The Basics of Klonopin & Alcohol
Klonopin is a brand name for the drug clonazepam, a benzodiazepine used in the short-term treatment of anxiety, panic disorders, and some causes of seizures. It is also sometimes used to treat sleep problems or alcohol withdrawal, which is relevant because it means some people already struggling with alcohol may also be prescribed Klonopin for issues directly related to trying to quit alcohol.
Like all benzodiazepines, Klonopin is a depressant, meaning it depresses the nervous system and can slow breathing and heart rate.
Alcohol is a drug, although it often isn’t thought of as one. It has significant abuse and addiction potential even when compared to more heavily controlled or outright banned substances. It is a psychoactive substance and a depressant.
The Dangers of Mixing Klonopin & Alcohol
Polydrug use, where one mixes multiple drugs, should almost always be avoided with any prescription or otherwise strong medication unless first told it is safe or necessary to mix those drugs by a medical professional. Alcohol especially can be dangerous to mix with many different medications, including benzodiazepines like Klonopin.
The major concern of mixing Klonopin and alcohol is that both drugs are depressants. Taking multiple depressants, or too much of one depressant, can cause breathing to weaken to such a point that it becomes life-threatening.
Mixing drugs with Klonopin may also negate the effects of the medication, so the symptoms that prompted you to take Klonopin are no longer managed. The way drugs impact things like anxiety or panic relief is difficult to predict if not used correctly. This unpredictability can be especially important to consider if you’re taking Klonopin for something like a seizure disorder.
Some important dangers to consider include the following:
- Both alcohol and Klonopin can cause dependence.
- Polydrug use can affect the efficacy of medications meant to be treating health issues you have.
- Both drugs are associated with a variety of other potential harms, including liver damage and increasing the risk of certain mental health problems, notably suicidal thoughts.
- Depressant effects stack and can result in an overdose (described more below).
Is There an Overdose Risk?
There is a serious overdose risk when mixing Klonopin and alcohol. As many medical experts have discussed, including those in the FDA, mixing depressants can be fatal.
Because these weaken breathing, it is actually possible for your breathing to become so weak that you literally cannot draw in enough oxygen to support your brain. This can cause a person to lose consciousness and potentially develop permanent brain damage as they essentially suffocate.
If the overdose is not quickly addressed, this has the potential to eventually result in death.
Who Is Most Likely to Mix Klonopin & Alcohol?
The evidence suggests adults ages 18 to 25 have the highest rate of benzodiazepine misuse, although misuse is possible among any group of adults.
Benzodiazepine misuse doesn’t necessarily just mean intentional drug abuse. It also includes people taking more than prescribed in an attempt to achieve a stronger effect. Benzodiazepine misuse accounts for nearly 20 percent of use overall according to one cross-sectional analysis of American adults. This misuse is strongly associated with those who engage in abuse of prescription opioids or stimulants.
Meanwhile, alcohol abuse is very common, with a 2019 survey showing that 25.8 percent of people ages 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month, with men engaging in alcohol abuse more frequently than women. That same survey showed that even those under 18 years old have a significant rate of alcohol misuse, with an estimated 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 having alcohol use disorder (AUD). It’s also estimated that 14.5 million people total (ages 12 and older) have AUD.
Together, this would signal the people most likely to misuse alcohol and Klonopin together are likely young adults, especially those with a history of drug abuse. With that said, more studies on specifically who is mixing Klonopin and alcohol would be needed to confirm this, and an individual of any age or background could potentially misuse the drugs together regardless.
Why Does This Mixing Often Start?
Anecdotally, it seems many people start mixing Klonopin and alcohol after being prescribed Klonopin to help with alcohol withdrawal. This doesn’t mean Klonopin can’t help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms or potentially be an important part of addiction recovery, but it does mean doctors and patients need to practice caution when considering the benefits and drawbacks of using benzodiazepines like Klonopin in the recovery process.
Benzodiazepines can also cause dependence, meaning a person may experience withdrawal if they suddenly stop taking them, which is why you should always talk to a doctor if you want to stop taking benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, this could put someone who relapses in a difficult position, as they now feel driven to both take Klonopin and drink alcohol, two depressants.
- Alcohol. (May 2021). World Health Organization.
- Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (March 2022). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States. (December 2018). Psychiatric Services.
- Clonazepam (Klonopin). (September 2021). National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA Warns About Serious Risks and Death When Combining Opioid Pain or Cough Medicines With Benzodiazepines; Requires Its Strongest Warning. (September 2017). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- More Social Research Into Polydrug Use. (December 2018). Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.