Valium, a widely available brand formulation of diazepam, is a prescription benzodiazepine with sedating, anti-anxiety properties. Though it has several medical uses, it is frequently abused for its pleasurable, sedative effects. With consistent use, the rewarding effects of the drug may place users at risk of developing a Valium addiction.
A person who has become addicted to Valium may experience significant side effects, in addition to long-term physical and psychological consequences. If you’re addicted, it’s crucial to seek help. Attempting to quit on your own can be dangerous. Medical detox and treatment programs can help you end your Valium use safely and start down a path of recovery from addiction.
What Is Valium?
Valium, also known by its generic name diazepam, is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that slows down certain brain processes.1 CNS depressants include several subclasses of prescription drugs. Valium falls into the category of benzodiazepines, which are used to treat conditions such as anxiety, panic disorder, and seizures. Other commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam) and Klonopin (clonazepam).2
Valium is taken as a tablet, while generic diazepam is also available as an extended-release capsule or liquid.3 Like other benzodiazepines, Valium carries a high risk of dependence and addiction.1
How Is Valium Abused?
To minimize the potential for abuse and addiction development, many doctors will prescribe Valium for brief periods of time, rather than as a long-term treatment. Valium abuse refers to:
- Taking the drug more frequently than prescribed.
- Taking the drug in larger doses than prescribed.
- Taking the drug without a prescription.
People who misuse Valium prescriptions may engage in “doctor shopping,” in which they seek out multiple doctors in order to get more of the drug. Users without a prescription may seek out the drug by stealing from family or friends or purchasing it illegally.
While Valium is meant to be taken orally,3,4 some users may take the drug in other ways in hopes of enhancing the high. This may include crushing it up and snorting it through the nose or dissolving it into liquid solution before injecting it directly into the bloodstream. Such ill-advised misuse of the drug is done with the intention of intensifying and speeding the onset of the pleasurable effects which include:1
- Anxiety relief.
- Sense of calm.
Valium abuse is widespread and associated with numerous health risks. In 2015, approximately 1.3 million Americans 12 years and older had misused Valium in some way.5 High rates of benzodiazepine abuse may be linked to high prescribing rates. In 2012, more than 37 benzodiazepine prescriptions were written for every 100 Americans.2
In 2011, over 24,000 Valium-related emergency room visits were reported.6 Approximately 6,000 of these visits involved suicide attempts. The numbers of benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits increased nearly 149% in a 7-year span (2004 to 2011).6
Valium use can result in a pleasurable high, especially when the drug is taken in larger-than-recommended amounts or used in ways other than prescribed. Essentially, Valium inhibits certain kinds of brain activity to reduce anxiety and elicit a sense of calm.1 When used in excess, it can create a sense of euphoria (intense pleasure) and can give rise to a pattern of slurred speech, disorientation, and disinhibition similar to that seen with alcohol.7
In addition to its intoxicating effects, taking Valium, especially in high doses, can elicit side effects such as:3,7
- Muscle weakness.
- Inability to control bodily movements.
- Blurry vision.
- Dry mouth.
- Appetite changes.
- Difficulty urinating.
- Excessive sweating.
- Low blood pressure.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Libido changes.
Severe side effects and/or drug reactions that require immediate medical attention include:3
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin.
- Persistent tremor.
- Shuffling walk.
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
- Irregular heartrate.
Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse
Polysubstance abuse refers to the problematic use of more than one drug. Some users find that combining multiple drugs, such as CNS depressants and opioids or alcohol, enhances the effects of the drugs.8 However, this practice can be extremely dangerous.
Alcohol and opioids are often involved in cases of fatal benzodiazepine-related overdose.
Mixing drugs that slow down breathing, including alcohol, opioids, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines, can increase the risk of an overdose and respiratory depression.1,4,9 People experiencing overdose-related respiratory depression may exhibit slowed or labored breathing, which can prove lethal.9 Alcohol and opioids are often involved in cases of fatal benzodiazepine-related overdose.9 It is never safe to abuse any prescription medication, and abusing it alongside alcohol, illicit drugs, or other medications is an extremely dangerous, even deadly, game.
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Long-Term Effects of Abuse
Valium abuse is associated with a range of long-term physical and mental health effects. Whether a person will experience long-term effects, and the intensity of these effects, often depends on how much and how long the drug was being used.
Long-term physical effects of Valium abuse include:1,4,9
- Physical dependence. Over time, a person’s body may become reliant on Valium, making it physically uncomfortable and possibly harmful to quit.
- Pregnancy complications. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers who use Valium may put their babies at risk for dependence and withdrawal.
- Increased risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases. This risk is associated with sharing needles, unsafe sexual practices (more likely in periods of disinhibition), and assault.
