Valium, a form of benzodiazepine, is a Schedule IV Controlled Substance with muscle relaxant, anti-convulsant, sedative properties. The drug is one of the more well-known prescription medications on the market for treating anxiety and other mood disorders. It’s also one of the most commonly sold pharmaceutical drugs in the United States and has a substantial share in the black market drug trade.
What is Valium?
Valium was initially introduced in 1963, chemical name Diazepam, in the United States. The drug would become one of the most successful and continually prescribed medications in the benzodiazepine family. Valium, like all benzos, works on the central nervous system and binds to GABA receptors in the brain. Unlike opioids, benzos do not link to life-supporting organs such as the lungs and are primarily intended to create a calming effect through the entire body.
During its peak year in the United States, over 2.3 billion pills of Valium were sold to Americans. Initially, it was heavily marketed towards women to treat symptoms of anxiety, often relying on sexist assumptions about PMS and housewives. Today, it is still one of the most heavily prescribed central nervous system depressant drugs given by doctors to treat anxiety, mood disorders, and seizures. Its effectiveness has to lead to it being listed on the World Health Organization’s essential drug list as a core medicine.
What is Valium Used For?
Valium, or Diazepam, is prescribed for a variety of medical purposes but is primarily used to treat mental and mood disorders. Examples include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Acute Anxiety
- Convulsive disorders (Seizures, Epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome)
- Muscle spasms from cerebral palsy, paraplegia, and multiple sclerosis
- Restless leg syndrome
- Impulse control disorders
- Withdrawal symptoms from other substances
Valium is generally effective at treating symptoms of these mental and mood disorders, but it is not curative. Valium is also restricted from those with known respiratory conditions, sleep apnea, and glaucoma among others. It is also not advised for use in children and not approved for use in pregnant women.
How does Valium Work?
Valium is derived from benzodiazepine and is either colorless or light yellow. When produced, it appears as a crystalline compound. For patient use, it is crushed and separated in tablet or capsule form. The most common doses are 2mg, 5mg, or 10mg, which should be taken with water and food. Because of its sedative effects, the drug should not be taken when the user needs to operate heavy machinery.
When taken, the drug directly absorbs into the bloodstream anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours after being taken depending on the stomach contents of the user. Once administered, it begins to act on the GABA neurotransmitters in all major regions of the central nervous system. The drug inhibits the excitatory nerve cells in the body, inducing sedative and amnesiac properties on the user. Diazepam suppresses the activity of all major regions in the central nervous system, depressing both mental and motor function. As an anticonvulsant it also limits the pathways of electrical neurons, effectively reducing the severity of seizures and muscle spasms.
Valium is classified as low potency benzo with a long half-life, meaning it takes longer to achieve noticeable effects but will last for a long duration. The typical duration that this drug stays in your system for a healthy adult is roughly 24 hours, though trace amounts may remain in the body up to 80 hours later.
Valium Abuse and Addiction
As one of the most popular central nervous system depressants on the market, Valium is commonly misused for recreational purposes. The drug takes effect relatively quickly with strong potency and duration, raising its potential for addiction and abuse. When combined with other substances, it produces reinforced effects related to euphoria, stupor, and relaxation, making it popular for polydrug abusers.
Tolerance to Valium and many other benzodiazepines can build quickly. Long-term use of this drug is a likely outcome for many patients who are prescribed this medication to treat some mental or mood disorder since it only serves to treat the symptoms, and not the causes. Over time, the GABA receptors in the body gradually lose their efficiency and eventually higher doses of Valium, and other central nervous system depressants are needed to create a similar reaction. This tolerance effect can take place in anyone, regardless if you began the drug recreationally or for medical purposes. The FDA has advised clinicians to prescribe no more than 40mg doses per day and to discontinue use of Valium after four months of continual use. Likewise, use of Valium should be limited solely to physician administration.
Valium is commonly used by polydrug abusers to negate the withdrawal effects associated with other substances. Cocaine and alcoholic addicts may be prescribed or choose to take Valium to negate some of the side effects of withdrawal such as anxiety, agitation, paranoia, insomnia through its calming properties. Valium is also commonly abused in conjunction with opioids and methadone to enhance the euphoric highs of these drugs. This is especially dangerous given that users may not accurately judge their level of opioid intake.
Signs of Addiction
Some common signs of addiction to Valium involve similar signs of addiction to other substances such as drug-seeking behavior and withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued. Some are also unique to the benzodiazepine family. Valium addiction can be difficult to detect, mainly if someone has been prescribed the medication for medicinal purposes. However, usage of the drug in any way outside of medicinal purposes is the first sign of abuse and possible addiction. Taking it in more massive doses than prescribed, the obsessive behavior associated with seeking out and taking the drug, lack of control, and the presence of withdrawal symptoms all indicate a possible addiction to Valium. Physiological dependence and signs of withdrawal can occur in both addicts and patients who stick to their prescription regimen.
