What is Valium (Diazepam)?
Valium addiction has been a serious problem in the United States for many years. This drug has serious side effects, even when it is taken as directed by a physician. It is important to understand the effects of this benzodiazepine drug, the risk of getting addicted, and where to turn for treatment.
Valium’s generic name is diazepam. It is classified as a benzodiazepine. Doctors prescribe the drug as an anticonvulsant, muscle relaxer, and sedative. It is a Schedule IV Controlled Substance. It is known as one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs on the market.
Even so, diazepam is still frequently prescribed to treat:
- Anxiety disorders such as PTSD, panic disorder, and others
- Convulsive disorders
- Spastic disorders and muscle spasms in cerebral palsy, paraplegia, and multiple sclerosis
- Restless legs syndrome
- Psychiatric disorders, including psychotic illnesses
- Status epilepticus (long-lasting seizures)
- Alcohol detox and management of withdrawal
The World Health Organization lists Valium on its Essential Medicines List. They designated it as a “core medicine.”
Valium High: The Short-Term Effects of Diazepam Abuse
Once a person takes Valium, it enters their bloodstream quickly. They may be able to feel its effects within 20 minutes to an hour. After reaching the peak of the high, there is a comedown or “crash” as withdrawal sets in.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms people experience include:
The only way to counteract these effects is to take more Valium or abuse another drug to get high. But continuing to take this drug causes the body to build up a tolerance to it. This means that reaching the same level of euphoria requires even higher doses as time goes on.
This increases the risk of getting addicted and overdosing.
What is a “Valium high”?
Valium is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Like other benzodiazepines, taking it decreases activity in the nervous system. It causes the release of a flood of dopamine in the brain, like all addictive substances. When a person abuses this drug, they experience a Valium high which causes:
- A calm euphoria
- Problems with coordination
- Feelings of intoxication or drunkenness
Valium withdrawal symptoms
- A rapid heart rate
- Stomach cramps
- Inhibited speech and behavior
- Symptoms of anxiety
- Symptoms of depression
Possible side-effects of normal Diazepam use
Taking Valium as prescribed does not produce the same effects as abusing it.
It does still have side effects, and people are likely to experience:
- Dry mouth
- Slurred speech
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in heart rate/rhythm
- Decreased respiratory rate
- Decreased memory consolidation
- Delayed reflexes
- Difficulty urinating
- Blurred vision
Valium has a long half-life, so it remains in the body for a prolonged period. In a young, healthy adult, the drug’s typical half-life is around 24 hours. But trace amounts have been found in urine samples for up to 80 hours after use.
Valium Addiction in the U.S.: Facts and Statistics
“Many young people turn to these medications to self-treat symptoms of stress or anxiety, in part because clinical therapies and treatments are too costly or inaccessible, are seen as too time-consuming, or carry too much stigma.”
– Linda Richter, Director of Policy Research & Analysis, Partnership to End Addiction
Valium street names
- Mother’s Little Helper
How do people get Valium?
Around one out of every five adults in the United States who take Valium or other benzos are abusing them. Sadly, 16% of overdose fatalities involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines, according to NIDA. Diazepam is one of the most common benzodiazepines found on the illicit drug market. The DEA states that illicit Valium is usually obtained from:
- Doctor shopping
- Forged prescriptions
- Legal drugs diverted by unethical pharmacists and doctors
- Unregulated online purchases
- Medicine provided by vets for their pets
Abusing Valium can have dangerous consequences. A Valium overdose is rarely fatal, but the risk increases when mixing the drug with other CNS depressants. Adding opioids or alcohol to this drug magnifies the euphoria and can have fatal results.
Valium Overdose Warning Signs
It is rare for someone to overdose on Valium, alone, or to die from an overdose if one occurs. Even a high dose – as much as 1500 mg or more – should not cause any permanent damage.
Taking Valium along with other CNS depressants increases the risk of overdosing. Alcohol and opioids are the most common drugs people abuse with benzos.
The signs of a Valium overdose include:
- Increased drowsiness
- Bluish lips
- Slurred speech
- Extreme lethargy and lack of energy
- Double vision
- Impaired vision
- Extreme difficulty in breathing
- Lack of coordination
- Increased anxiety
Signs and Symptoms of Valium Abuse and Addiction
Valium has a low potential for dependence compared to other benzodiazepine drugs. But even people who take it appropriately will experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping. This is why doctors have their patients taper off gradually. Stopping it abruptly is likely to result in significant withdrawal, so doctors generally prescribe a tapering period when stopping regular use of the drug.
