The People's Perspective on Medicine

Clonazepam Withdrawal | Safe Sedative or Poison?

Benzodiazepines like alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam and lorazepam remain popular to ease anxiety. If stopped too quickly, benzos can cause withdrawal!
Thoughtful serious anxious mature senior woman feeling worried a

Klonopin (clonazepam) was first marketed by the Hoffman La Roche pharmaceutical company in 1975. Roche had already cleaned up with this benzodiazepine class of medications. Librium (chlordiazepoxide) was launched in 1960 to treat anxiety. Three years later the company marketed Valium (diazepam) to “reduce psychic tension.” It became a wildly successful sedative. Clonazepam is also a “benzo.” Like all such drugs, clonazepam withdrawal can be unpleasant if the drug is stopped suddenly.

Is Clonazepam a Blood Pressure Pill?

Q. I have been taking clonazepam for several years. I would love to get off it.

My doctor says stay on it; it is safe. Another doctor I consulted said get off it; it is poison. My pharmacist said it is bad stuff: “I wouldn’t put it in my mouth.”

I never understood why I was supposed to take it. Maybe it was going to help lower my high blood pressure. Can you tell me how I could get off it?

A. Clonazepam (Klonopin) is approved by the FDA only for treating epileptic seizures and panic attacks. There is a caution about long-term use for panic, though:

“The effectiveness of clonazepam in long-term use, that is, for more than 9 weeks, has not been systematically studied in controlled clinical trials. The physician who elects to use clonazepam for extended periods should periodically reevaluate the long-term usefulness of the drug for the individual patient.”

Clonazepam Withdrawal Symptoms:

When benzodiazepines were first marketed most physicians didn’t worry about drug dependence. That’s because they were relieved to be able to prescribe anti-anxiety drugs that did not lead to overdose deaths the way barbiturates did. The only problem was that regular use of benzos could lead to dependence.

Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal:

  • Anxiety, agitation, restlessness, panic
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty with attention or concentration
  • Sleeping problems
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Muscle cramps, muscle twitches
  • Sweating
  • Tremor
  • Seizures

Stories of Clonazepam Withdrawal:

We are not fans of long lists of side effects. After reading several symptoms, people tend to zone out. Stories, on the other hand, leave a more poignant impression. Here are just a few:

Lizanne says that clonazepam withdrawal was agony:

“I was taken off clonazepam five weeks ago. I have been in absolute agony ever since. The withdrawal was 100 times worse than heroin. Unbearable! I have seen many others online who have been through the agony of clonazepam withdrawal. Now the doctor wants to put me back on it,. He will wean me off more slowly. Nasty stuff.”

Kayla had memory problems while on clonazepam:

“I am 23 and currently in medical school. I was prescribed clonazepam anytime I had anxiety related to school. I have taken it for years. Recently I noticed a decline in my ability to remember material and recall it during tests. It takes me about triple the time it used to take me to learn information and my grades are reflecting this. I had no idea what was causing my decline in memory and comprehending things I would usually have no problem with. I was also extremely irritable, tired, and I would get confused about simple things.

“I was doing a homework assignment today on seizure medications. The side effects of clonazepam were listed in my textbook. I discovered that this drug can OFTEN cause COGNITIVE SLOWING. Everything suddenly made sense.

“I have always trusted my doctor and that is why I did not look into it before starting this medicine. I am tapering myself off of this drug immediately and I wanted to warn anyone of these side effects that I neglected to look into and may have now cost me a whole lot. Anyone’s mind is already going to start a slow decline on its own at about 30-40 years old naturally, and since we are only given one, be extra careful only taking this drug if necessary!”

It took Katharine two years of gradual tapering to avoid clonazepam withdrawal:

“I became ‘addicted’ to clonazepam after two weeks. I was able to gradually wean myself off over a period of two years. There is a right and wrong way to do this. For example, decreasing dosage every other day (as advised by many physicians), is wrong. The patient suffers acute withdrawal every other day. Most helpful to me was the ‘Ashton Manual,’ which can be found online via Google. My doctor, although supportive, had no idea how to deal with withdrawal syndromes. I suffered very few if any symptoms because the withdrawal was done so slowly.”

Carrie gave up trying to stop. Getting off clonazepam was just too challenging:

“I take a small dose of clonazepam at bedtime. I’ve tried to gradually stop taking it, but the withdrawal is awful, so my doctor said to just keep taking it.”

Victoria is making progress, though clonazepam withdrawal is still problematic after a year’s taper:

“I am in my second month without clonazepam. I still experience withdrawal symptoms after a careful one-year reduction guided by my doctor. I notice the symptoms ebb and flow. I don’t have as many symptoms as my first month off.