Valium’s long-term negative effects can extend to a person’s mental health as well and include:9
- Memory impairments. Over time, Valium abuse can impair episodic memory, which is the ability to remember events of the recent past. This is especially common among those who use alcohol in combination with benzodiazepines.
- Attention problems. Users may have a hard time focusing and sustaining attention on tasks.
- Users may experience sad mood, loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable, and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.
Elderly Valium users may be at higher risk of experiencing more serious long-term effects, including memory problems.9 Valium users with dementia may experience a worsening of their symptoms. Elderly users may also be at risk of falling while under the influence, which can result in serious injuries.
Valium abuse can also have a negative impact on a person’s lifestyle. For example, Valium abusers may experience:
- Strained relationships.
- Unemployment or academic problems.
- Arrests and other legal issues.
- Financial problems.
While Valium abuse poses serious risks to users, there is hope. Ending Valium use has the potential to reduce or reverse the negative effects of the drug. However, this must be done safely with professional help, as Valium withdrawal can have serious complications.
Signs of Addiction
Benzodiazepines can lead to the development of physiological dependence and addiction, especially when misused. Valium may be more addictive than certain other benzodiazepines because it is considered highly lipophilic, meaning that it crosses the blood-brain barrier relatively more rapidly than some other drugs in the class. As this pharmacokinetic property helps to hasten the onset of Valium’s effects, it may also contribute to its pronounced and reinforcing high and thereby increase its addictive potential.9
In a short time, users can become tolerant (needing increasing doses to get the sought-after effects) and physically dependent, experiencing withdrawal if they cut down or quit.1 Both tolerance and dependence are signs of a developing addiction, though they can both occur in someone who is not abusing or addicted to Valium.
People addicted to Valium may also display certain noticeable behavioral signs. Family and friends may notice:
- Changes in mood, anxiety, and irritability.
- Shifting social groups/changes in friends.
- Secretive behavior, such as hiding pill bottles and other paraphernalia.
- Arrests and other legal problems.
- Financial problems due to paying for drugs.
- Seeking multiple prescriptions from various doctors/clinics.
People who are addicted to Valium may be diagnosed with a specific type of substance use disorder called a sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic use disorder. Signs of this type of substance use disorder include:10
- Taking more of the drug or taking the drug over a longer period of time than intended.
- Being unable to stop or cut down.
- Spending a long time getting, using, or recovering from Valium.
- Cravings or strong urges to use the drug.
- Inability to attend to responsibilities at home, work, or school because of drug use.
- Continuing to use the drug despite conflicts in relationships created or exacerbated by Valium use.
- Giving up social, recreational, or work-related activities to use Valium.
- Using the drug in dangerous situations.
- Continuing to use the drug in spite of physical or psychological problems caused or made worse by drug use.
- Requiring more of the drug to feel the same effects or experiencing less of an effect with the same amount of the drug.
- Developing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit or cut down.
Valium addiction can lead to serious problems; however, it may be effectively treated with the proper medical and therapeutic support.
Safely Getting off Valium
Valium users who have developed a significant level of physical dependence will likely experience the onset of acute withdrawal should they abruptly stop or drastically reduce their use. In some cases, acute Valium withdrawal can be life-threatening if not managed by medical professionals. Symptoms of withdrawal typically last 1-2 weeks from the time of the last use.11
Acute Valium withdrawal symptoms include:7,8,11
- Changes in mood.
- Increased heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Poor concentration.
- Impaired memory.
- Muscle aches and stiffness.
Acute Valium withdrawal symptoms may range from mildly uncomfortable to severe and possibly life-threatening. The severity of Valium withdrawal depends on the amount of Valium being used, the frequency of use, and whether the drug is abruptly stopped or slowly tapered.
Protracted, or prolonged, Valium withdrawal symptoms may last for several months or years after a person stops using Valium.9,11 Protracted withdrawal symptoms may include:9,11
- Memory problems.
The likelihood of a dangerous or complicated withdrawal from a drug like Valium will, in many cases, necessitate a supervised detox period. Additionally, the challenges of long-term benzodiazepine recovery may best be addressed through professional substance abuse treatment.
Medical detox may be necessary for Valium users trying to quit because of the risks associated with Valium withdrawal, including seizures.9 Valium withdrawal can also be physically and emotionally uncomfortable during the acute and prolonged withdrawal periods. Detox programs can help ensure a safer and more comfortable withdrawal process.
Left inappropriately managed, withdrawal symptoms can leave Valium addicts more vulnerable to relapse.Medical detox programs offer several different services that can help Valium users through withdrawal, including:11,12
- 24-hour monitoring of vital signs and withdrawal symptoms by medical and mental health professionals.
