Valium (diazepam) is a prescription medication that belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. It can be prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal, though its use should be time-limited and closely monitored. Valium, like all benzodiazepines, is quickly habit-forming and can be highly addictive.
The opioid overdose epidemic that has swept across the country was declared a public health emergency in 2017. Since then, experts have started to recognize the role that benzodiazepines play in this crisis as well.
People who abuse opioids often misuse other prescription medications, such as benzodiazepines at the same time.
The effects of mixing opioids and benzodiazepines can be fatal and have lead to catastrophic numbers of people dying from prescription drug abuse. In fact, three-quarters of deaths related to benzodiazepine abuse also involved opioid consumption.
During the past 20 years, the number of deaths related to benzodiazepine overdose has increased sevenfold. The number of prescriptions written for benzodiazepines increased by 67 percent from 1999 to 2013. These numbers illustrate the growth of benzodiazepine abuse across the U.S. Much attention has been given to the opioid crisis happening in the country, but the spotlight also needs to be turned onto the misuse of benzodiazepines like Valium.
Prescription drugs, like Valium, are the second most commonly abused drug in the United States, with marijuana being the first. While the majority of people who use prescription medications can do so without abusing them, about 12 percent of people do misuse them. More than 1.4 million adults reported misusing prescription sedatives, like Valium, in 2015 for many different reasons.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people report abusing prescription drugs to:
- Relieve physical pain
- Relax or relieve tension
- Experiment with the drug
- Get high or feel good
- Help with sleep
- Help make themselves feel better
- Increase or decrease the effects of other drugs
- Satisfy a craving for the drug
Because doctors frequently prescribe prescription drugs, many people assume they are safe to use on their own. Many people are not educated about the serious and potentially dangerous side effects that can occur with prescription drug abuse. They take the liberty to self-medicate or experiment with them recreationally without knowing the health dangers.
Valium, in particular, can be very dangerous to experiment with. It comes with a black box warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is the most serious warning the FDA can put on medication, and it is meant to alert doctors and individuals about the potentially dangerous side effects associated with its use. The FDA also warns against consuming Valium concurrently with opioids as the medications can cause severe central nervous system depression when used at the same time.
The goal of Valium is to decrease excessive excitability in your body that may be causing anxiety, muscle spasms, or seizures. It works by increasing the amount of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your system, which is responsible for monitoring the signals being sent throughout your central nervous system.
The desired effect of increasing GABA in your system is an overall sense of mental and physical calm. Like any medication, however, Valium use typically comes with a range of side effects.
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Impaired physical control and coordination
- Dry mouth
- Excessive saliva
The above side effects are usually fairly mild and should resolve within a few days on their own. There is a possibility of experiencing more severe side effects, however, that do require medical attention. They are:
- The appearance or worsening of seizures
- Slurred or slowed speech
- Blurred or double vision
- Memory loss
- Suicidal thoughts
- Increased muscle spasms
- Trouble sleeping
- Liver problems
- Bladder problems
- Changes in sex drive
The above more serious side effects of Valium use are cause for concern and should be reported to your doctor right away. They may require medical treatment and certainly indicate a need to adjust your dosage.
When taking Valium, it is also important to be aware of how it may interact with any other drugs or medications you may be using. Other medications, alcohol, recreational drugs, and even natural or herbal supplements can interact with Valium and worsen side effects or cause unforeseen consequences.
Extra caution should be made before using Valium and any other central nervous system depressants, like alcohol, opioids, or additional benzodiazepines. When these substances are mixed, they can cause severe central nervous system depression that leads to coma or death in the worst-case scenario.
Even though Valium brings about changes quickly, it does not leave the body quickly. In fact, Valium can be remarkably persistent within the body.
Professionals measure the persistence of a drug with the term “half-life.” According to the British charity Mind, a half-life is a measure of how long it takes the body to process half of the active ingredient in a dose of drugs. It can be an imprecise number, as each person’s body tends to metabolize drugs a little differently. But it can be useful when categorizing and grouping drugs.
Roche Products reports that the entirety of Valium’s half-life is up to 48 hours, but the half-life of the drug’s active ingredient can be up to 100 hours. The manufacturer also reports that people who take the drug repeatedly can have an even longer half-life to get through.
These numbers indicate that Valium stays active within the body for a very long time after the dose is taken. That also means Valium can be detected in some screening tests for a long time as well.
When to Seek Treatment
It may be time to seek treatment for a Valium addiction if you are exhibiting typical signs of substance misuse. In general, you are probably exhibiting behaviors that are not like your usual self and that are disrupting your normal patterns of daily living.
Signs of drug abuse will reflect a physical and psychological addiction to the drug. Typical signs of substance abuse include:
- You have developed a tolerance to the medication and need larger doses to achieve the same desired effects.
- You have been taking the drug for longer than you originally intended to.
- You have a constant desire to use the drug.
- You can’t decrease or stop your use even when you want to and try to do so.