Due to Valium’s low abuse potential, doctors use it to treat alcohol withdrawal. It is also used to treat withdrawal symptoms from other benzodiazepines.
The Long-Term Side Effects of Valium Use and Abuse
Heavy use of diazepam over an extended period of time can have damaging effects on the brain and body. These effects can be permanent and, in some cases, even life-threatening. The long-term effects of Valium can include:
- Memory loss
- Slow heart rate
- Respiratory problems
- Cognitive issues
- Heart attack
- Aggressive behavior
- Psychotic experiences
Polydrug Use: Common Valium Drug Combinations
Polydrug use, or mixing drugs, is a common practice among drug users. They do it to exaggerate a drug’s effects. It is common for people to add substances like opioids and alcohol to benzos for a more euphoric high.
Some users will mix cocaine or other stimulants with Valium. They do it to counteract its sedative effects while preserving the euphoric high.
Using cocaine helps users stay awake, but a person taking Valium at the same time may misjudge how much they use. Cocaine wears off much faster. If a person takes too much Valium, they could suffer severe, life-threatening complications. Those that survive could fall into a coma or begin having seizures.
Mixing drugs with Valium significantly increases the risk of a potentially fatal overdose. When this drug is abused with alcohol or opioids, it slows down the CNS. Their respiratory system can be affected so much that they stop breathing entirely.
Valium Withdrawal Symptoms Duration
Due to Valium’s long half-life, withdrawal can last longer than it does for other drugs too. People who take smaller doses (10-12 mg a day for more than 6 months) also experience withdrawal. Symptoms are divided into two categories – acute and long-term.
The acute stage begins about 1-4 days after the administration of the last dose. It includes a variety of psychological, physical, and neurological symptoms.
The most common of these symptoms include:
- Dry retching
- Stomach pains
- Muscle cramps
- Body tremors
- Heart palpitations
- Increased heart rate
- Cognitive issues
- Violent mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Rebound anxiety
The harshest physical withdrawal symptoms will diminish after 1-2 weeks. Many people develop Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS, which can last much longer. Psychological symptoms like insomnia, feeling suicidal, anxiety, and cravings may continue for months.
The safest way to treat Valium withdrawal symptoms is to go through drug detox. Professional treatment offers medically-assisted, supervised care. The first course of action is to taper the patient off Valium over time.
Valium Addiction Treatment Options and Recovery
Stopping the use of Valium is likely to cause people to experience anxiety. The drug suppresses the brain’s production of natural anxiety inhibitors. This makes recovery difficult, and users are very likely to relapse without treatment.
Detoxing is essential to treat withdrawal. Afterward, a professional, evidence-based addiction treatment program is highly recommended. Depending on the patient’s needs, an inpatient or outpatient rehab may be recommended.
Going through inpatient rehab allows patients to focus on recovering without outside distractions. It also removes the risk of relapsing due to triggers the patient might encounter at home. Patients receive care 24/7.
Inpatient programs provide a high chance of successful, long-term recovery. Patients can fully engage with treatment as their conditions gradually improve. They also learn what it is like to live their lives without being dependent upon a drug.
Going to outpatient rehab is an attractive option because of its flexibility. These programs are available at various levels of intensity.
The following are all available:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and
- Outpatient programs (OPs)
The appropriate level of care is based on several factors, including:
- The patient’s clinical assessment
- The patient’s personal preference
- The patient’s availability for treatment
Patients may come to treatment several days a week for a few hours each day, in some cases. Even when a person needs a higher level of care, such as an IOP, appointments offer flexibility. They can often continue to work, attend school, or care for their families while going to rehab.
Life After Valium Addiction Treatment
Once completing Valium addiction treatment, there are options available to maintain recovery.
Sober living homes provide an additional layer of support for people after rehab. The environment is safe, structured, and recovery-minded.
There are also mutual aid support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous. SMART Recovery offers a non-12-Step option for support.
Patients should also make sure to attend all follow-up appointments for therapy. Continued treatment is extremely important, and will help them avoid a relapse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Benzodiazepines and Opioids. February, 2021. Available at DrugAbuse.gov.
- World Health Organization: WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (20th Edition). June, 2017. Available at WHO.int.
- Valium (Diazepam) Label. Published 2016. Available at AccessData.FDA.org.
- Partnership to End Addiction. 2021. Available at DrugFree.org.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Diazepam (Valium)” March, 2021. Available at NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov
- Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Behavior, UCLA, Dual Diagnosis Intensive Outpatient Program: Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. 2021. Available at Semel.UCLA.edu.
- Narcotics Anonymous. 2021. Available at NA.org.