Clonidine Addiction: Potential And Treatment

Last Updated: July 6, 2021

Authored by Isaak Stotts, LP

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

The Clonidine drug class is called a centrally acting alpha-agonist hypotensive agent. Its most common use is to manage high blood pressure. It works by reducing the sympathetic outflow in the brain. This medicine is prescribed for various health conditions and disorders such as ADHD, which helps control hyperactivity and impulsivity. This medicine is also widely used in withdrawal treatment from opioids or other drugs. It helps in producing a calming or sedating effect, due to which patients sometimes abuse this medicine. Although the potential for Clonidine addiction is very low, the most significant contributing factors for addiction are its easy availability and the enhanced effects of other drugs after using them in combination with this one. For this reason, patients must know what Clonidine addiction is and how they can get help with it.

What Is Clonidine?

Clonidine is the generic name for the drug sold under different brand names, including Catapres, Kapvay, and Nexiclon. It can be administered by mouth, by injection, or through a skin patch. It acts on the alpha-adrenergic and imidazoline receptor agonists. It reduces the outflow of neurotransmitters which allows it to produce its various medical health effects. The Catapres uses are numerous. This medicine is prescribed for many chronic and acute health conditions, including menstrual cramps, hot flashes in menopause, ADHD, anxiety disorders, Tourette’s syndrome, hypertension, and many other health conditions.

Doctor using stethoscope to measure blood pressure.

This medicine is also used for addiction treatment of various drugs. It can be used alone or in combination for this purpose. It soothes the symptoms which contribute to drug cravings, especially in opioid drugs, where it reduces the withdrawal time significantly from months (3 – 6) to mere days (less than 14).

Catapres comes in numerous forms. The right Clonidine medication dosage will depend on the form taken, the purpose it is used for, and variables within the patient. Patients taking it should carefully follow the instructions given to them by their doctor.

The Medication Is Available In The Following Forms:

  • Oral Solution (Catapres IR pills)
  • Transdermal Solution (Clonidine patch)
  • Injectable Solution
  • Oral Suspension (ER)

What Is a Clonidine Patch?

A Clonidine patch is a transdermal patch that administers the medication into the body via the skin. It can help for the treatment of hypertension. It gradually releases the medicine into the body, which helps control blood pressure and relaxes the blood vessels to enable more effortless blood flow through them. It can also be used for hot flashes in menopause and when quitting smoking. A physician will prescribe a lower dose in the beginning and gradually increase it as required. A Clonidine patch is applied on the upper arm or chest once a week. It’s removed when it’s time for the next dose or when it becomes loose. However, the new patch should not be applied before the prescribed time.

Clonidine Drug Class

The Clonidine drug class tells us a lot about the medicine, from how it works to what symptoms  it might treat.

Catapres is used in the treatment of high blood pressure, so it’s common for people to assume it must be a beta-blocker. Beta-blockers are perhaps the most well-known medications for controlling high blood pressure.

The correct Clonidine drug class is alpha 2 agonist. This describes compounds that bind to and activate adrenergic alpha-2 receptors. In effect, this blocks the release and action of catecholamines released as a stress response—specifically, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. As a centrally acting antiadrenergic agent, Catapres can also make the heartbeat slower and with less force while also releasing tension from blood vessels.

Is Catapres Addictive?

This medicine is not considered to be an addictive substance. However, that does not mean that users cannot become dependent on it. Physically, the body can come to heavily rely on the medication for certain functions, especially in the case of ADHD treatment, which means that stopping it can cause problems similar to what is seen when someone ends the use of a substance they are physically addicted to.

Clonidine addiction is more easily seen in the mental dependence on the medication. Many users who abuse the drug or even take it as directed may fear stopping the therapy. It can become a significant source of comfort in their lives, and they may worry about being unable to function without it. In these cases, even if it is not officially labeled an addictive substance, it can still feel like one to some users.

Catapres Abuse Potential

On the surface, there shouldn’t be much, if any, abuse potential for a drug that was designed to treat high blood pressure. However, Catapres is a relatively common drug of abuse. Those addicted to opiates have the greatest potential for developing a Clonidine addiction. It is mainly because opiate addicts gain access to it as an option for treating withdrawal. Evidence shows that 14 out of 15 patients suffering from opiate addiction are abusing Catapres.

Depressed woman suffering from Clonidine abuse.

