in intensity and, in some cases, be life-threatening. The vast majority of lethal clonazepam overdoses occur when the medication is used in conjunction with other depressants, such as sedatives, opioids, or alcohol.
If you have been prescribed clonazepam, your health provider should be aware of other medications or substances you are using, including over-the-counter medicines, nutritional supplements, or alcohol. If the physician suspects an interaction may occur, an alternative to clonazepam may be prescribed to prevent complications.
The severity of clonazepam overdose symptoms depends on various factors, including the following:
- The amount/dose of the medication was used
- Individual body chemistry
- Sensitivity to depressants
- Other substances present in a person’s system
Mild clonazepam overdose symptoms can include the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Slowed reflexes
- Accelerated heart rate
- Impaired balance/coordination
- Blurry vision
- Uncontrolled muscle movements
- Problems breathing
Severe clonazepam overdose symptoms can include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Profound drowsiness
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Chest pain
- Severe respiratory depression
If you believe that you or a loved one is overdosing on clonazepam or another substance(s), call 911 or immediately visit the nearest emergency department.
A Word on Clonazepam and Suicide
If you or a loved one has been using clonazepam and appear to be at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or aggressive behavior, please call 911 or other local emergency hotline. If it is another person overdosing, remain calm and compassionate until medical help arrives. Clear the area of any other intoxicating substances, weapons, or any objects that could be used for self-harm.
Treatment for Clonazepam Addiction
Clonazepam has a high potential for abuse, tolerance, physical dependence, and, ultimately, full-blown addiction. Addiction to clonazepam can be effectively treated using a comprehensive approach involving several therapeutic techniques, including behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, and peer group support. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer customized rehab programs that feature these services, experiential activities, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and much more.