What is Clonidine?
Clonidine – known by a large number of brand names including Catapres, Kapvay, Nexiclon, Arkamin, Chianda, Clonigen, Dixarit, Hypodine, Melzin and literally dozens of others – is a drug which lowers blood pressure and which has been used medically since 1966 to treat a broad variety of conditions including withdrawal from various substances of abuse. Clonidine can be administered orally, epidurally, intravenously, via transdermal patch or as a topical cream or gel. In the UK it is a prescription-only medicine.
What is Clonidine Used to Treat?
Clonidine is used to treat high blood pressure, migraines, diarrhoea, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), tic disorders, anxiety disorders, menopausal flushing and various pain conditions.In the field of addiction treatment, clonidine is commonly used to alleviate certain withdrawal symptoms associated with dependence to alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines and nicotine; it is also used in the treatment of neonatal abstinence syndrome (dependence in newborn babies whose mothers abused drugs – especially opioids – while pregnant).
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Why use Clonidine for Addiction Withdrawal
Clonidine is used to ease certain symptoms of withdrawal syndrome, in particular hot flashes, sweating, restlessness and watery eyes; it also has a sedative effect which can have benefits in terms of relaxing individuals going through withdrawal. Meanwhile, its ability to reduce blood pressure can make detoxification and withdrawal significantly safer in individuals suffering from hypertension and related conditions.
How do Medications for Addiction Treatment Work?
Clonidine works by stimulating certain receptors in the brain stem, which decreases vascular resistance (the resistance which needs to be overcome in order for bloods to be pushed through the circulatory system), thereby reducing blood pressure (though if clonidine is administered intravenously, blood pressure is temporarily increased before these effects take place). Clonidine also reduces sympathetic nervous system responses such as tachycardia, alleviating sweating, hot and cold flashes, and restlessness including restless leg syndrome.
Is Clonidine Effective at Treating Withdrawal Symptoms?
Clonidine can significantly reduce the severity of various withdrawal symptoms, making withdrawal and detoxification significantly less unpleasant and less arduous experiences. However, it does not tackle the underlying issue of withdrawal syndrome and should not be seen as a “cure” for withdrawal, let alone for addiction and dependence.
Principles of Effective Clonidine Addiction Treatment
If used in the treatment of addiction, clonidine should be administered as part of a broader addiction treatment plan (with therapy at its core) such as may be provided as part of a stay in residential rehabilitation (rehab): it is used to treat withdrawal symptoms, not addiction itself. Because of the possibility of various side-effects manifesting (see below), and because clonidine can itself prove habit-forming, it should only be taken in strict accordance with instructions given by the prescribing physician.
What are the Side Effects of Clonidine?
Some common side effects of clonidine include dry mouth, fatigue, headaches, hypertension, skin reactions, dizziness, anxiety, nausea and vomiting, rashes, constipation, weight gain or loss, erectile dysfunction and sedation. Less common side effects include hallucinations, nightmares, urticaria, pruritus, delusions, alopecia, gynaecomastia, hyperglycaemia and an impaired ability to cry.
Clonidine is Most Effective when Combined with Addiction Therapy
As noted above, clonidine is not an effective treatment for addiction and dependence per se, but is used to alleviate some of the withdrawal symptoms which can make overcoming an addiction challenging. It should always be used as part of a broader approach to addiction treatment, founded on therapy: therapy (in a variety of models and methodologies) reveals and addresses the underlying causes of addiction in any given individual, and can provide that individual with psychological defence mechanisms against relapse.Clonidine may be prescribed as part of a monitored and managed detoxification (detox) process (which, again, may be part of a holistic addiction treatment plan delivered in rehab); again, however, detox alone without therapy is unlikely to lead to a permanent recovery, as it does not address the fundamental causes of addiction.
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