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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.
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:
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.
Taking Klonopin results in the following effects:
Side effects associated with Klonopin use include:
More serious side effects from potential overdose of Klonopin include:
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:
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.