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Are Klonopin and Alcohol a Safe Mixing Combination?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in the United States, affecting more than 40 million adults per year. To combat this, doctors use psychoactive medications like Klonopin to treat anxiety disorders and a variety of other ailments. Millions of people use drugs like Klonopin every year, but what happens when it’s combined with another commonly used psychoactive substance: alcohol?

Alcohol is the most frequently used recreational psychoactive substance in the U.S. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 86 percent of Americans have drunk alcohol at some point in their lifetime.

The chances that alcohol and drugs like Klonopin overlap are pretty high. If you have an anxiety disorder or insomnia, your doctor may have you on Klonopin for several weeks before tapering off. It may become part of your daily routine. But what if you go to a party and have a few drinks? It might happen without you realizing. On the other hand, some people take the two substances intentionally to achieve a euphoric high.

Mixing Klonopin and alcohol can be potentially dangerous and even deadly. People who drink while taking the medication may feel like they’re experiencing the effects of the alcohol more intensely. It can even lead to an overdose quickly with less alcohol than you might expect.

Learn more about mixing Klonopin and alcohol and what makes the combination so dangerous.

How Klonopin Works in the Brain

Klonopin is a brand name for clonazepam, which is in a category of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines arrived in the U.S. drug market in the 1960s and became wildly popular by the 1970s. The drugs are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizure-causing disorders. In the 1960s, advertisers aggressively campaigned benzodiazepines and similar medications to women, especially mothers and homemakers. These controversial ads encouraged otherwise healthy women to use medication to deal with everyday stress. However, benzodiazepines became the most commonly used prescription in the world by the late 1970s. Klonopin was patented in 1960 but wasn’t sold until 1975.

Klonopin also is in a larger category of drugs called central nervous system depressants, which it shares with alcohol. As a depressant, it is what is called GABAergic, which means that it interacts with a chemical in your brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This neurotransmitter is responsible for binding to and activating GABA receptors that regulate excitability in the nervous system. In other words, they help calm you down when it’s time to rest, and they help to maintain balanced brain chemistry. Klonopin is used to treat people who may have a problem or disorder that overexcites their nervous system such as anxiety, epilepsy, and insomnia.

Klonopin binds to GABA receptors and increases the effectiveness of GABA in suppressing excitability. The result is sedation, relaxation, anti-anxiety, and muscle relaxation. Klonopin can also cause some adverse effects like motor function impairment, drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, irritability, and aggression. Heavy doses can cause intoxication that’s similar to the effects of alcohol like slurred speech, loss of inhibitions, and poor motor skills. Long-term use can lead to tolerance, chemical dependence, and addiction.

How Klonopin and Alcohol Interact

Klonopin works to suppress the nervous system in a way that’s similar to alcohol, but what happens if you take both at the same time? Some people may have a few drinks with their friends, not thinking about the Klonopin that’s in their systems. Others may take Klonopin with alcohol intentionally to achieve a recreational high. The two psychoactive substances combine in your system to potentiate one another. Potentiation, in pharmacology, is when one substance intensifies the effects of another. In other words, alcohol can make the effects of Klonopin more pronounced and vice versa.

Together, Klonopin and alcohol can cause an overdose with much smaller doses of the individual drugs than it would take for just one to cause dangerous symptoms. An overdose on alcohol and Klonopin will suppress the nervous system to a dangerous degree. At first, things like your motor functions will weaken, your heart rate will slow, and you will feel sedated.

However, an overdose can start to suppress vital nervous system functions like your breathing. Overdosing on a central nervous system depressant can cause a symptom called respiratory depression, which is when your breathing slows down dramatically or stops. Respiratory depression can lead to oxygen deprivation, brain damage, coma, and death. 

The signs of an alcohol overdose include:

  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness
  • Inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Fewer than eight breaths per minute
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Slow reflexes
  • Low body temperature

An overdose would represent a medical emergency, and if you see the signs of one in yourself or someone else, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Treating Polydrug Use and Addiction

Abusing more than one substance or using multiple drugs simultaneously is called polydrug use or polydrug abuse. Drinking alcohol with prescription drugs like Klonopin is one of the most common methods of polydrug use. Using multiple drugs at the same time increases your risk of developing some of the more serious consequences of drug use like overdose and addiction. When it comes to Klonopin and alcohol, the two drugs share some of the same effects and treatment options because they work on the brain in similar ways.

If you have become chemically dependent on alcohol, Klonopin, or both, you may need to go through detoxification in a medical setting. Depressants can cause potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms including seizures and delirium tremens, or DTs.

In a medical detox center or a hospital detox setting, your risk of experiencing deadly symptoms is dramatically decreased. Medical detox programs are the highest level of care in addiction treatment and involve 24-hour care for about a week. In detox, medical professionals will provide care and medication as needed to avoid dangerous symptoms and alleviate discomfort.

After treating chemical dependence, you can continue on to the full continuum of care in addiction treatment. Through inpatient, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment, you will go through a variety of therapies that are tailored to your individual needs. These can include individual, group, and family therapy.

You may also go through behavioral therapies that are designed to help you make behavioral changes. Cognitive behavioral therapy is among the most commonly recommended treatment options and can be instrumental in creating relapse prevention strategies.

After you complete treatment, your recovery isn’t over. Maintaining your abstinence is a lifelong commitment. Your addiction treatment center’s aftercare program can connect you to community resources that can help safeguard your recovery for years to come.

Sources

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Lander, C. M., Donnan, G. A., Bladin, P. F., & Vajda, F. J. (1979). Some aspects of the clinical use of clonazepam in refractory epilepsy. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/121707

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018, August). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018, October). Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose. from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AlcoholOverdoseFactsheet/Overdosefact.htm

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 06). Prescription CNS Depressants. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants

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