“I still deal with cognitive impairment and balance issues. Today someone taught me some Yoga positions to help and my balance is improving. Yes, there is light at the end of this tunnel.”

Clonazepam for Hypertension?

If you look at the original question from our reader you will discover that she wasn’t clear about why she was even taking clonazepam. She thought it might have been for high blood pressure.

So far as we know, clonazepam is not appropriate for treating hypertension. Perhaps the physician who prescribed this drug thought that anxiety or panic was leading to higher blood pressure. If that was the case, then cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might be a far more productive approach than clonazepam.

Guidance from the FDA About Clonazepam Withdrawal?

This medication is a benzodiazepine like alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan). As a result, it can cause physical dependence and should never be stopped suddenly. The official prescribing information for clonazepam warns about physical and psychological dependence:

“Withdrawal symptoms, similar in character to those noted with barbiturates and alcohol (eg, convulsions, psychosis, hallucinations, behavioral disorder, tremor, abdominal and muscle cramps) have occurred following abrupt discontinuance of clonazepam.”

Since your doctor doesn’t seem interested in helping you discontinue this drug, you may need to look for one who will. Patients are advised to reduce the dose incrementally, possibly over many months, to minimize the chance of withdrawal symptoms.

The manufacturer recommends:

“Treatment should be discontinued gradually, with a decrease of 0.125 mg bid [twice a day] every 3 days, until the drug is completely withdrawn.”

As you have read from some of our commenters, that advice may not be very helpful. It may take far longer than either the manufacturer or the FDA imagines for some people.

Many visitors to our website mention the Ashton Manual. It offers a “protocol for the treatment of benzodiazepine withdrawal.” This approach will require very careful supervision by a physician. It provides detailed information about clonazepam withdrawal as well as gradual tapers for other benzodiazepines such as alprazolam, chlordiazepoxide, diazepam, lorazepam and oxazepam.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine (March 23, 2017) provides much faster withdrawal recommendations than the Ashton Manual. You can read the full text of the article at this link, though we warn you, it is written in medicalese and is not patient friendly.

Other Ways to Lower Blood Pressure:

There are many medications that are far better than anti-anxiety drugs for lowering blood pressure. You can learn about them along with nondrug approaches in our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment.

You can learn more about clonazepam at this link:

Clonazepam (Klonopin) Side Effects & Complications

Our radio show (1134: Can You Control Your Blood Pressure Without Drugs?) provides fascinating interviews with experts. Find out about the benefits of sauna bathing.

Share your own experience with benzos such as alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, etc. in the comment section below.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    Citations
    • Soyka, S., "Treatment of Benzodiazepine Dependence," New England Journal of Medicine, March 23, 2017, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1611832
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    For several months I have taken 1 mg Lorsilan before bed and finally sleep for 6 hours without frequent waking up during the night. Remedies for sleep (natural and chemical) did not work for me at all. I have tried to do without from time to time with absolutely no withdrawal problems, however, spent the whole night reading with max 2 hours sleep around 3-5 a.m. I wonder what is worse, taking Clorazepam or sleepless nights?

    I was prescribed lorazepam from an esteemed doctor for migraines. I did not know what it was but trusted my doctor and took it as prescribed for several months. When my migraines improved, I stopped taking the medication abruptly. My body went into shock. I had to reinstate the medication and taper slowly over many months. I suffered from horrendous insomnia, anxiety and akathisia for months. It was not merely unpleasant, it was terrifying. The neurologist I was seeing was skeptical that I would have such severe side effects over such a long period of time.

    When I researched lorazepam, I felt very angry that I was not warned about the dangers of this medication, its side effects, and withdrawal. It is not recommended to be taken more than 2- 4 weeks due to its habit forming nature. Lorazepam is also a short-acting medication, which makes the withdrawal more difficult than other benzos.
    There are many websites dedicated to helping support people tapering off of benzodiazepines (benzobuddies.org is a well known one). Reading the countless stories of how people have been seriously and sometimes permanently harmed by these drugs is disturbing, especially when they are prescribed as being safe.

    The problem of overprescribing and withdrawal has prompted the creation of World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day.
    I am grateful to the People’s Pharmacy for highlighting this issue.

    There is a group of people who call themselves “Benzo Buddies” who support one another as they withdraw from benzos. There are docs associated with the group who are trying to educate patients, doctors, and the FDA about the VERY REAL dangers of benzos. A doc from this group might be a very good person to interview for The People’s Pharmacy radio show.

