When it comes to treating anxiety, two of the drugs most frequently mentioned are Xanax and Klonopin. Both fall under the category of benzodiazepines, compounds that act on the body’s central nervous system to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, and more.
While these benzodiazepines are undoubtedly helpful to many people suffering from anxiety disorders, they are usually only prescribed as short-term solutions due to their addictive qualities and the potential for tolerance, dependence, and eventually addiction, which can have life-threatening consequences.
In 2015, benzodiazepines were involved in about 9,000 overdose deaths, which has increased by more than four-fold from 2002 to 2015.
Because they are very chemically similar and used to treat many of the same things, some might think that Xanax and Klonopin are essentially interchangeable, but each medication comes with its own unique set of risks.
Understanding how Xanax and Klonopin work, as well as the dangers and long-term effects of both substances, can help prevent overdose deaths, and maybe even be able to stop an addiction before it starts.
The Breakdown On Benzodiazepines
While both are among the most common benzos used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, Xanax and Klonopin have distinct other medical uses as well. Xanax has also been found to be effective against:
- Anxiety specifically co-occurring with depression
- Agoraphobia-based panic disorders
- Nausea due to chemotherapy when used in combination with other medications
Klonopin has an even wider range of medicinal uses outside of anxiety, including:
- Restless legs syndrome
- Bipolar disorder
- Certain sleep disorders
As benzodiazepines, both Xanax and Klonopin work by binding to a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA’s job is to reduce neuron activity and inhibit nerve impulses related to controlling fear and anxiety and keeping the body calm.
Xanax and Klonopin, despite being different classes of benzos, both bind themselves to a wide variety of GABA receptors, increasing the levels of GABA in the brain, which is what gives them their sedating, anti-anxiety effects.
The major difference in how they work is how long each drug stays in the body, or their half-lives. Xanax is absorbed much faster than Klonopin, which means its effects are felt quicker, as it hits its peak concentration between about one to two hours after someone takes it. However, these effects will typically only last about four to six hours.
Klonopin, in contrast, can take anywhere from one to four hours to absorb into the body and reach its peak concentration. However, its effects last significantly longer than Xanax at up to 12 hours per dose.
Xanax and Klonopin share many of the same common side effects, including:
- Poor coordination
- Lack of appetite
However, unlike Klonopin, Xanax has a much longer and more varied list of possible side effects that are considered fairly common, such as:
- Stomach pain
- Urination issues
- Dissociation, or detachment from the mind or body
- Muscle spasms
- Sore throat
- Tightness in chest
- Liver problems resulting in yellowed skin or eyes
- Mood swings
- Joint pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- “Pins and needles” tingling
Which Is Safer: Klonopin Or Xanax?
The answer is not a simple one, as both drugs carry a high risk of both physical and psychological dependence. They are also only meant to be prescribed for short-term use, as many people can become addicted in as little as two weeks of regular use.
Klonopin, in particular, has been found to be less effective over time, leading people to take more to achieve the same effects as they abuse it and become addicted. Xanax, on the other hand, is frequently mixed with other substances, such as alcohol, which can lead to serious respiratory problems, coma, and even death.
When abused long-term, both drugs can permanently damage a person’s memory as well as other areas of the brain, but chronic abuse of Xanax can lead to even more serious problems, such as extended psychotic experiences and bouts of delirium.
Detoxing from benzodiazepines is also a notoriously difficult and potentially life-threatening process that should never be attempted without the assistance of a professional medical detox facility.
Trying to stop using Klonopin or Xanax all at once will not only make the whole withdrawal process more painful than it needs to be, but it can also throw your body, suddenly deprived of the levels of GABA it has become used to, into shock. This shock can cause intense emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms that can become protracted and last for months.
Trying to stop abusing Xanax “cold-turkey” is especially dangerous, as it can cause hallucinations, psychosis, and Grand mal seizures severe enough to kill someone. In one documented case, a woman who had been abusing large doses of Xanax for just one week stopped using entirely and consequently died four days later as a result of seizures brought on by withdrawal.
Even without taking possible fatality into account, withdrawal from both Klonopin and Xanax comes with a high rate of relapse due to what’s known as the “rebound effect.” The rebound effect is when the symptoms of anxiety (that either the Xanax or Klonopin was meant to be treating) return, only now much stronger and more difficult to manage, which can drive someone back to using just to ease the symptoms.
When detoxing from either Xanax or Klonopin, it is best to do so with qualified medical assistance that can provide constant monitoring and a gradual tapering process of the dosage until it is safe to stop using.