Clonidine is an antihypertensive that has a wide variety of other applications in the medical field today.
It’s seen by some physicians as an effective alternative to many other medications that may carry with them a handful of nasty side effects or a high risk of addiction.
But just because clonidine isn’t as habit-forming as other drugs doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a potential for abuse. And what’s more, using it incorrectly can, in fact, have potentially fatal consequences.
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The Clonidine HCl Basics
In medical terms, the proper clonidine classification is an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist. Other substances in this category are used primarily to treat hypertension. Some additional clonidine uses include treating:
- Certain anxiety disorders
- Alcohol, opioid, or tobacco withdrawal symptoms
- Dysmenorrhea (severely painful menstrual cramps)
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Menopausal hot flashes
Clonidine (or clonidine HCl) in particular has been used in the medical field for 40 years, first entering the market solely as an antihypertensive and later being used to treat other disorders as well.
A few of the most common brand names for clonidine include:
- Catapres (for hypertension)
- Kapvay (for ADHD)
- Nexiclon (for hypertension)
Clonidine HCl comes in the form of an immediate release tablet, an extended release tablet, a solution, or a transdermal patch.
Clonidine and Hypertension
Clonidine’s major function in the medical field is to help reduce hypertension. More simply known as high blood pressure, this disease stems from your heart pumping too much blood throughout your system, narrow artery walls, or a combination of both.
There are countless causes for hypertension. It could be stress, poor diet, not enough exercise, or many other internal maladies. What’s more, many people have it for years without experiencing any symptoms.
But the major takeaway here is that hypertension is incredibly common. In fact, the CDC reports that almost 1 out of 3 American adults has hypertension. And that means there’s a lot of reasons to put clonidine to good use.
How Does Clonidine Work?
The clonidine mechanism of action is a stimulation of the alpha-2 adrenergic cells in the brain which in turn helps to relax your blood vessels. With less blood vessel resistance, your blood can flow more easily and your overall blood pressure will consequently drop.
What’s more, clonidine’s MOA also includes interacting with the areas of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” mechanism, our body’s natural response to stress.
Getting even more specific, researchers have shown that clonidine actually inhibits the release of norepinephrine, one of the brain’s two major chemicals that create an adrenaline response during stressful events.
Similar to how clonidine uses chemical reactions to relax your body’s blood vessels then, it also eases the tension that builds up in your adrenaline centers as well. This function in particular has led many practitioners to prescribe clonidine as a sleep aid and antianxiety medication.
Clonidine Side Effects
While the side effects of clonidine HCl use aren’t typically severe, patients have reported that they are still noticeable. The most common side effects of clonidine are:
- Dry mouth
- Decreased sexual ability
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Additionally, if you or anyone you know taking clonidine experiences any of the following side effects, you should contact a doctor or emergency services immediately as they might indicate a serious problem:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Swelling of the face, mouth, eyes, hands, lower legs, feet, or ankles
Clonidine Dosages for a Variety of Treatments
These dosages are provided by the Mayo Clinic. However, all clonidine dosages should be discussed with and prescribed by your doctor. The dosing here is meant only to be informational.
- For high blood pressure, adults should take 0.17 mg of extended release clonidine once a day before bedtime and 0.1 mg twice a day of regular tablets.
- The clonidine dosage for ADHD treatment begins at 0.1 milligram once a day at bedtime for teenagers and children 6 years and up. Children younger need to have their dosage determined by their doctor.
- The clonidine dosage for sleep and anxiety will be determined by your doctor.
Anxiety in America Today
Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health disorders today. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that a whopping 35.1% of 30-44 year olds will have experienced an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
And when it comes to treating these disorders effectively, many medications simply fall short of being satisfactory.
As such, researchers are constantly on the lookout for the next antianxiety medication. Billions of dollars are spent annually on both testing new chemical combinations as well as finding different applications for drugs that are already on the market.
Clonidine, for instance, was first used in the medical field as an antihypertensive and, for the most part, is still used primarily for that reason today.
But physicians soon found that the sedative side-effects of the substance can actually provide a release from symptoms of anxiety in some patients.
Treating Anxiety with Clonidine
Part of the reason clonidine is so effective at treating anxiety is that one of the main clonidine MOAs is to target and subdue the fight-or-flight centers of the brain.
With the stimulating effects of these areas subdued, many people taking clonidine for anxiety may experience a noticeable reduction in their symptoms.
And besides the obvious benefits that this relief can bring, anxiety reduction may also make it less likely to engage in other risky behaviors such as abusing dangerous substances.
What’s more, clonidine has been shown to be less prone to causing dependency than other antianxiety medications like Xanax or Ativan.
While your doctor will help you find out your proper dosage, you’ll likely take 0.1 mg clonidine for anxiety, twice a day.
Using Clonidine for Sleep and ADHD
While much research still needs to be done on the overall effectiveness of using clonidine for sleep and ADHD, some practitioners have found that it’s quite effective at treating both simultaneously.
