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These days, anxiety disorders are incredibly common in the United States. In fact, the National Institute on Mental Health reports that 18.1 percent of American adults suffer from some form of anxiety. Treatment for these issues takes many forms, from talk therapy to medication and everything in between.
If an individual does seek out medication for their anxiety, it’s likely they’ll be prescribed either Klonopin and Xanax. On the surface, both these benzodiazepines seem quite similar. However, there are some critical differences between the two that anyone taking them needs to know.
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Klonopin is the brand name for an anxiolytic (which reduces anxiety) and anticonvulsant (which prevents seizures) known as clonazepam. The drug is a benzodiazepine that binds to GABA receptors in the brain, making the neurons less active and excitable. People who take Klonopin typically feel the drug’s full effects within 3-4 weeks. However, the drug can be quite addictive and should only be used under a physician’s care.
A cousin to Klonopin, the benzodiazepine Xanax hit the US in 1981. While the drug was not immediately popular (losing out to the pharmaceutical heavyweight Valium), Xanax eventually caught on among physicians as a new way to treat anxiety attacks. Today, the drug still reigns supreme. According to Forbes writer Matthew Herper, doctors write close to 50 million Xanax prescriptions each year – more than one per second.
Because Klonopin is both an anxiolytic and an anticonvulsant, doctors often use it to treat seizures and anxiety disorders. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Klonopin to treat panic disorders and seizures in adults as well as seizures in children up to 10 years old (or 66 pounds). These individuals are not the only people using Klonopin; according to the DEA, 62,811 individuals visited emergency services due to illicit clonazepam use in 2010.
Xanax is the brand name for the drug Alprazolam. Like Klonopin, it is a GABA-inhibitory benzodiazepine. Physicians often prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and insomnia, but unlike Klonopin, the drug is not used to treat seizures. Because Xanax is relatively fast-acting – individuals can feel the effects within two hours – some people use the drug recreationally to feel a heightened sense of relaxation or sedation.
Like other benzodiazepines, Klonopin binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. This is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter for the central nervous system. When the drug binds to and enhances these receptors, it calms the neurons in the nervous system. In legitimate medical cases, the drug will make an individual less likely to experience a panic attack or seizure; with illicit use, the drug is a powerful sedative with a tranquilizing effect.
Xanax, like Klonopin, is a benzodiazepine. The two drugs react in much the same way: The drug binds to GABA receptors in the brain and calms the neurons in the central nervous system, creating a feeling of relaxation. However, Xanax is not quite as strong as Klonopin, though it remains a very strong drug. Xanax lasts only 12-15 hours in the body, while Klonopin can last up to 24 hours.
There are a variety of side effects that come with Klonopin use. These range from innocuous to severe.
The most common side effects of Klonopin include:
When an individual is using the drug under a doctor’s care, these side effects can be monitored to ensure their safety. If they are using Klonopin illicitly, however, they may suffer these effects with no one to watch out for their wellbeing.
The most common side effects of Xanax include:
There are also more long-term risks that come with using benzodiazepines like Xanax. The drug is very habit-forming, and individuals can develop a high tolerance, sometimes taking up to 30 pills a day to get the desired effect. This can be very dangerous, as overdose becomes a real possibility with each increased dose. Taking a large number of benzodiazepines like Xanax could also impact mental health years later. According to a study from the British Medical Journal, benzodiazepine use was associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Stanford Medical School reports that Klonopin can be habit-forming after 2-4 weeks of use. This can be very distressing for individuals taking the drug for legitimate medical purposes, as it can take up to four weeks before they experience the drug’s full effects. Individuals may develop a tolerance to Klonopin over time and will have to adjust their dosage to continue seeing the desired effects.
This can be even more dangerous for individuals using Klonopin recreationally. These people will not have a medical professional monitoring their use, nor will they necessarily know how to properly adjust their dose. The result can be heartbreaking, as an overdose that can lead to coma or even death. In fact, the American Journal of Public Health reported in 2016 that the mortality rate from benzodiazepines had climbed from 0.58 per 100,000 adults to 3.07 per 100,000 adults between 1996 and 2013.
As mentioned above, Xanax is very habit-forming. Although the drug is considered a Schedule IV controlled substance (meaning it has a low potential for abuse), the evidence from psychiatrists and addiction specialists says otherwise. For example, the Royal College of Psychiatrists assert that four of every 10 people who use benzodiazepines (like Xanax) for more than six weeks will develop an addiction.
It is important to remember that if you have developed an addiction, whether you started taking Xanax for health reason or recreationally, help is available. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that over 60,200 people ages 12 and older sought treatment for benzodiazepine abuse in 2008. With a strong network of support from loved ones, peers, and addiction specialists, overcoming an addiction to Xanax or Klonopin is possible.