- You spend a significant amount of time thinking about, obtaining, using, and recovering from the drug.
- You no longer participate in important events because of substance use.
- You continue to use the drug despite facing personal, professional, or legal problems.
- You are aware of the challenges the drug use is causing you, but you continue to use it.
If the above signs sound like you, then you could benefit from treatment. Addiction treatment will address all of your mental, emotional, and physical needs to help you break free from the cycle of substance abuse. It will equip you with the tools you need to become sober and gain control over your life again.
People who have a psychological dependence on Valium for its anti-anxiety properties or who are compelled to engage in risky behavior might combine Valium with other substances — such as other depressants or central nervous stimulants — to experience an increased spectrum of results. In other cases, however, people who get Valium illegally — either off the internet or from a dealer — are trusting that the tablets they buy are diazepam.
In reality, there is often no reliable way of ensuring that drugs purchased illegally are what the consumer expects them to be. Drug manufacturers and their dealers add other substances to their products, as a way of increasing their profits while reducing their expenses. This practice is known as cutting or lacing, and it is a widespread and dangerous trend in the illicit drug trade.
This means that a person who buys a batch of Valium, from an “online pharmacy” or who knows a dealer who can sell them cheap (or “discounted”) Valium, might be getting a tablet that looks like Valium or diazepam but is a combination of unknown substances.
If you recognize the need for substance abuse treatment for yourself, you have options and should feel optimistic about the chances of making a full recovery. Decades of research on substance abuse and treatment have shown that substance use disorders are diseases of the brain, and they respond well to treatment.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that successful treatment usually incorporates multiple factors. Detoxification, behavioral counseling, and medication management are all important parts of the recovery process.
Detoxification is the first step in the treatment process and must be followed with sufficient participation in behavioral therapy. Participating in the therapeutic process provides insights into your patterns of substance abuse and the development of new skills that will promote substance-free living on a long-term basis. Medications can provide valuable assistance during the detox and recovery process as well, but all users must be supervised by a doctor.
Depending on the level of your substance use disorder, treatment needs will vary. The most structured and supportive type of treatment comes in the form of inpatient or residential treatment. In residential treatment programs, you live at the treatment facility for an extended period and receive around-the-clock support.
If your addiction is less severe, an outpatient program may be appropriate. Outpatient programs allow you to continue to live at home and participate in some of your normal daily activities while providing daily or weekly opportunities to participate in therapy. You need a strong support system and a safe home environment to participate in outpatient treatment.
No matter which treatment program you decide to attend, NIDA notes that you may need to participate in treatment multiple times before a full recovery is made. Relapse is a natural part of the recovery process, and much can be learned if that happens. A relapse allows you to evaluate triggers for substance use and develop more effective coping strategies for the future.
Getting Help With Detox
NIDA explains that in the case of treating addiction to central nervous system depressants, such as Valium, it is important to have adequate support during the withdrawal process. It is not recommended to attempt to stop taking Valium on your own if you have an extended history of using it.
Withdrawal symptoms, such as the ones listed below, can be severe and have the potential to be life-threatening.
- Abdominal and muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain
- Extreme anxiety
- Numbness or tingling in the legs and arms
People who have taken moderate doses of Valium as instructed by their doctor are only likely to experience mild withdrawal symptoms, though they may still be uncomfortable. People with a more extensive history of Valium abuse who have been taking high doses of the medication for an extended period are at a greater risk of experiencing some of the more severe withdrawal complications.
Because of the chances of experiencing withdrawal symptoms, quitting Valium cold turkey is not encouraged. Gradually tapering off the medication is highly recommended. In cases where only mild withdrawal symptoms are likely to present themselves, your doctor can work with you to create a tapering schedule that will ease you off the drug and reduce your chances of experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
In cases where more severe withdrawal symptoms are likely to be faced, medically assisted detox is recommended. Medical detoxification is used to ensure the safe management of withdrawal symptoms. It is usually done in a hospital or inpatient rehab facility where an individual’s withdrawal symptoms can be closely monitored.
Medications can be administered to address difficult physical and psychological symptoms that occur. Medical detoxification can last as long as challenging symptoms persist and will involve gradually tapering off the substance of abuse.
It is important to note that medical detoxification plays an important and highly supportive role in the recovery process, but it is not sufficient on its own to establish long-term change. People who participate in medically assisted detox see more positive treatment outcomes, but they must still complete sufficient behavioral therapy to increase the likelihood of maintaining long-lasting sobriety.
How to Use Valium Safely
Although Valium comes with a high risk of dependence and abuse, it is possible to use the drug safely. Avoiding recreational use of the drug, as well as sticking to doctor-recommended dosage guidelines, greatly decreases your chances of encountering dangerous complications.
If you find yourself in the category with millions of other people across the country who have developed a problem with prescription drug misuse, the good news is that there are treatment options available and full recovery is possible. The road to recovery is not an easy one, but by receiving the right support and treatment, you can regain control of your mental and physical well-being.