One systematic chart review found that 85% of test subjects with ADHD showed a significant improvement in sleep patterns after taking 0.05 to 0.8 mg of clonidine on a regular basis.
These test subjects, however, were aged 4 to 17. And although many physicians find that clonidine works wonders in children around this age, they’re more likely to prescribe different medications like Ambien or Lunesta for adults.
Clonidine and the Opioid Epidemic
Going through opioid withdrawals can be an incredibly excruciating process. Symptoms like anxiety, muscle aches, insomnia, and agitation make relapsing back into abusing opioids all the more likely.
What’s more, the rate of opioid abuse has skyrocketed in the past few decades. In fact, the CDC reports that an astounding 91 Americans die every single day from an opioid overdose.
Given the severity of the withdrawal symptoms and the growing trend of opioid abuse, it’s becoming ever more crucial to find new ways of making opioid addiction recovery all the more likely.
That’s why certain addictive substances such as clonidine, methadone and buprenorphine are being used to help dull the symptoms. While these drugs may lead to eventual dependency themselves, addiction specialists have found that the reduction in withdrawal symptoms that they provide actually helps increase the chances of full recovery.
Clonidine for Opiate Withdrawal
The key to clonidine’s effectiveness here is that it acts on the adrenaline center of the brain, one of the most active areas during withdrawal.
You see, when your body builds up a tolerance to substances like opioids over time and these drugs are quickly taken away, your mind is launched into a fight-or-flight state. This triggers the activation of the adrenaline centers.
With clonidine reducing the effectiveness of this system though, a number of the resulting withdrawal symptoms may become far less severe. Some of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal that clonidine may help subdue are:
- Diminished cognition
- Muscle aches
Clonidine Abuse: Signs to Watch Out For
Researchers have found that clonidine actually boosts and extends the opioid high. Given that it is typically easier to obtain than other prescription opioids, the elevating effect that clonidine has on the opioid high makes it particularly at risk for abuse.
Clonidine has been shown to have an intensifying effect when combined with other sedatives like alcohol or barbiturates as well. What’s more, some antidepressants may also interact with clonidine negatively, causing increased drowsiness or other complications.
If you suspect that someone you know is abusing clonidine, there are many different signs of abuse to watch out for. Here are just a few:
- Do you notice signs of intoxication (e.g. extreme drowsiness, lack of coordination, unusual mood)?
- Are they consistently making excuses for avoiding social contact?
- Has their physical appearance changed with regards to weight, hygiene, or general concern for how they look?
- Are they having trouble at work, school, or with the law?
- Do they no longer participate in activities that they used to enjoy?
- Are they unable to fulfill obligations that were never a problem for them before?
- Are they showing signs of clonidine withdrawals?
While substance use disorders are typically characterized by these outward signs, they don’t necessarily point to a clonidine abuse problem. Only a qualified professional can make that call.
As such, if you are concerned about someone’s clonidine use, contact a physician and start looking into the wide variety of rehabilitation options.
Symptoms of Clonidine Overdose
Although clonidine is widely considered to be less addictive and cause less harm than other illicit substances, it is still possible to overdose from it.
If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing a clonidine overdose, look for the following signs provided by MedlinePlus:
- Difficulty breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Pale skin that’s cold to the touch
- Small pupils
- Slurred speech
If you notice these symptoms, call the poison control center (1-800-222-1222) as soon as possible and 911 if they have collapsed or are not breathing.
Clonidine High and Addiction
There is little evidence that clonidine alone actually creates a high or a clonidine buzz. The more likely reason for abuse is that users end up mixing clonidine with other drugs to intensify their effects.
Alcohol, opioids, and barbiturates all have sedative side effects that are bolstered by using clonidine at the same time.
Having said that, continued clonidine abuse, whether it’s by illegally obtaining and taking the drug or ignoring your doctor’s dosing directions, can eventually lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Dangers of Clonidine Withdrawal
As with addiction to any substance, cutting it completely out of your life after developing a dependence will likely result in symptoms of withdrawal. For clonidine addiction, these symptoms may include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Nausea or vomiting
One especially important point to note with clonidine withdrawal is that it can be quite dangerous, even fatal. As clonidine suppresses your body’s blood pressure, suddenly removing it from your system may cause your system to overcompensate, an effect called “clonidine rebound.”
This can cause a rapid increase in blood pressure that may actually lead to a cardiac incident and death.
Given the potentially fatal consequences of rapid clonidine detox, anyone considering quitting should first consult a qualified professional. Not doing so could end up being deadly.
What’s more, entering into a rehab facility could prove to be the best decision of your life when you know what to look for.
Clonidine: An Incredibly Useful Drug When Used Properly
Like many other medications on the market today, clonidine can have some pretty beneficial applications. Hypertension, ADHD, insomnia, and opiate withdrawals are all treatable with this versatile drug’s help.
But equally similar to many other substances, clonidine use does come with the potential for abuse and addiction, particularly when it’s used with other substances.
As such, it’s important that anyone using clonidine follows their doctor’s prescription completely. Otherwise you may be facing an addiction that’s not only troublesome, but fatal as well.