Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 18.1% of adults in the U.S. deal with anxiety disorders every year. Doctors and researchers have been developing ways to address this common problem for decades, and there are several pharmacological treatments for anxiety, including Valium and Xanax. These two medications are both in the benzodiazepine class of drugs, which are central nervous system depressants. They work to slow down brain and nervous system activity, facilitating mental and physical relaxation.
Valium and Xanax are two of the dozens of benzodiazepines available, and they are among the most popular in the United States. If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to get the right treatment for your needs. If that involves medication, how do you know which of these drugs will be right for you? What’s the difference between Valium and Xanax, and which one is better for treating your anxiety? Learn more about Xanax and Valium and how they compare.
What is Valium?
Valium, which is also available under the generic name diazepam, comes from the benzodiazepine class of drugs. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, and symptoms caused by alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines work by targeting the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric) in the brain.
They increase the function of GABA, which, in turn, inhibits excessive excitability in the body that causes anxiety or seizures.
If you are using Valium, it is important to take it exactly as directed by your doctor, as it can be habit-forming, and it is possible to experience dangerous side effects. Valium is only meant to be used for short-term treatment purposes. Use that extends beyond four months is not recommended.
If you would like to stop using Valium, it is important to do so gradually and to consult your doctor first. Tolerance to Valium can develop in as little as a few days, and physical dependence can develop within a few weeks or months of use. Abruptly quitting your Valium use puts you at risk for extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
What is Xanax?
Xanax, known generically as alprazolam, is also a benzodiazepine that is commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety. It can be used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and anxiety that is caused by depression.
Xanax is used most safely when taken exactly as directed by your doctor. Like Valium, Xanax can be habit-forming, and misuse of the drug can lead to dependence and addiction.
Xanax works in the same way that Valium does, by decreasing excitement in the brain that is leading to anxiety. Xanax is a highly potent drug, so it is important to use it with caution and to keep it out of reach of children or anyone else in your household who may accidentally take it. People can experience adverse side effects and symptoms of overdose if they take Xanax in ways that are not intended.
Xanax, as well as Valium, has a history of misuse in the United States. It is commonly overprescribed by doctors and misused by individuals who assume it is safe just because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the medication for use.
Xanax is the fifth most prescribed drug in the U.S. with prescription rates increasing at 9 percent per year since 2008. Many of these prescriptions are for legitimate medical reasons, but many are signs of misuse. Each year, 125,000 people, many of whom obtain Xanax legally, end up in the emergency room as a result of Xanax-related incidents.
Someone with an addiction to Xanax is likely to take 20 to 30 pills per day, putting them at high risk of experiencing adverse side effects and overdose.
Is Xanax Stronger Than Valium?
A drug’s strength often depends on the size of its standard, effective dose. A standard dose of Valium is 2 to 10 milligrams, and it’s taken two to four times per day. A standard dose of Xanax is 0.25 to 0.5 milligrams, and it’s taken three times per day. Because Xanax is potent in smaller doses, it’s considered stronger than Valium.
But it’s important to note that a stronger drug doesn’t necessarily mean it will be more effective for your treatment. Because the drugs are different and each person is different, one drug may be better at treating your insomnia or anxiety better than the other. That’s why it’s important to find the right drug for you with the help of your doctor.
There are many similarities between Valium and Xanax, ranging from their intended purposes to side effects to warnings of use. In fact, there are more similarities than differences between the two types of benzodiazepines.
- Side effects: The side effects of Valium and Xanax are very similar. Common side effects include drowsiness, muscle weakness, shakiness, lightheadedness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, changes in sex drive, nausea, constipation, changes in appetite, and joint pain.
Severe side effects that could indicate an allergic reaction or overdose include difficulty breathing, hallucinations, hives or skin rash, jaundice, depression, slurred speech, unusual changes in behavior and mood, suicidal thoughts, and swelling of the lips, face, tongue, or mouth.
- Tolerance, dependence, and addiction: Tolerance is considered to be a normal response to the use of any benzodiazepine and will most likely develop with Valium and Xanax use. Tolerance does not indicate addiction, though dependence and addiction will develop with consistent and extended use of the either drug.
