What are the Effects of Mixing Klonopin and Alcohol?

Last Edited: August 3, 2020

Bianka Fisk

Clinically Reviewed
Edward Jamison, MS, CAP, ICADC, LADC

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Klonopin

The unseen dangers of mixing two depressant substances.

Alcohol is a popular ethanol based drug that intoxicates someone if consumed faster than the liver can metabolize the substance. Typically found in wine, beer, malt liquor and hard liquor, it is also present in certain medications such as laxatives and cough syrups. Klonopin (clonazepam) is a benzodiazepine medication prescribed to combat anxiety; it’s a sedative that promotes muscle relaxation. Anti-anxiety medications, such as Klonopin, should never be combined with alcohol.

Both alcohol and Klonopin can be used in a responsible manner: alcohol through moderation, and Klonopin by strictly following the prescription instructions. Both substances have a high potential for abuse and addiction on their own, but when mixed together, the potential for dependency and addiction increases. The intoxicating effects of Klonopin and alcohol such as drowsiness and depressed breathing, are heightened. As a result, the chance of overdose, hospitalization and even death is intensified.

Klonopin & Alcohol Used for Date Rape Drug

Alcohol and Klonopin are both known as “date rape drugs”, especially when mixed together. When taken in a large amount, either can impair someone’s ability to assess risk and general judgment, and can cause extreme fatigue and temporary amnesia. Typically, Klonopin takes between one to four hours to enter the bloodstream. but if given in a large enough amount, users will pass out from it, just as they would with Rohypnol. When Klonopin is mixed with alcohol, the effects can happen much quicker. This, coupled with the fact that Klonopin is much more difficult to detect in a drink than Rohypnol, is why it is quickly becoming a favorite date rape drug.

What Happens When Klonopin Is Mixed With Alcohol and Other Drugs?

When taken at prescription dosage, Klonopin can be useful for people with anxiety or to help ease anyone suffering from withdrawal symptoms. However, this can be very addictive, particularly for people who otherwise feel stressed. Both alcohol and Klonopin depress the central nervous system, and because they are taken orally, they are metabolized slowly. When different drugs that affect the central nervous system are combined, heart rate slows down, breathing becomes depressed, and drowsiness increases. Because Alcohol and Klonopin metabolize slowly, the effects of both substances will last longer, especially when mixed together, but your tolerance level will also increase. It has been suggested that, because they metabolize slowly and the need to use more increases over time, this could be one of the reasons why the chance of dangerous side effects continues to be present as people continue to abuse the two substances together.

Enhanced Intoxicating Effects

When taken together, Klonopin and alcohol create a dangerous cocktail as the intoxicating effects of both drugs become much more harsh, no matter how small the dosage. This, in turn, can lead to lack of coordination, culminating on an increased chance of falling, with the potential for serious injury. Over time, prolonged abuse of Klonopin and alcohol will affect mood, memory, and cognition as well as causing depression, memory loss and loss of motor skills. A big issue is the loss of coordination; if people lose consciousness, because of mixing pills and alcohol it is often much more difficult to wake them up, which can result in them being put into a coma.

Depressed Breathing

Another very dangerous side effect is difficult or depressed breathing, which can lead to a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. When this happens,the brain directs oxygen to vital organs in an effort to protect the heart. It starts by removing blood oxygen from the extremities, causing someone to have blue tints in their toes, fingers, and lips. Eventually, the brain will start shutting down vital organs, including the brain itself. If the person is able to receive help immediately and survive the ordeal they often suffer from some form of permanent brain damage. The unfortunate fact is that most of these people do not receive medical help in time, usually because they are alone when they completely stop breathing. If they don’t receive any help, the eventual result is death.

Impaired Physical Coordination

Any time drugs are mixed in the body’s system, serious physical side effects occur. When Klonopin and alcohol are mixed, the side effects become much more severe. Because both Klonopin and alcohol have such high rates of physical impairments when taken alone, and that rate only increases when combined, the risk of accidents increases dramatically. Along with physical impairment, other side effects include decreased liver function, confusion, and sleepiness and drowsiness. It goes without saying that all these side effects contribute to an increased risk of car accidents and death.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration completed a study in 2014 to look at the impact of benzodiazepine medication on society. They found that 32 percent of those admitted to the emergency room as a result of benzodiazepines had very serious and negative outcomes. This included long term health issues and, in some cases, death. They also found that 44 percent of the benzodiazepine, which included those related to Klonopin, combined with alcohol admissions, resulted in similarly serious medical conditions.

Klonopin & Alcohol Overdose Dangers

It is surprising to many to hear just how common it is for people to overdose on alcohol and Klonopin. The reason why the chance for overdose is so high is because both drugs act on the brain’s GABA receptors. What this means is that, when put together, they act in synergy, making their combined effect stronger than the singular effect of each drug on its own. This is known as a potentiating effect, and this is also why you don’t need as much alcohol and Klonopin to lead to an overdose than if you were to take just one of those drugs.

