In rare cases, a person may experience what is called PWS, which is associated with withdrawal symptoms that can last months or even years. A person should only stop using benzodiazepines with the help of a doctor to avoid the worst withdrawal symptoms.
What Is Klonopin Withdrawal?
Klonopin withdrawal occurs as a result of developing physical dependence on the drug and then quickly stopping or significantly reducing the amount you are taking. While it’s more likely and often more serious if a person regularly misuses Klonopin or similar benzodiazepines, it can also occur after normal, prescribed use.
Klonopin withdrawal can be uncomfortable and long-lasting. It is one reason that you should always talk to a doctor when considering how best to stop taking it.
Key Facts About Klonopin Withdrawal
Some key facts about Klonopin and Klonopin withdrawal include the following:
- Klonopin is a brand name for the drug clonazepam, with a generic and essentially identical option also available.
- Klonopin is a benzodiazepine, and these drugs are usually only recommended for short-term use, as long-term use is associated with dependence and withdrawal.
- Clonazepam is heavily associated with drug-abuse-related emergency department visits, second only to alprazolam.
What Causes Klonopin Withdrawal?
Benzodiazepines, including Klonopin, work by enhancing the effects of GABA-A. This is an important neurotransmitter in the brain, and benzodiazepines enhance it in such a way as to cause a hypnotic sedative effect. These drugs have legitimate medical uses, but some people may also misuse them to achieve a sedated high, often mixing them with other drugs when they use them for this purpose.
Like many drugs that act on the brain, benzodiazepines can cause the brain to adjust to the changes they cause. The brain essentially begins to treat the state it’s in while under the effects of benzodiazepines as its “normal” and its sober state as “abnormal.” This is physical dependence.
As the drugs wear off, the compensations the brain made for these adjustments can cause temporary, unwanted symptoms. This is withdrawal. While somewhat of an oversimplification, the brain must “relearn” that sobriety is its intended, normal state.
Quitting benzodiazepines, including Klonopin, is not generally considered life-threatening and won’t usually cause permanent harm. However, it can still be uncomfortable enough to make quitting difficult without the help of a doctor.
If you quit Klonopin after becoming physically dependent, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Appetite loss
- Muscle aches
- Trouble sleeping and resting
In rare cases, suddenly quitting benzodiazepines has been associated with temporary psychosis and delirium, where a person may have a mental break from reality, hallucinating and acting irrationally. This phenomenon isn’t fully understood but seems to be fairly rare. This situation should be treated as a medical emergency, less so because it is directly life-threatening and more so because a person might endanger themselves or others while in this state as a result of their confusion and irrational emotional state.
Acute vs. Protracted Withdrawal
Acute withdrawal is what most people imagine when they think of withdrawal. It is generally followed by a longer, less intense period of withdrawal where a person may feel generally unwell and experience some of the withdrawal symptoms mentioned above, but less strongly. This is relatively normal, although you should always talk to a doctor before stopping benzodiazepine use suddenly.
Protracted withdrawal is different, with the phenomenon closely associated with benzodiazepines through what is called protracted withdrawal syndrome (PWS). About 1 in 10 people, or possibly more, who take benzodiazepines on a long-term basis experience protracted withdrawal lasting much longer than is normally associated with quitting benzodiazepines.
PWS seems to be more common in those who suddenly quit use all at once rather than stopping use through a slower tapering process. It is also more common in those who engaged in polydrug use, misusing benzodiazepines with other drugs.
The symptoms of PWS are similar to those of acute benzodiazepine withdrawal, including these:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Motor symptoms, such as muscle weakness, aching cramps, muscle spasms or tremors, and shaking bouts
- Poor memory and cognition
- Sensory symptoms including numbness, tingling sensations, burning aches in the limbs, a feeling of inner trembling, and odd skin feelings
Most of these symptoms will get better over time, but some can last a year or more, with some people experiencing at least some PWS symptoms multiple years after quitting use.
How Long Does Klonopin Withdrawal Last?
Acute Klonopin withdrawal typically lasts from between a few weeks to a few months. Discussed more in the next section, withdrawal will often last longer if you abruptly stop taking your medication and/or if you have a history of heavy Klonopin use or have been using it for a long time.
Some cases of PWS have been known to last five or more years, but this isn’t typical. It’s also important to note that a doctor can help you manage some of these symptoms and that many will fade or go away even as you technically are still experiencing PWS. The key is medical supervision during this process to promote your overall well-being and minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Factors That Affect Withdrawal
Some important factors that can affect the intensity and length of withdrawal include the following:
- Length of time you were taking Klonopin
- The amount of Klonopin you regularly took
- Whether you engaged in polydrug use or used Klonopin alone
- Whether you suddenly stopped taking Klonopin or slowly tapered your dosing
With the above in mind, typical prescribed Klonopin use won’t usually cause severe withdrawal. The worst withdrawal experiences are associated with people who have regularly misused Klonopin, potentially with other drugs, for a long time. Even in those cases, it’s generally still possible to quit using it and avoid the most severe withdrawal symptoms by first talking to a doctor and working to taper your doses.
How to Detox From Klonopin
Doctors usually recommend detoxing from Klonopin and other drugs by beginning on a long-acting benzodiazepine prescription at a normal dose. This dose can then be slowly tapered, with a doctor periodically reducing the amount of benzodiazepine you take until you eventually don’t need to take any. This can often allow you to avoid most or all withdrawal symptoms if done correctly.
If you have a serious problem with misusing benzodiazepines, such as if you are addicted, you also need counseling and/or therapy to help you understand why you misuse drugs and acquire the skills to better avoid drug misuse. In an addiction treatment program, you’ll participate in individual therapy and group therapy. In these sessions, you’ll identify underlying causes of your drug abuse.
Many people that struggle with drug use use multiple types of counseling and therapy at once to address the problem from multiple angles. In a treatment program, therapy will be tailored to your needs.
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- Management of Benzodiazepine Misuse and Dependence. (October 2015). Australian Prescriber.
- Protracted Withdrawal Syndrome (PWS). Benzodiazepine Information Coalition.