- A taper to gradually decrease the Valium dose.
- When appropriate, medications to help manage any associated symptoms.
- A comfortable environment that allows for rest and relaxation.
- Assistance finding a treatment program after detox is complete.
Navigating the withdrawal process is an early hurdle in recovery. Left inappropriately managed, withdrawal symptoms can leave Valium addicts more vulnerable to relapse. Participating in a drug treatment program early on can help minimize the dangers and discomforts of withdrawal to better prevent relapse and ensure a safer and more comfortable detox.
Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment?
Once you’ve safely completed detox, you can begin the therapeutic work of recovering from addiction. This can be done on an either an inpatient or outpatient basis.
Inpatient programs, which include residential programs, offer temporary housing and 24-hour support from staff. A typical treatment day involves therapy sessions, recovery meetings, and participation in other positive activities, such as yoga and exercise.
Outpatient programs offer less frequent therapy sessions without temporary housing. People participating in outpatient programs typically attend the treatment facility once or more per week. Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) provide treatment 5 days per week for up to 6 hours per day. Intensive outpatient programs provide treatment at least 3 days per week for 3 or more hours per day.
Some Valium users may choose to supplement their treatment with sober living and/or recovery meetings. Sober living homes require that residents abstain from using drugs and alcohol and follow house rules. Residents may choose to stay for several months or even years to help maintain their recovery. Recovery meetings, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, are free support groups that help members recognize the impact of drugs on their lives, develop a spiritual connection with a higher power (as they define it), and establish relationships with other sober people.
Each type of treatment program can be beneficial depending on a person’s unique needs. Inpatient programs can be helpful for people who have a very difficult time quitting Valium, little support at home, and a need for more intensive therapy and medical care. Outpatient programs offer fewer therapy sessions per week and may be beneficial for people who have already completed an inpatient program and who must keep up with responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient therapy should only follow a supervised course of detox. Detox from Valium should never be attempted without professional support.
To determine what type of program is right for you, begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- What am I looking for in a treatment program?
- How much sober support do I have in my life?
- What type of treatment schedule can I commit to?
- Am I experiencing any other conditions, such as mental illness, which may require additional help?
If you are unsure of what type of treatment program to commit to, consult with a medical or mental health professional or the admissions staff at a rehab you are considering. They may ask you several questions such as how long you have been using, how much, and whether you have tried to quit before. Using this information, they can help determine whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is appropriate for your situation.
Valium Addiction Treatment
There are several ways to locate a Valium addiction treatment program:
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Dual diagnosis treatment offers help for people struggling with both drug addiction and mental health problems. For some people, drug use is a way of coping with mental health problems, while for others mental health problems are caused or worsened by drug use.
Because Valium, specifically, is often used to manage anxiety, people struggling with addiction to this particular drug may have legitimate mental health issues to contend with as they work through addiction treatment. Also, taking Valium long-term and attempting to quit can cause a rebound anxiety or even an unmasking of other psychological symptoms. In both cases, a dual diagnosis would be an appropriate option and allow the recovering individual to get comprehensive care for both issues, each of which can complicate the other if left unaddressed.
Valium users who experience any of the following mental health conditions may benefit from dual diagnosis treatment:
- Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorder.
- Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.
Dual diagnosis treatment programs can help you get to the root of the problem and identify solutions for getting better. Dual diagnosis programs offer group, individual, and family therapy sessions that focus on the relationship between addiction and mental illness.
Valium addiction is a serious condition because of the drug’s short- and long-term effects, risk for overdose, and complicated withdrawal. Drug rehab programs are available to help users safely and effectively recover. If you or someone you know is suffering from Valium addiction, consider seeking the help of an addiction treatment program.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Research report series: Misuse of prescription drugs.
- Paulozzi, L.J, Mack, K.A., & Hockenberry, J.M. (2014). Vital signs: Variation among states in prescribing of opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines – United States, 2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(26), 563-568.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). MedlinePlus, Diazepam.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Commonly abused drugs chart.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Prescription drug use and misuse in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National estimates of drug-related emergency department visits.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Drugs and human performance fact sheet: Diazepam.
- Jann, M., Kennedy, W. K., & Lopez, G. (2014). Benzodiazepines: A major component in unintentional prescription drug overdoses with opioid analgesics. Journal of Pharmacy Practice, 27(1), 5-16.
- Longo, L. P., & Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines-side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. American Family Physician, 61(7), 2121-2128.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Authier, N., Balayssac, D., Sautereau, M., Zangarelli, A., Courty, P., Somogyi, A. A., … & Eschalier, A. (2009). Benzodiazepine dependence: Focus on withdrawal syndrome. Annales Pharmaceutiques Francaises,67(6), 408-413.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 134131. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006.