Drug tolerance indicates your body’s response to a drug over time. It occurs when you no longer respond to the drug in the same way you did when you first started taking it. Rather than the initial dose still being effective, you have to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. Tolerance is a natural response to many drugs, such as benzodiazepines, and it occurs in most people who use them for an extended time.
Tolerance is not the same thing as dependence on or addiction to a drug. Many people develop tolerance to drugs without ever developing substance use disorders. Substance use disorders, however, are more likely to occur if you consistently increase your doses in response to tolerance.
Increasing dosage amounts is one way to address tolerance, though it is not the safest. If you are developing tolerance to a drug prescribed to you by a doctor, your doctor may decide to switch you to an alternative medicine rather than increase your dosage of the current one.
Additionally, not all drug tolerance is negative. With time, you might develop a tolerance for the adverse side effects caused by some drugs. Symptoms such as nausea or a headache may go away as your body adapts to the new substance, and you then just experience the intended benefits. If you notice yourself experiencing a reduced response to a drug you have been taking, you may have developed a tolerance to it.
Tolerance To Valium
Researchers have found that tolerance to the sedative and anticonvulsant properties of benzodiazepines, like Valium, develops relatively quickly. Evidence of tolerance can begin to form within just a few days of continued use, though it is likely to take a few weeks in most people. You will know if you are developing a tolerance to Valium if the dosage your doctor prescribed is no longer having the same effect on you.
In general, it is recommended that you limit your Valium use, as the drug is highly addictive. Because of the risk of addiction, experts recommend using Valium only for the short-term treatment of anxiety disorders, seizures, or alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Use beyond a few months is not recommended and can lead to dependence and addiction.
Even though it is recommended to limit benzodiazepine use to short-term prescriptions, long-term use often occurs. Chronic benzodiazepine use to treat specific disorders can lead to tolerance. In addition to the development of tolerance, chronic benzodiazepine use makes patients less sensitive to these drugs and renders the drugs much less effective.
How to Safely Address Tolerance
Once you have developed tolerance to a drug like Valium, you have a few options for how to address the issue. They all begin with speaking with your doctor.
Your doctor can evaluate the severity of your symptoms, the necessity for continuing use of the drug or not, and make a plan for how to safely reduce your intake. Safe approaches to addressing tolerance include:
- Temporarily discontinuing use of the medication
- Tapering off the substance
- Using a replacement medication that you have not developed a tolerance to
Some doctors may also recommend that you increase your dosage amount. This is a way to address tolerance, though it must be done with extreme caution. With time, your body will become accustomed to that amount of the drug as well, and your risk of dependence and tolerance increases.
The Importance of Addressing Tolerance Sooner Rather Than Later
If you begin to develop tolerance to a drug, it is important to address it as soon as you become aware of it. Many drugs, such as Valium, are highly addictive, and tolerance is often the first step toward addiction.
Tolerance in and of itself is not a bad thing and does not indicate that you necessarily have a substance use problem. Once your tolerance to a drug progresses to dependence, however, the situation becomes more concerning.
The above is not an exhaustive list of symptoms of a substance use disorder, but if you recognize any of them in yourself or a loved one, addiction may be present.
Drug dependence means your body needs the specific drug in its system to function properly. It occurs after you have been using a particular drug for an extended time.
There is no exact timeline for when dependence will occur, as everyone responds to substances differently. One person may be able to use a given substance continuously for many months without becoming dependent on it, while another person could become dependent on the same substance within just a few weeks of daily use.
Once dependence sets in, you are likely to experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug.
Withdrawal symptoms can vary in severity from mild headaches and nausea to life-threatening seizures. In the case of Valium withdrawal, seizures are possible.
If you experience withdrawal symptoms when you reduce or stop your Valium intake, you are most likely dependent on the drug. If this is the case, it is still possible to make changes to your drug use before addiction takes place. Dependence is not the same thing as addiction, though it is often a precursor to it.
Signs of addiction include:
- Craving to use the drug daily or multiple times a day
- Spending a significant amount of time and money on the drug
- Needing increasingly larger doses of the drug to feel the same effects
- Neglecting work, school, family, and social responsibilities
- Experiencing physical and mental health consequences
- Inability to stop using the drug even when you want to
- Continued use of the drug despite suffering negative consequences
Fighting addiction on your own is a huge task to take on, and your efforts are unlikely to be successful without support. However, with the right treatment and support, full recovery is possible.
Moderating Your Drug Use
As with all substances, it is important to closely moderate your drug use even when a doctor has prescribed medications to you. Doctors should always discuss the risks of tolerance and dependence with their patients before starting them on a new drug.
In many situations, such as with Valium use, tolerance is likely to occur and is considered to be a normal response to the drug. Because of how easy it is for tolerance to develop, and thus dependence and addiction if you are not careful, Valium use must be monitored closely and kept to a minimum.
Valium is not meant to be used on a long-term basis. If bothersome symptoms of anxiety persist, alternative methods of treatment may be more appropriate.