What Is Clonidine?

Clonidine is part of a class of medications that are called centrally acting alpha-agonist hypotensive agents. These lower your blood pressure by decreasing your heart rate and relaxing your blood vessels so that your blood can more easily flow throughout your body. 

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The medication is important because, if high blood pressure is left untreated, it can damage your brain, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and more. And any damage to these vital organs can also ultimately lead to heart disease, heart failure, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, vision loss, and other serious problems.

clonidine for opiate withdrawal

Clonidine Uses

Clonidine, also known as Catapres, is used on its own or with other medications that treat patients with high blood pressure. Clonidine extended-release, long-acting tablets (Kapvay) also treat and control symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as difficulty focusing and controlling actions. It does so by tapping into your nervous system.

While these are the typical uses for the medication, that’s not all clonidine can do. Clonidine is also used to help treat dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual cramps), Tourette's syndrome, menopausal hot flashes, and alcohol and opioid withdrawal.

Opiates or opioids are drugs (both narcotics) that treat pain. If you become opioid-dependent, clonidine hydrochloride may aid detoxification from opiates. Research shows that clonidine rapidly suppresses the signs and symptoms that are associated with opiate withdrawal. While it cannot cure your addiction, it can help the recovery process.

If your doctor prescribes it to you, clonidine will come as a tablet or an extended-release, long-acting tablet that are both taken by mouth typically once or twice a day (or as directed by your doctor). Consult your medical professional about your prescription, and be sure to take clonidine exactly as directed. Do not consume any more or less of the tablets any more or less often than prescribed.

What Is Clonidine Used For?

Clonidine is considered one of the main alpha2-adrenergic agonists, alongside guanabenz, guanfacine, tizanidine, medetomidine, and dexmedetomidine. It’s primarily used to treat high blood pressure and help ease the symptoms of ADHD. Clonidine has also been used to help treat dysmenorrhea, Tourette’s syndrome, and hot flashes from menopause. Likewise, clonidine can be used to help people recover from alcohol use disorder (AUD) and lessen opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Again, it’s important to note that while clonidine cannot cure opiate addictions, it can be used in the withdrawal process to help ease symptoms.

However, clonidine is not the only medication that is available to treat these conditions and aid withdrawal efforts. Psychopharmacology and pharmacotherapy are very advanced. Consult your doctor about whether or not clonidine is the right choice for you. 

Clonidine for Opiate Withdrawal

Opiate use and misuse is rampant in the United States. In 2018, about 808,000 people across the country reported using heroin during the past year. In the same year, about 11.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers—including Codeine Heroin Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), Methadone Meperidine (Demerol), Morphine, and Oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin)— without prescriptions.

Coming off of opiates can be difficult, especially if they’ve been misused. Opiate withdrawal symptoms can be severe and, at the very least, challenging and uncomfortable. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

However, research shows that clonidine hydrochloride can help patients through the withdrawal process. This is because clonidine helps to reduce symptoms such as agitation, anxiety, cramping, muscle aches, and sweating. It does not help reduce cravings, so it cannot cure your addiction. Therefore, it is best used in conjunction with other treatment methods such as detox programs, rehab, and therapy.

How Effective Is Clonidine for Opioid Withdrawal?

Clonidine for opioid withdrawal is considered very effective, according to a burgeoning body of research. Studies show that clonidine hydrochloride can help detoxify patients in less than 14 days, rather than the typical three to six months. The success rate is high even in patients who are taking up to 75 mg of methadone every day.

While clonidine has been proven helpful for many people, it is not necessarily right for everyone. Consult your doctor about your options and weigh whether or not clonidine is for you.

Potential Side Effects of Clonidine

While the use of clonidine may help opiate detoxification, it is not safe for everyone. Like all medications, clonidine does have some negative side effects that can take a toll on patients—some more than others. These include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Exhaustion
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Low libido
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hoarseness

Contact medical help immediately if you are experiencing side effects from taking clonidine but do not abruptly stop taking it without your doctor’s advice.

If clonidine is having adverse effects on you, seek professional medical advice on other treatment options for your opioid dependence. There are other ways to quit your opioid use safely.

Does Clonidine Have Withdrawal Symptoms? 

Clonidine is a non-opiate, so you should not have withdrawal symptoms. You should still take it and stop it only as directed. Medical professionals advise that you continue to take it even if you feel well and don’t stop taking it without consulting your doctor first.

If you suddenly stop taking clonidine, you could experience a rapid rise in your blood pressure and certain symptoms. These include headaches and shaking. If you want to come off of clonidine, your healthcare professional will help you decrease your dose gradually.

Treatment Options for Opioid Addiction

If you or a loved one have an opiate dependence or are struggling with substance use or misuse of any kind, addiction treatment is available. Overcoming an opiate addiction often requires professional help, as opiate withdrawal syndrome can be difficult and uncomfortable.

Both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation treatment centers are available for people struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. You can also explore psychiatry and pharmacology options to overcome your opioid addiction. Support groups, traditional therapy programs, and holistic retreats may be able to help you.

You can also rely on us at Addiction Group for fact-based resources and advice on alcohol and substance use. Call a specialist today to learn more about the treatment options available for addiction.

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Resources

CE;, Kleber HD;Gold MS;Riordan. “The Use of Clonidine in Detoxification from Opiates.” Bulletin on Narcotics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6907020/.

“Clonidine: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682243.html.

“Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm.

“SAMHSA's National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357): SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” SAMHSA, www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.

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Updated on: January 7, 2021
Author
AnnaMarie Houlis
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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