Valium is a commonly used medication in the United States, but even closely regulated prescription drugs can be potentially dangerous. And as a member of the common but controversial benzodiazepine (benzo) drug class, Valium has its fair share of risks.
It was the second benzo to be approved to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. It was among the medications that replaced barbiturates in the 1960s. The medication causes a calming effect in the nervous system that promotes sleep and eases anxieties, but it also can be used to treat seizures and muscle spasms.
When overused, Valium can cause a high similar to alcohol intoxication, including some euphoric effects. This feature has made it a popular drug for recreational use. However, the drug is highly addictive when abused, causing tolerance and chemical dependence after a month of regular use. Valium abuse can become especially dangerous if it’s mixed with alcohol and can lead to a fatal overdose.
If you or a loved one has been prescribed Valium or another benzodiazepine, it’s important to know the risks of using and abusing the drug. If you do become addicted, there are treatment options available. Learn more about Valium addiction and how it can be treated.
What is Valium?
Valium is a brand name for diazepam, a drug that is used to treat insomnia, panic disorders, anxiety, and epilepsy. It is typically used as a short-term treatment option, and long-term use is avoided. Long-term use often leads to a buildup of tolerance, which can make the medication less effective. However, acute epileptic episodes are often treated with an intravenous injection of diazepam.
Valium was first introduced in 1963 and quickly became one of the highest-selling prescription medications. Between 1968 and 1982, it was unmatched in terms of sales. In 1978 alone, 2 billion tablets were sold. Part of its success comes from the fact that the previously popular barbiturates were increasingly known to cause undesirable adverse reactions like dependence, tolerance, and overdose. Even though Valium has a significant dependence and addiction liability, it’s not as toxic during an overdose, and it was seen as safer.
Valium is also a long-acting benzodiazepine, which means that it can help people get to sleep and stay asleep for longer periods.
Other benzos that are short-acting are only useful in helping people get to sleep but may be ineffective for people who wake up in the middle of the night.
Valium is a central nervous system depressant like alcohol and barbiturates, which means it works by suppressing activity in the central nervous system.
Depressants cause you to feel sleepy, relaxed, a loss of inhibition, and sometimes a loss of motor skills. Like other depressants, Valium works by affecting a specific neurotransmitter and its corresponding receptor in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
This naturally occurring chemical is responsible for controlling the excitability of the central nervous system. When you’re feeling energized, anxious, or empowered, your nervous system is most likely releasing excitatory chemicals.
When it’s time to rest, relax, or sleep, GABA helps suppress that excitability when the receptor is activated. GABAergic medications such as Valium bind to GABA receptors at different binding sites than the GABA neurotransmitter.
Once it’s there, it increases the potency of GABA in triggering the anti-excitability effects of the receptor. When you start to become dependent on the drug, your nervous system will start to rely on Valium to facilitate this action.
Signs of Valium Addiction
Valium dependence is marked by strong cravings for the drug and the presence of withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, and tremors. However, addiction is defined by compulsive use of Valium despite the significant consequences. For instance, if the intoxicating side effects cause you to be charged with a DUI and you continue to use, you may be addicted. Physical signs will include an alcohol-like intoxication such as slurred speech, a loss of motor control and coordination, and drowsiness. But there also are behavioral signs that family and friends might be able to notice, including:
- Strange sleep patterns
- Hiding Valium
- Lying about drug use
- A change in eating habits
- Depression or anxiety
- Reckless behavior
If you or someone you know is exhibiting these signs and symptoms after taking Valium, addiction treatment might be necessary. If you start to feel withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible.
What is Involved in Valium Addiction Treatment?
Since Valium dependence can be dangerous during withdrawal, it’s important to start treatment with medical detoxification, which is the highest level of addiction treatment. Detox lasts for about a week and involves 24 hours of medically managed treatment every day. You may be given medications to ease symptoms and help avoid dangerous medical complications like seizures. In some cases, it’s necessary to wean people off of the drug to avoid dangerous reactions to withdrawal.
When you first enter addiction treatment, you will go through an intake and assessment process with a therapist. Through this process, your specific needs will be identified, and you and your therapist will create a personalized treatment plan. Addiction treatment should address biological, psychological, social, financial, and legal needs. After detox, you may continue to a level of care that is appropriate for these needs which can include inpatient services, intensive outpatient services, and outpatient services.
Through this process, you will go through therapies designed to help you achieve and maintain your recovery. Behavioral therapies are common, and they are instrumental in motivating progress, identifying triggers, learning to deal with stress and cravings, and forming relapse prevention plans.
How Dangerous is Valium?
Benzodiazepines are considered to have relatively low toxicity when compared with other prescriptions, especially barbiturates. If you were to accidentally take too much of the drug on its own, it might cause intoxication, severe drowsiness, confusion, depression, and weakness. However, if it’s taken in extremely high doses, which is seen in some suicides, Valium can potentially be fatal. The overdose risk of valium is more acute when it’s used as a recreational drug. When prescriptions are used as a recreational drug, it’s often in a party setting where other substances, most likely alcohol, are present.
If Valium is taken while binge drinking or if a lot of Valium is used with alcohol, it can lead to respiratory depression. If this happens, you may lose consciousness, suffer brain damage, go into a coma, or die. Other benzos, barbiturates, and opioids also can cause fatal overdoses when combined with Valium. Of the thousands of opioid overdose deaths that have occurred each year for the past few years, around 30 percent have involved benzodiazepines.
Even if Valium abuse doesn’t lead to overdose, it can lead to drug dependence and addiction. Even a standard dose of a benzodiazepine can start to cause chemical dependence if it’s used consistently for longer than a month. When prescribed, it is usually given for short therapeutic use or taken off and on to avoid building tolerance. If you do become dependent, it can lead to withdrawal symptoms. If you try to stop using too quickly, you might experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens (DTs).
If you or a loved one has developed a dependence on Valium, it’s important that you consult a doctor or an addiction specialist before trying to quit cold turkey.
Valium Abuse Statistics
- 30% of opioid overdose deaths involve benzodiazepines like Valium.
- Doctors gave out 14.7 million prescriptions for Valium in 2011, making it the fourth most prescribed benzo in the U.S.
- There were nearly 1.2 million new benzodiazepine abusers in 2013.