Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Clonidine addiction involves uncontrollable use of the substance, being less reliable personally and vocationally, and an increased tolerance to the drug. While not a common drug of abuse, clonidine does have abuse potential.
What Is Clonidine?
Clonidine, known by the brand name Catapres (among other brands), is an α₂-adrenergic agonist medication.
This medication is often used to treat high blood pressure, ADHD, and some cases of drug withdrawal. Clonidine is also used for menopausal flushing, to treat diarrhea and spasticity, and to address certain kinds of pain.
Clonidine can be used either via skin patch or via. It can also be taken by mouth as an oral tablet. Oral dosages for adults are generally a 0.1 milligram (mg) dose two times daily. Most often, this drug is taken in the morning and before bed.
Key Facts About Clonidine Addiction
- In 2016, clonidine earned a reputation as the 79th most prescribed medication in the United States. At the time, there were over 10 million prescriptions issued for clonidine.
- According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 497,000 Americans aged 12 and older — which represents about 0.2% of the country’s population — were current misusers of clonidine or some other type of prescription sedative in 2016.
- Clonidine prescription rates have increased in the past few decades, which has ramped up misuse as well as accidental ingestion of the drug.
- The National Poison Data System asserted that the number of unintentional pediatric exposures to drugs like clonidine had increased by 5.9% annually from 2000 to 2011. Out of these cases, clonidine was the most common culprit. Clonidine also had the highest rate of “moderate to major outcomes” when compared to similar drugs, such as tizanidine and guanfacine.
What Is Clonidine Used For?
Generally, clonidine is used for the treatment of high blood pressure (also called hypertension) in conjunction with other medications.
However, most recently, clonidine has been utilized in the treatment of other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Tourette syndrome.
Clonidine has been shown to decrease the effects of anxiety attacks as well as psychiatric symptoms. Currently, clonidine is being prescribed for panic disorder and additional applicable mental health conditions.
How Does Clonidine Get Abused?
Clonidine is most often abused recreationally in tandem with other drugs, including these:
- Prescription painkillers
Given that clonidine is often used as a sedative, this leads to an increased potential for abuse. Those who abuse stimulants may try to counteract those effects with clonidine, which can lead to addiction to multiple drugs.
Overdose rates often increase when individuals are using multiple substances at the same time (also called crossfading).
How Common Is Clonidine Abuse?
Addiction to clonidine is less common than addiction to other prescription drugs, such as Adderall and opioids. Addiction to clonidine is essentially an effect that occurs as a result of long-term use.
If you or someone you know exhibits signs of addiction or abuse, it’s important to consult with a doctor before curbing use. A doctor may want to gradually reduce the dosage over time before abstaining from the drug completely. Blood pressure can be affected if stopping the drug cold turkey, which can cause serious health problems.
If you need clonidine to regulate your blood pressure but have been misusing it, talk to your doctor about alternative medications and treatment approaches.
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
Signs of clonidine addiction include engaging in drug-seeking behavior, changing or altering prescriptions, or using other drugs in conjunction with clonidine.
Other symptoms of addiction include the following:
- Problems meeting social and work responsibilities
- Increased tolerance to clonidine and other drugs
Prolonged use of clonidine can lead to physical dependence. Clonidine withdrawal symptoms include tremors, headaches, agitated mood swings, and paranoid/nervous behavior.
Can You Overdose on Clonidine?
It is possible to overdose on clonidine, which is why it’s important to always follow a doctor’s advice and prescription instructions.
Acute toxicity can occur as quickly as 30 minutes after ingestion. Overdose can occur up to 3 hours after ingestion.
What Are the Dangers of Withdrawing From Clonidine?
There are a variety of dangers that come with withdrawal from clonidine. Particularly, withdrawal symptoms often include increased blood pressure, which can seriously compromise a person’s health profile — even permanently.
In some adverse cases, withdrawal symptoms of individuals dependent on clonidine have been so severe that the situation leads to coma or death.
More minor side effects of withdrawal include increased irritability, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues.
If you or someone you know is experiencing withdrawal symptoms from clonidine, it’s important to seek medical counsel as soon as possible to avoid irreparable health complications.
What Are the Symptoms of a Clonidine Overdose?
When a person is overdosing on clonidine, it will generally be noticeable even to a casual observer. Symptoms of clonidine overdose include the following:
- Respiratory depression
- Heart failure
- Hypotension and hypothermia
During an overdose, it is crucial to call 911 and seek professional medical attention immediately. If you are alone and believe you are experiencing an overdose, pick up the phone and call 911 immediately to seek assistance.
Treatment Options for Addiction
Milder cases of clonidine addiction can be dealt with via self-help methods, 12-step groups, as well as individual or group therapy.
For cases of severe dependence and addiction, and especially if other drugs are being used in conjunction with clonidine, a more structured approach may work best. Rehabilitation centers are available in your area and can provide resources for those seeking treatment.
Treatment will address underlying issues that contributed to initial substance misuse. Clients learn coping skills, so they are better able to manage triggers for drug abuse, and they begin to build a balanced life in recovery.
Since clonidine is most commonly abused with other substances with significant addiction potential, such as heroin and prescription painkillers, it’s important to find a treatment program that can address poly-drug abuse.
Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (September 2017). National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Clonidine Toxicity. (June 2022). StatPearls.
Clonidine Overdose as an Unusual Cause of Heart Failure. (June 2022). Sage Journals.
Hypertensive Crisis in a Pediatric Patient Experiencing Clonidine Withdrawal. (March 2022). Case Reports in Pediatrics.
Case Report: Concurrent Clonidine Abuse and Opioid Use Disorder. (February 2021). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
Clonidine Use and Abuse Among Methadone Program Applicants and Patients. (November–December 1998). Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
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