Clonidine Abuse and Addiction
By The Orlando Recovery Center
Editor Jonathan Strum | Medically Reviewed By Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Last Updated: April 10, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
Clonidine is a medication commonly used to treat high blood pressure and ADHD. In addition, clonidine can be effective in the treatment of opioid and alcohol addiction. However, it can also be abused by people who are attempting to enhance or manage the effects of opioids and other drugs.
Clonidine is not a drug that is abusable by itself. If someone is abusing clonidine, they are also abusing something much more dangerous. Finding out how the drug works and learning the warning signs of clonidine abuse can help you understand the risks and know when to seek treatment.
What Is Clonidine?
Clonidine is a prescription tablet sold under the brand names Catapres and Kapvay. It is a commonly prescribed medication that has no abuse potential on its own. Clonidine can be prescribed to treat a variety of conditions without the need for additional restrictions, as it is not a controlled substance.
Clonidine works by activating alpha receptors in the central nervous system. Alpha receptors are responsible for the regulation of blood pressure, but they also serve other functions, which is why there are so many diseases that clonidine can treat.
What Is Clonidine Used For?
Clonidine is most commonly used to control high blood pressure, but physicians may prescribe the drug to treat other medical conditions, including:
- Hot flashes
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Restless leg syndrome
- Opioid or alcohol withdrawal
Clonidine treats many different types of conditions because alpha receptors are involved in many processes in the body. The medication’s effects can also vary depending on the route of administration. For example, when injected into the spine, clonidine can prevent the transmission of pain signals. This effect does not happen when taken by mouth.
For some conditions, such as ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome, it is not clear why clonidine works. However, it can be used as an alternate medication for these conditions.
Clonidine for Withdrawal
Clonidine is sometimes prescribed to individuals seeking treatment for opioid and alcohol addiction. The drug increases blood flow, decreases heart rate and blood pressure and relaxes the part of the brain that controls impulsive behavior.
This effect can help regulate a person’s mood, control anxiety and reduce opioid and alcohol cravings during detox. However, clonidine is not as effective for managing all symptoms of withdrawal.
Clonidine Brand Names
The most common brand names for clonidine include:
- Catapres-TTS (weekly patch)
- Duraclon (epidural)
- Nexiclon XR
Clonidine is available as an injectable solution, immediate-release tablets, extended-release tablets and weekly patches. Different brand names are typically attached to different formulations.
The dosage varies depending on what condition is being treated. For opioid withdrawal, the oral tablet is used. The starting dosage is 0.1 mg to 0.2 mg by mouth every 45 to 60 minutes as needed. Up to four doses can be taken until symptoms resolve. During treatment, a medical professional should monitor blood pressure and heart rate. The max daily dose is 0.8 to 1.2 mg.
Once the initial symptoms have been managed, a person may be placed on a maintenance dose of 0.1 mg to 0.3 mg every six to eight hours, depending on the symptoms that remain. After establishing a maintenance dose, the patient may be changed to a weekly patch to make medication delivery easier.
The side effects of clonidine can be severe, especially when the drug is not taken as prescribed. Clonidine misuse may result in:
- Dangerously low blood pressure
- Slowed breathing
- Slow heart rate
Less severe side effects of clonidine include:
- Constriction of the pupils
- Abdominal pain
- Dry mouth
If you suspect that you or someone else has overdosed on clonidine, it is important to seek medical attention right away. While rare, it is possible to have a fatal overdose from clonidine due to the effects on the heart.
Is Clonidine Addictive?
Clonidine does not have the potential for addiction, and the overall risk of abuse is very low. It is only likely to be abused by people taking other drugs, such as opioids, as clonidine can enhance the effects and help manage withdrawal symptoms.
Though the United States government does not consider clonidine to have a potential for misuse, research shows that clonidine misuse may be more common than anticipated. The drug intensifies and prolongs the euphoric effects of opioids, which can result in increased cravings and misuse of clonidine. Prolonged clonidine usage can lead to dependence and overdose.
What Causes Clonidine Addiction?
Clonidine can intensify the effects of other drugs, particularly those that are sedating, such as opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol. Taken on its own, the risk of clonidine abuse is very low because it does not produce euphoria. However, it is important to understand that someone who abuses clonidine is likely abusing substances that are far more dangerous and addictive.
Clonidine dependence happens when a person takes clonidine consistently for an extended period. After taking it for a long time at high enough doses, the body becomes used to its presence.
It is unknown how prevalent clonidine misuse may be in the United States. One study found that 10 out of 15 individuals seeking heroin addiction treatment misused clonidine to intensify the effects of the opioid. However, this was a very small study, and it is unclear how prevalent clonidine abuse really is.
Signs of Clonidine Addiction
When taking clonidine, a person struggling with addiction should be closely monitored by their physician to look for signs of misuse. These signs can include:
- Prolonged usage
- Taking more than what’s been prescribed
- Fear of not being able to obtain more clonidine
- Seeking clonidine outside of a physician
- Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal
If you suspect someone is abusing clonidine, it is important to understand they are probably abusing other substances as well. Clonidine is not usually abused on its own because it does not produce “feel-good” effects.
Withdrawal happens when someone becomes dependent on a substance. Dependence occurs when the body has adjusted to the constant presence of a drug and cannot function normally without it. In the case of clonidine, the body will reduce the number of alpha receptors that are present in different cells.
When someone stops taking clonidine, their body has too few alpha receptors. This causes withdrawal symptoms to occur. Withdrawal symptoms are often uncomfortable and may take days or weeks to resolve as the body resets its level of receptors.
Clonidine Withdrawal Symptoms
Common clonidine withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Low blood pressure
Clonidine Addiction Treatment in Orlando, FL
Orlando Recovery Center is an excellent treatment option for people seeking help in Central Florida. We offer evidence-based addiction treatment for a variety of substances, including opioids and other drugs that may be abused alongside clonidine. We also have dual diagnosis treatment options for co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. All of our programs are provided by compassionate, experienced teams of licensed health care professionals who work to address your unique needs throughout the entire treatment process.
Get Help Today
Our mission is to connect more people to the life-saving treatment they need for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and addiction, contact the Orlando Recovery Center today. Seeking treatment is the first step toward making a full recovery and living a healthier life.
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