Can Klonopin Use Lead to Depression? What the Research Indicates

Medically Reviewed

Klonopin is one of the brand names for a benzodiazepine medication called clonazepam, which is a short-acting sedative medication approved to treat panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia), along with some types of seizure disorders. Other benzodiazepines may be used to manage anxiety disorders, including anxiety associated with depression; insomnia; or alcohol withdrawal. However, Klonopin is not an ideal medication to treat any of these conditions because it has a rapid onset. Peak plasma concentrations occur in one to four hours, depending on the size of the dose.

Klonopin may also become dangerous because it has a long half-life. The elimination half-life is between 30 and 40 hours. You may accidentally mix Klonopin metabolites with other drugs, like alcohol, which can cause serious side effects.

How Klonopin Works

Panic disorders typically cause panic attacks, which are sudden, severe episodes of panic that may feel like other physical problems, including heart attacks. Panic attacks involve intense symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Fearing future episodes of panic attacks is also part of panic disorder because this fear increases the likelihood of chronic anxiety along with future panic attacks.

Like other benzodiazepines, Klonopin binds to the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, allowing more of the GABA neurotransmitter to remain available to slow down electrical activity. For people with high anxiety and certain types of seizure disorders, benzodiazepines like clonazepam are very important treatments to reduce the risk of attacks.

Benzodiazepines are a good as-needed or short-term treatment for many conditions, and Klonopin is typically prescribed for short-term relief from panic or as needed for panic attacks. Taking any benzodiazepine for more than two weeks increases the risk of physical dependence on the substance, which means your brain needs the presence of these drugs to manage neurotransmitters, and stopping use can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Mental issues such as depression may be a risk of Klonopin withdrawal, but taking Klonopin to treat an anxiety condition or for nonmedical reasons when you have depression can also increase symptoms associated with depression, increase the risk of medication misuse and abuse, and increase the risk of suicidal ideation or attempts.

If depression becomes worse, especially suddenly, while you take Klonopin, it is important to call your doctor or go to the hospital immediately. This is a serious condition that needs additional treatment.

What Are the Signs of Depression, and What Causes It?

Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder in the United States. It is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, loneliness, or emptiness. Depression impacts how you see the world, yourself, and your relationships. It can be very damaging to your ability to function, whether you struggle to get out of bed some mornings or have consistent low-level pessimism.

Several depressive disorders are under the umbrella term “depression.”

Major depression

is defined by a depressive episode that lasts about two weeks and makes daily functioning difficult.

Persistent depressive disorder

or dysthymia, involves depression at a lower level that does not impact daily functions but lasts for two years or longer.

Psychotic depression

involves a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia with symptoms — hallucinations or delusions, for example — that have depressive tones, like guilt or negativity.

Seasonal affective disorder

(SAD) is a depressive episode that is associated with the seasons, likely due to changes in sunlight that lead to sleep problems. SAD is most common during the winter, but some people experience SAD in the summer, too.

Hormone-related depressions

are related to hormone levels.  Postpartum or perinatal depression occurs after childbirth, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is associated with menstrual cycle hormonal changes.

Although depression has several different forms, they share symptoms in common that clinicians use to diagnose the condition and its severity.

  • Physical problems like stomach cramps, muscle pain, and exhaustion
  • Memory problems, including an inability to remember events in the past or upcoming events
  • Angry outbursts, irritability, and being easily frustrated
  • Anhedonia, or loss of pleasure in activities
  • Sleep disturbances, including waking up several times in the night, insomnia, inability to go to sleep, night terrors, or sleeping too much
  • Lack of physical, mental, or emotional energy
  • Anxiety
  • Thinking, moving, or speaking more slowly
  • Feeling worthless or guilty; fixating on past mistakes or blaming oneself for problems
  • Feeling low, bad, negative, or pessimistic
  • Feeling sad or grieving without a death or other loss
  • Recurring thoughts or attempts of suicide

Some of these symptoms can become serious enough to make daily activities impossible. Other times, they may exist in the background, changing how the person reacts to daily life activities. People who have depression or who are at risk of developing depression can trigger symptoms when they take drugs, including prescription drugs. It is important to disclose any mental health conditions to your doctor when you receive a prescription from them.

A mood disorder will need to be monitored, and your doctor may even change their approach to treatment if they know you have a mood disorder like depression. Taking drugs for nonmedical reasons, like getting high, increases the risk of developing depression, both as a short-term, comedown effect as Klonopin wears off, or as a long-term effect from brain structure changes caused by abusing a lot of a potent substance.

Risk Factors Contributing to Both Klonopin Abuse and Depression

Several Potential Factors Increase The Risk Of Someone Developing Depression And Abusing Klonopin Or Taking Klonopin And Triggering Depression. They Include:

  • Genetics
  • Family history of both mental illness and substance abuse
  • Environment, both as a child and as an adult

Drugs and mental health tie very closely together, so it is important to understand some ways that Klonopin consumption and depression can overlap.

Depression increases the risk of abusing substances like Klonopin.

Research suggests that about 20 percent of Americans who have depression or anxiety also struggle with a substance use disorder, and similarly, about 20 percent of people who have a substance use disorder also struggle with mood disorders like depression or anxiety. People who struggle with depression are at greater risk of abusing prescription medications, especially those that are more addictive, such as benzodiazepines like Klonopin.

Abusing drugs releases serotonin and dopamine into the brain, elevating mood, relieving some pain, and improving physical energy. Though Klonopin is a sedative, use temporarily releases neurotransmitters to make you happier. This can lead to compulsive consumption of the drug.

Insomnia and anxiety treatments for depression include Klonopin.

It is important for a clinician to closely monitor someone with depression who is taking Klonopin or another benzodiazepine to treat insomnia. There is not much medical research on the long-term effects of this approach to managing conditions related to depression. Since clonazepam is an addictive sedative, taking this drug consistently may not be in the best interest of someone with depression.

Some doctors believe that taking Klonopin or other benzodiazepines to manage low-grade depression that is complicated by anxiety, insomnia, or bereavement can be helpful in the short term. Adjusting neurotransmitters can improve sleep, manage panic, and, in turn, relieve these symptoms of depression temporarily.

Klonopin abuse leads to depression.

One of the short-term side effects of low-to-moderate doses of any benzodiazepine, including Klonopin, is depression. Symptoms may begin as the drug is metabolized out of your body, or they may appear at the drug’s peak effects on your brain since it is a sedative. If you take this medication for more than a couple of weeks or abuse it for nonmedical reasons, the drug can build up in your body. Side effects from the slower release of these drugs from body tissues can lead to depression-like symptoms, especially during detox or withdrawal.

Ending Substance Abuse Eases Depression Symptoms

People who have depression benefit greatly from ending their dependence on or abuse of substances like Klonopin. When a drug is not managing or abusing brain chemistry, people are better able to understand the underlying condition and find healthier ways to manage it. If someone takes Klonopin outside of prescription guidance, they are likely to struggle with depression and other problems as side effects.

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