The abuse of this medicine displayed two different patterns of use in a study. The applicants of methadone maintenance programs use Catapres as an opioid withdrawal aid by themselves, and their use is less frequent. At the same time, the methadone patients reported a more frequent use to achieve the psychoactive effects of the drug itself and its combination with other substances.

In any case, anyone could potentially abuse Catapres. However, it is not a DEA-controlled substance. While the medication is safe when used as prescribed, Catapres abuse is dangerous. It dramatically increases the risk of Catapres overdose and even death from the drug.

Abusers of this drug have been reported to increase the high achieved lesser quantity of illicit drugs such as opioids. It has raised concerns over its use in the drug withdrawal treatments and concurrent prescriptions of Catapres with opioids. Many psychiatric patients have been reported to form Clonidine addiction, especially when using other drugs. Catapres abuse has also been reported with clonazepam in a patient who used the combination to increase the effects. It has been found that women abusing opiates and cocaine are at high risk of abusing this medicine.

Dangers of Clonidine And Alcohol

People who are addicted to opiates often abuse Clonidine and alcohol. These people often get the prescription for Catapres easily because it’s not a controlled substance.

When mixed, Clonidine and alcohol can lead to adverse reactions. This interaction can be dangerous enough to make the patient’s life uncomfortable. Mixing Clonidine and alcohol will cause fluctuations in blood pressure, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Liver problems are also common among patients who drink alcohol while taking Clonidine medication for an extended period. In severe cases, seizures, loss of consciousness, heart attack, stroke, coma, or even death may occur.

Woman at work taking Clonidine and alcohol.

While there is no specific guideline yet as to how much alcohol one can consume while taking Clonidine medication, experts are still recommending patients to abstain from drinking alcohol or, at least, limit its consumption while on Catapres to avoid serious adverse health reactions.

Other Substances Catapres Interacts With Include:

Treatment For Catapres Addiction

Once a person is addicted to the drug, they cannot quit it at once. If they do so, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, including tremors, anxiety, depression, insomnia, nausea, agitation, and hypertension. A person must be weaned off of the drug over some time. The most efficient first step in the treatment of Clonidine addiction is the medical detox. Next, a patient has to go through rehab. It can be done as an outpatient or inpatient, depending on the specific circumstances of the patient. Both have their benefits, such as the inpatient therapy allows for more medical attention, and the outpatient will enable patients to fulfill personal and social obligations. Once a patient has completed detox and rehab, they can join a sober living or aftercare support program to achieve success in staying away from Catapres abuse. With proper therapy, patients can make a recovery and achieve good health.

Recovering From Abuse

Although the dependence and abuse of this medicine are not common, there are still chances for it, and its easy availability increases the chances of abuse. Users of other drugs use it to enhance the properties of their drug of choice. As a result, many patients form a dependence on it, and some patients are afraid of the withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing Catapres use. All of these reasons result in the abuse of this medicine. It’s also known to be abused as a single drug.

With the proper treatment of addiction, it is possible to live a sober life. Treatment can include detox, rehab, and aftercare. It’s also vital to gain knowledge on the subject. Once a patient knows what Clonidine addiction is and its treatment, they can take the necessary steps towards a better life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Clonidine A Controlled Substance?

No, it is not a controlled substance. Although it is a prescription medication that is considered a drug with abuse potential, the potential for Catapres is so low that it does not make the DEA list.

Is Clonidine A Benzo?

Catapres classification is not a benzodiazepine. It is because the Clonidine mechanism of action has nothing to do with increasing GABA in the brain. Given that this action is central to medications classified as benzos, this cannot be the Catapres class.

Is Clonidine A Narcotic?

Narcotic is a term that refers to opiates, substances made from opium, synthetic opium, or actual opium. These drugs are used in the treatment of pain. One use of Catapres is the treatment of certain types of pain, which might lead individuals to believe this medicine is a narcotic. However, this medicine is not an opioid and doesn’t occupy the opioid receptors. As a result, this medicine is not a narcotic.

Is Catapres A Psychotropic Medication?

Psychotropic drugs impact behavior, mood, thoughts, or perception as a side effect or their primary effect. Catapres does this, which is why this medicine can treat ADHD. Psychotropic medication is this medicine’s secondary classification.

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Published on: March 16th, 2020

Updated on: July 6th, 2021

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.