Additionally, when taking alcohol and Klonopin together, people suffer from, “retrograde amnesia”. What this means is that people experience a blackout. In many cases, if people take Klonopin and then consume alcohol, they will forget that they already had Klonopin. As a result, they usually take another dose. This can repeat itself several times, eventually leading to an overdose.

It is also important to be able to recognize a Klonopin overdose, either for yourself or if you look after someone who is prescribed the drug. Some specific symptoms to be aware of include:

  • A dangerously decreased heart rate
  • Incredibly slow and shallow breathing
  • Very low blood pressure
  • Full loss of consciousness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Vomiting
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Disorientation

Is Klonopin Addictive for an Alcoholic?

If you abuse Klonopin, as an alcoholic or not, it is likely that you will become tolerant to it, which can in turn lead to dependency and, eventually, full addiction. Klonopin has a number of pleasurable effects, which are medically necessary if prescribed. However, when prescribed, it is supposed to only be used under supervision and for a short period of time, so that these benefits do not start to be reduced. The body starts to adjust to the increase in levels of the GABA neurotransmitter, which is the function of Klonopin. If you want to continue to feel the positive effects at that time, then you will have to take higher dosages of the drug. This shouldn’t happen if taken under medical supervision and if following the prescription. However, when people take Klonopin recreationally for the “high”, then it is possible for dependency to develop.

Developing Dependence on Klonopin & Alcohol

Once dependency is in place, the body no longer functions the way it should, unless it has at least some level of Klonopin in the system. If a dependency has been fully established, people can begin to experience withdrawal symptoms if they do not manage to consume more of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepine drugs can be severe and even dangerous.

At this point, people must continue to use the drug to stave off these withdrawal symptoms. Doing so, however, can lead to an addiction, which means that users start to act and think in a very different way, placing their focus on getting more Klonopin. How likely it is for a dependency to become an addiction depends on a range of different factors, including:

  • How long the patients have used Klonopin
  • How much Klonopin they use each time
  • How often they use Klonopin

Other factors are also of influence. However, as a rule of thumb, the more used, the greater their dependency becomes, the more likely it is for them to become addicted. While the likelihood of this happening is most common in people who use the substance recreationally, it can also happen in those who stick to their prescription.

In 2011, for instance, there were almost 27 million Klonopin prescriptions. This makes it the third most popular benzodiazepine medication in this country, after Xanax and Ativan. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has released a number of statistics in relation to Klonopin:

Klonopin was the second most likely drug to be diverted, which was based on how much was seized and taken to forensic laboratories for processing. Some 5 million people over the age of 12 in this country will or have used a benzodiazepine during the course of their life. Thousands of calls were made to poison control units in 2011, and some 63,000 individual emergency room visits were related to Klonopin.

Of particular concern is the fact that Klonopin is not an expensive drug and it is very easy to get a hold of, both in domestic households and in schools. Because of this, young adults and teens are at particular risk of abusing it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that around 7.4% of high school seniors have recreationally used a tranquilizing drug, including Klonopin. Frighteningly, this is seven times more than heroin use, and four times more than methamphetamine use.

It is vital that action is taken to prevent abuse. This is why parents are encouraged to speak to their children about the dangers of using prescription medication. They must make it clear that just because something is available on prescription does not make it safe. It also does not make it legal. The drug should only be used with medical authorization, and it is offered for short term insomnia, anxiety, and withdrawal symptoms from addictive substances like alcohol. The latter is of particular concern.

Alcohol abuse has a very high potential for relapse, and it could leave the individual addicted to both substances. Whether or not Klonopin is more addictive for an alcoholic has not been researched. However, since the drugs enhance each other’s effects, it is reasonable to presume that it does also increase the chance of dependency and, eventually, addiction.

Klonopin & Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Klonopin used with alcohol can be lethal, not just because of its side effects, but also because of its withdrawal symptoms. This is caused by the way in which the individual chemicals work in synergy with each other, the central nervous system and the brain. It is important to be aware of the symptoms associated with both drugs.

Withdrawal from alcohol and withdrawal from Klonopin are basically the same. Common symptoms include:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Severe depression
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • A “Grand mal” seizure

Withdrawal from either alcohol or Klonopin, or both, should only be done under medical supervision. It is interesting to see, however, that Klonopin is a very popular drug to those going through alcohol detox. This is because Klonopin has a lengthy “half life”. The peak effects of Klonopin take longer to reach, and the body metabolizes it more slowly. In theory, this would mean that it is better suited for detox because it is not as easy to abuse. However, medical professionals are very much aware of the risks of using Klonopin as a detox method, because it is physically addictive itself.