- Withdrawal symptoms: Withdrawal symptoms from Valium and Xanax include seizures, uncontrollable shaking, headache, blurred vision, increased sensitivity to light and sound, insomnia, impaired cognition, nervousness, irritability, depression, anxiety, aggression, nausea and vomiting, and muscle aches, pains, and cramps.
- Risk of overdose: All benzodiazepines come with the potential for overdose. Extreme drowsiness, confusion, impaired mental and physical coordination, seizures, and coma are all indications of a benzodiazepine overdose and require emergency medical attention to prevent the overdose from being fatal.
- Warnings: People with certain pre-existing health conditions are warned against using benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax. Each drug should be prescribed with extreme caution to certain populations, such as adults over the age of 65 and young children. Additionally, neither drug is safe for pregnant or nursing women to use. Both drugs also have the potential to cause negative side effects when mixed with many other drugs.
In addition to the above similarities, both drugs are widely misused. They are relatively affordable and easy to obtain. People who abuse prescription medications like Xanax and Valium can get excessive amounts of the drugs through multiple doctors’ prescriptions or illegally off the street.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, diazepam and alprazolam are often used concurrently with methadone to try and increase the euphoric effects of each of the drugs. People addicted to other drugs, such as cocaine, also misuse benzodiazepines by self-medicating symptoms of withdrawal or hangovers.
While there are significant similarities between Valium and Xanax, there are also key differences. These differences can help indicate which mediation may be most appropriate for you to take if you are struggling with relevant medical symptoms.
In general, both medications are prescribed to treat anxiety, but the type of anxiety you experience may be better treated by one medication over the other. Differences between Valium and Xanax include:
- Type of anxiety treated. Xanax can be used to treat panic disorder in addition to general symptoms of anxiety. Valium, however, has not been approved for the treatment of the panic disorder, though it can also be used for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms and seizures.
- Length of time until effects take place. Xanax takes a longer time to produce anti-anxiety effects while the effects of Valium are often experienced more quickly. Valium also has a longer half-life, so it stays active in your system for a longer period.
- Safety for children. The safety of prescribing Xanax to children is unknown, while the use of Valium for children has been approved though it must be closely monitored.
Speaking with your doctor about your specific symptoms of anxiety and medication goals can help determine which medication is the most appropriate for you. By evaluating your history and current symptoms, doctors can make an informed decision about which medication to prescribe.
Signs of Valium and Xanax Misuse
Despite being developed for medical purposes, Valium and Xanax have become widely misused drugs. People misuse them while under doctors’ supervision as well as recreationally. Signs of misuse range from constantly running out of the prescription to searching out multiple prescriptions at once to becoming all-consumed with obtaining and using Valium or Xanax.
You can recognize a benzodiazepine addiction in someone by observing if their behaviors and mood have become odd and the changes are unexplainable by any other life events. Additionally, if they are missing out on important events, failing to fulfill responsibilities, and encountering personal, professional, or legal troubles, they may be struggling with substance abuse.
Valium and Xanax play important roles in the treatment of anxiety disorders that can create significant difficulties in many people’s lives. It is important to be aware of the potential for misuse, however, and to regulate the consumption of each medication so addiction does not become a problem.
Getting the Right Medication for Your Needs
Many people believe their anxiety symptoms will go away when they get the right medication. When you’re comparing Xanax versus Valium, you may be looking for a magic bullet to take care of your anxiety disorder. However, effective treatment may be more complicated than that. When you’re looking for anxiety treatment, it’s important to speak to your doctor about your options. If you’re given a prescription, make a note of how it works for you and if you experience side effects.
It’s common to experience side effects when you first start taking medication. For instance, if you take a Xanax before bed, you may experience a Xanax hangover, which is next-day drowsiness. However, many of these symptoms wear off after a few days. But if you experience new, worsening, or persistent side effects, you should let your doctor know. For many, treating anxiety is a trial and error process that involves adjusting the dose or changing your medication.
There is no magic pill that will instantly make your anxiety go away. For many, it’s rooted in issues that can be addressed in talk therapy. A combination of therapy and drugs may be the most effective treatment for your needs. If you begin to treat your anxiety, keep in mind that you may feel better, even if you don’t see immediate success.