    Lisa Ling recently had an hour-long show on benzo dangers and withdrawal. It is worth watching to protect yourself, your family and your friends.

    Benzos may be the next “opioid crisis.” Thanks for continuing the conversation about this dangerous class of drugs.

    Benzos are always a bit tricky to withdraw from. I had been on them off and on for 17 years. I never suffered any noticeable withdrawal. If I had panic or insomnia they worked quite well. It’s the dose, how often, and proper diagnosis that makes all the difference in the world. My thoughts on opioids and benzos are too much to put down here on this forum. I believe that not enough thought, research, and proper diagnosing are responsible for most of the issues surrounding these important medications. The FDA and the DEA are both barking up the wrong trees. There is so much misinformation out there that I no longer trust the media on their journalistic coverage on these medications.

    It’s not for BP. It’s used for anxiety and panic disorder. I take .5 once a day. It takes the edge off. Without it my life was hell. If I’m on it for the rest of my life, big deal. Ive been on BP meds for a longer period of time. If you stop taking BP meds, you don’t think you are not going to have side effects? Think again.

    I was prescribed lorazepam to control muscle spasms in my leg after major surgery to repair a shattered tibular plateau. It was prescribed for several months and then abruptly discontinued. I was in so much pain and agony while recuperating from the accident and subsequent surgeries, I really have no idea how much of it was due to withdrawal symptoms, to tell you the truth.

    My surgeon did not ever warn me about withdrawal nor did he ask me about symptoms. Neither did my PCP. I have just about lost every bit of confidence in the medical establishment after that experience — and it was very shaky before. I have been the recipient of several serious medical errors over the past 20 years and I no longer trust any doctor or hospital to treat me with any amount of prudent care or professionalism.

    I recently visited my NP for a checkup and mentioned how since I’ve been taking CBD oil 2x day, I no longer have any of the knee pain which had developed over the last year from early arthritis. I also have been taking Escitalopram (Lexapro) 20mg/day and finally weaned myself of that to now 10mg/day.

    Her reply?

    “I hear that all the time from patients…they no longer have arthritic pain–and are able to eventually wean themselves off of highly-addictive narcotics while using CBD oil.” Paraphrasing. But after we discussed it, I am hoping to finally wean myself off of Lexapro for good after taking it for years.

    Are there any natural things that could help with the withdrawal, like theanine or valerian? Also, any natural things to help with withdrawal from opiates?

    I came off by withdrawing for months. I was only on a small dose. Doctors have no idea at all about these drugs. They have no idea on antidepressants either. Believe me, it is brutal. I’m not happy because doctors should take classes on withdrawal. I’m dealing with that right now from AD’s. As for benzos, you might as well figure on a good 2 years to feel somewhat normal. Ashton manual is right on with this. But doctors dismiss her advice. They need to be re-educated in the meds they give to people.

    Two things particularly struck me about this article: One was” I didn’t know why I was taking it,” and the second was “I trusted my doctor.” Seems like more evidence of ASK QUESTIONS!! I would say trust is fine but always do some investigating to make informed decisions.

    It is not very helpful if people/commentators do not mention what dosage they were on. So this may scare people who are on a low dose, please specify, when the likelihood of habit forming may set in.

    I first got off Effexor using biofeedback. When I told my PCP I was off she said that’s the hardest antidepressant to go off
    (My reply was and big Pharma says it’s not addictive).

    Years later there was a lot of stress in my life. After taking Klonopin for 5 years I tried to withdrawal the way the doctor said. That caused withdrawal symptoms. I found the Ashton Manual. It’s a great tool. Combine it with Biofeedback to be able to handle the stress of this life. It can be done.

    I was taking 1 mg of alprazolam twice a day for panic attacks, and I wanted to reduce to 1 a day. I simply stopped taking the second pill and didn’t suffer any noticeable withdrawal. I’d been taking them for at least a couple of years. One month later, and I don’t miss it. This article has inspired me to get off the other pill (I don’t have a problem with panic attacks in the afternoon, which the missing pill covered, so I probably won’t in the morning), but I will do it more gradually as others recommend.

    After 5 years on this drug for anxiety and depression getting off this drugs was pure hell. I could not think, I was in pain and my mind was very foggy. All I could think of was trying to get more of my medication. I went to my psychiatrist demanding more. I was prescribed to come off the drug in stages but I could Not because I was used to a certain amount. I was in my bed balled up for days sweating, dizzy and hurting. This drug worked for me but the longer I took it I needed a larger dose. And my Doctor took me off the drug.

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