Clonidine is a prescription medication that is often used to treat high blood pressure and sometimes used to treat severe menstrual cramps, hot flashes experienced by women in menopause, smoking cessation, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).1 However, clonidine is also sometimes used therapeutically in the context of some medically assisted addiction treatments, including counteracting the physical symptoms of withdrawal from opioids.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Clonidine Abuse?
Clonidine is not a frequently abused drug, however, there are reported cases of abuse, including a recent study which detailed the use of clonidine—along with amitriptyline, gabapentin, and buprenorphine—as a means of getting high.2 Another study detailed clonidine abuse in people recovering from opioid addiction. The women in the study detailed how they used clonidine to heighten and lengthen the high received when they were using opioids.3
As with any drug, addiction signs can be subtle at first, but over time become more apparent. Clonidine is rarely abused alone, but most commonly used in conjunction with other drugs to get high. Signs of drug addiction are detailed in the DSM-5, which indicates that a person who has a substance abuse issue must fit at least two of the following criteria in the past 12 months:4
- The drug is taken in greater doses than originally planned, or for longer than originally intended or prescribed to be taken
- The person has made unsuccessful attempts to quit using on his or her own
- A lot of time is spent thinking about obtaining the drug, using the drug, or thinking about the substance
- There is a strong desire to use the drug again
- Recurring use that causes the person to be unable to fulfill roles at home, work, or school
- Interpersonal relations are impacted in such ways that may lead to physical altercations while under the influence, or arguments with a partner about substance use
- Risk-taking behaviors occur, using the drug despite the potential for danger, such as driving under the influence
- Important activities are given up; drug use takes over a person’s leisure time
- Continuing to take the substance despite injury, illness, or dangerous outcomes, either physical or psychological
- Tolerance to the drug develops and the person needs higher doses of clonidine to achieve the same feelings as before
- The person experiences physical withdrawal when a substance is discontinued
Rehab Options for Clonidine Abuse
One of the biggest risks involved in stopping clonidine is the tendency for people to experience rapid heartbeats and high blood pressure as symptoms of clonidine withdrawal. Therefore, stopping clonidine on your own is not advised.5
As noted previously, clonidine is almost never abused by itself, so a person detoxing from clonidine is likely to be addicted to several substances at one time, such as alcohol and opioids. When a person is in detox for multiple substances, inpatient treatment is usually the best option.6
Rehab usually follows a short stay in a detox program and can last from a few days to a few weeks for most people. A few programs last several months, but these programs are usually designed for people for whom inpatient treatment has failed after several attempts.
Outpatient or Inpatient Therapy
Another option for treating clonidine addiction is outpatient therapy, which can last from a few hours a week to several hours per day, seven days per week. For other people, an outpatient program follows inpatient treatment to provide them with ongoing support during the early days of recovery.6
Whether a program lasts a few days or a few weeks, most treatment centers offer a combination of group and individual therapy. There are also programs that do only group treatment and some that only provide individual therapy; it is important to note that group therapy has been shown to be especially helpful for people with drug addictions. Other programs try to engage the immediate family as much as possible in the treatment and recovery process too.6
Multidimensional family therapy is beneficial to adolescents and their families who are dealing with addiction because this approach to family therapy delves into not only the child’s addiction, but also the family interactions that may be maintaining and reinforcing these behaviors.6
Family treatment is essential for adolescents since they play a role in their family’s dynamics and typically return home after inpatient treatment. If the family issues are not addressed as part of treatment, and on an ongoing basis during the recovery process, the teen is less likely to have success staying abstinent.
Regardless of treatment modality, most rehab programs teach coping skills through such methods as cognitive behavioral therapy. In part, this may enable a person to return to a familiar environment that perhaps triggers addictive behavior and respond to those triggers in healthier ways to help avoid relapse.
Many programs also use motivational interviewing to help people make a commitment to change. This technique helps to elicit responses from those recovering that help them find their own reasons to seek change and to figure out what is keeping them from making the changes they say they want, such as getting sober. Motivational interviewing helps people explore the real impact their substance abuse has had on their lives and helps assess their readiness to make changes.7
Other interventions include contingency management, which offers incentives for staying drug-free, such as giving mothers diapers for their children, or providing movie tickets. These incentives may not seem like a big thing on the surface, but contingency management has been proven to work.7
Some people seeking help for clonidine addiction may also wonder if there are drugs that can assist in the process of detox and rehab from clonidine, similar to those used to help detox from heroin or other opioids. To date, there are no specifically approved medications helpful with stopping the use of clonidine.5
- U.S. National Library of Medicine (2015). Clonidine.
- Seale, J. P., Dittmer, T., Sigman, E. J., Clemons, H. & Johnson, J. A. (2014). Combined Abuse of Clonidine and Amitriptyline in a Patient on Buprenorphine Maintenance Treatment. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 8(6), 476–478.
- Dennison, S. J. (2001). Clonidine abuse among opiate addicts. Psychiatric Quarterly, 72(2), 191–195.
- American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
- Sobell & Sobell. (2008). Motivational Interviewing Strategies and Techniques: Rationales and Examples.