Leo Sternbach, a chemist working for the Hoffman-La Roche Company back in the 1950s accidentally developed Librium, the first benzodiazepine.
Benzodiazepines were eventually marketed as a treatment option for seizures and anxiety, with much less addiction potential than the barbiturates that were commonly used in the 1950s and 1960s.
They became important for the management of psychological disorders that were primarily fueled by anxiety, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and so forth. Sternbach went on to discover other benzodiazepines, including the benzodiazepine Klonopin (clonazepam) in 1964.
What Is A Klonopin?
Klonopin is a member of the benzodiazepine family, a class of drugs that all have their primary effect of action in increasing the release of the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. When inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA are released, they slow down the actions of other neurotransmitters (they inhibit the firing of other neurons). Different benzodiazepines have different onsets of action, different half-lives, and different effects.
For the most part, benzodiazepines are used in the treatment of the following issues:
- To manage anxiety and anxiety disorders on a short-term basis
- To deal with irritability and restlessness in disorders like depression (in conjunction with antidepressant medications) or as additional treatments for other psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, etc.
- To manage seizures in individuals with seizure disorders such as epilepsy
- As sleep aids
- To assist individuals who are going through severe alcohol withdrawal
- In the treatment of drug abuse or addiction (can be used to treat withdrawal
symptoms for other drugs of addiction or to address symptoms of anxiety,
irritability, and restlessness that are associated with early recovery from many different drugs)
- For surgery patients as a pre-anesthetic
Klonopin’s initial use was to control seizures related to epilepsy and to assist with the anxiety associated with panic attacks in panic disorder. It is a Schedule IV controlled substance, indicating that it has mild to moderate potential for abuse and physical dependence.
Klonopin is a benzodiazepine with a relatively slow onset of action compared to others in the class (it takes longer to begin working than some other drugs in the same class).
It has a long half-life of 10-50 hours; thus, it is more useful in the treatment of anxiety, seizures, irritability, and mood issues, as opposed to being used as a sleep aid. Benzodiazepine sleep aids usually work quickly and do not have long half-lives because once person is asleep, it has performed its function.
Individuals who need to manage anxiety throughout the day, such as individuals who suffer from panic attacks that may come out of nowhere, need longer-acting medications so they do not have to take them as frequently.
The Effects of Using Klonopin
Taking Klonopin results in the following effects:
- Feeling relaxed and mildly sedated (the level of sedation will increase as one increases the dosage)
- A reduction in anxiety
- Euphoria and feelings of well being
- A decrease in reflex actions and coordination (At therapeutic doses, this is typically mild; as an individual abuses the drug, this becomes much more pronounced.)
Side effects associated with Klonopin use include:
- Sedation, muscle weakness, and issues with coordination and balance
- Issues with memory, attention, and slurred speech
- Mild headache, dry mouth, blurred vision, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea
- Dry mouth, mild drooling, stuffy nose, and weight gain
- Paradoxical effects – rare effects of the drug that are contrary to what would typically be expected from taking the drug, such becoming more irritable, agitated, anxious, or depressed
- Tolerance, withdrawal, and physical dependence
More serious side effects from potential overdose of Klonopin include:
- Extreme sedation, unconsciousness, very slow or shallow respiration
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- Being extremely disoriented, confused, and displaying a lack of inhibition by taking unusual risks, acting out of character, harming oneself, and so forth
- Seizures, hallucinations, and/or delusions
Signs of Klonopin Abuse and Addiction
Although benzodiazepines were originally touted to have less abuse and addiction potential than barbiturates, using any benzodiazepine for a significant length of time can result in the development of tolerance (the need for an increased amount of the drug to produce the effects that the drug initially produced) and a withdrawal syndrome if someone stops using the drug or cuts the dose. When both these are present, a person is physically dependent on the drug, but may not be abusing or addicted to it.
The symptoms of abuse and addiction typically require nonmedical use of a drug that results in the person experiencing serious ramifications to health, social life, work, or other important areas of life. An individual who uses Klonopin for seizure control and becomes physically dependent on the drug, but continues to use it under medical supervision and within the parameters of its medicinal use, would not be diagnosed with a substance use disorder (addiction or abuse). On the other hand, many individuals with serious substance use disorders have not developed significant physical dependence issues.
The majority of individuals who use benzodiazepines like Klonopin for strictly medical purposes and under the strict supervision of a physician do not develop a substance use disorder; however, some individuals may begin abusing the drug (using more often, seeking more prescriptions, etc.). Many individuals who abuse benzodiazepines actually begin abusing them by procuring them illegally, either buying them without a prescription or getting them from friends or relatives who have a prescription for the drug. Individuals also take benzodiazepines like Klonopin in conjunction with other drugs like alcohol, marijuana, and painkillers (including narcotic medications), which compounds the effects of all substances.
Typical signs of Klonopin abuse or addiction include:
- Appearing sleepy, drowsy, and lethargic throughout the day
- Slurred speech, slow reaction times, and mild issues with balance and coordination
- Obtaining Klonopin without a prescription, or if the person has a prescription, using more Klonopin than the prescription recommends
- Doctor shopping for additional prescriptions for Klonopin
- Using Klonopin for nonmedical reasons
- Taking Klonopin with other drugs
- Spending significant amounts of time using Klonopin, trying to obtain it, or recovering from its effects
- Spending significant amounts of time alone or with other individuals who are known substance abusers
- Difficulties with recalling recent events
- Continuing to use Klonopin despite obvious negative ramifications from using the drug, such as issues with health, occupation, relationships, school, etc.
- Displaying periodic instances of restlessness, irritability, agitation, or flulike symptoms, such as fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Anyone who suspects a substance use disorder should consult with a licensed healthcare professional. Full recovery from Klonopin abuse is possible with the right help.