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.
How Combining Klonopin and Alcohol Affects the Liver
It is not OK to drink alcohol while taking clonazepam. If you have been prescribed this medication, you should avoid drinking alcohol altogether. Combining clonazepam and alcohol can adversely affect the liver as well as the entire body. That’s one major reason why you should never mix them.
Alcohol increases Klonopin’s effects just as Klonopin increases alcohol’s effects. Taking the sedative and alcohol together can cause extreme drowsiness and a loss of consciousness. When people use Klonopin and alcohol together, the liver will slow down, reducing its effectiveness at clearing both substances and toxins from the body. Impaired liver function will cause the sedative to build up in the body, becoming dangerous to one’s health.
Drinking alcohol excessively can lead to liver damage on its own. It causes fat to build up in the liver, which leads to scarring and inflammation. Cirrhosis of the liver, fatty liver disease, and liver cancer are some conditions that develop when the liver is not healthy. This buildup can lead to Klonopin overdose.
A drinker with a compromised liver will not be able to depend on the organ to clear Klonopin effectively. It will take longer for Klonopin to exit the body through the urine when the liver isn’t healthy. When it comes to alcohol, the liver needs at least an hour to process one standard drink. If you take 2 drinks and Klonopin is in your system, the liver will need an hour to clear just one drink and an additional hour to clear the second drink, all with Klonopin in its system. It won’t get to the Klonopin until after it has cleared the alcohol, which means buildup of the benzo in the system is likely.
Another danger of using Klonopin and alcohol together is that users who do this may lose track of how much Klonopin they’ve used. This, too, can lead to overdose.
What some users may not know is that clonazepam’s half-life is long, perhaps longer than other benzodiazepines. This is the period it takes for half of a medication’s dose to reduce before exiting the body. Klonopin’s half-life can be between 30 and 40 hours, according to Drugs.com. This means a person could need a couple of days or longer before half of the drug is out of the body.
Even a person who does not mean to combine the two substances is at risk of doing so if they drink alcohol while clonazepam is still in their system. If you think you want to do moderate drinking while taking Klonopin, you are strongly advised to speak with your doctor first before doing so.
What Happens During an Overdose on Klonopin and Alcohol?
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:
- Losing consciousness
- Inability to wake up
- 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.
You may also be put on a tapering schedule if you are a longtime Klonopin user. The body will need time to adjust to smaller amounts of the benzodiazepine in your system so that it won’t go into shock when it no longer receives a frequent supply of Klonopin. Medical professionals who treat you during medical detox will know how much to scale back over a gradual period. This will ensure you remain safe and that you receive the care and support you need during this challenging and critical time. You could be given a replacement benzodiazepine or another kind of medication to help you during the withdrawal period. The facility where you undergo detox will know how best to address your situation.
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.