Drug Seeking Behavior
Drug-seeking behavior is defined as any behavior, whether in words or action, that indicate someone is actively seeking higher doses and quantities of the drug in question. For example, a patient complaining that the drug’s effects aren’t working anymore and indicating they need a higher dosage. Another example would be someone setting aside a monthly, weekly, or daily budget to acquire the drug. This is the first significant sign of an addiction.
Withdrawal symptoms from any drug indicates that the user has developed some tolerance to the drug. This can be as minor as a hangover from drinking too much too full blown nausea and muscle spasms from opioid withdrawal. The more severe the withdrawal symptoms that occur from discontinuing the drug should indicate the level of addiction that the person has. The exact withdrawal symptoms from Valium can be found below.
Valium affects the central nervous system in noticeable ways. It causes a sharp decrease in the metabolism and retards the body’s motor function. This could manifest itself as poor coordination, muscle weakness, slow reaction times, lethargy, vertigo, ataxia, and more. A universal sign of Valium addiction would be any person who appears to have slow reaction times, poor motor coordination, and a sense of detachment when interacting with them on a regular basis.
Valium abuse manifests itself with significant memory impairments. Forgetfulness, memory loss, mental confusion, and retrograde amnesia are all possible signs of Valium addiction. The drug affects portions of the brain associated with decision making and memory, causing similar memory impairment effects to that of alcohol.
As with many abused substances, Valium creates reduced inhibition in users, making it popular for recreational use in social situations. When taken in large doses, Valium can cause users to engage in behavior that they wouldn’t otherwise engage in. This could cause someone to become more social and friendly than they usually would, but it could also make them unaware of personal boundaries or overly confrontational. Some users may also display uncharacteristic aggression, paranoia, or impulsivity.
As with all benzodiazepines, the risk of fatal overdose solely from Valium is low. However, the risk of overdose is still a genuine threat, multiplied tenfold when other substances are taken in addition to Valium. Overdose level varies from person to person depending on weight, height, tolerance, gender, and dose. Even doses of up to 1500mg in one day may not be fatal for users. However, dosage levels this high can significantly impair the mental and motor function of those who take it, and the effects could last for days after dosing. Signs of overdose from Valium include:
- Double Vision
- Blue Lips
- Extreme lethargy and drowsiness
- Uncoordinated movement
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
- Double vision
Valium and other benzodiazepines may not kill you, but their combined effects with substances such as alcohol or opioids can turn those deadly drugs even more lethal. A significant number of opioid and alcohol overdoses have been associated with some form of benzodiazepine in the system of the deceased.
Users who take Valium for as little as 10 to 12 mg of Valium daily for more than a few weeks can start to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms will grow more pronounced the more severe the addiction and tolerance is. Symptoms are divided into the short and long term. The short, or acute phase, is usually the most severe and can begin less than one day following the last dose. The long-term withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from weeks to months to even years.
Short-Term Symptoms (1 – 2 weeks following the last dose)
- Painful migraines
- Extreme nausea
- Stomach pain
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Body tremors
- Dry retching
- Panic attacks
- Hypersensitivity to light
- Extreme mood swings
- Ear ringing
- Increased blood pressure
Long-Term Symptoms (Varies but can last from less than a month to years later)
- Suicidal ideation
- Drug cravings
- Chronic stress
Valium addiction can turn into a severely debilitating, lifelong battle to maintain sobriety. Benzodiazepines may not kill you by themselves, but the withdrawal symptoms are infamous for being among the most unbearable for those in recovery. Some people feel as though they never fully recovered from their benzo addictions, reporting chronic psychological symptoms. However, this does mean recovery is impossible, nor does it mean that you can’t ever live a happy, fulfilling life again.
Treatment for Valium Addiction
Treatment for Valium addiction is a long-term process with multiple phases that is best pursued under the medical direction of clinical professionals. Treatment usually consists of an evaluative phase to determine the severity of your Valium addiction and is followed by a detox period to restore the body to somewhat normal chemical balances. Detox can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week. This period of recovery is medically monitored and carefully supervised to make sure the addict does not relapse. Detox undertaken alone can be the most dangerous phase of recovery because some addicts will attempt anything to lessen the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, including relapsing and possibly overdosing.
Following detox, patients usually choose to stay in a residential or outpatient treatment program. Here, the patient is continually monitored and takes part in daily clinical therapy, often in a group setting but also with one on one sessions. The patient learns to address some of the underlying mental or physical problems that lead to their addiction, and develop healthy coping mechanisms for stress in the future. They also have the opportunity to share stories with fellow people in recovery, laying the groundwork for a future support network.
For those that need help now, there are addiction treatment centers that specialize in getting people clean, helping them gain clarity into their mental state, restructure their lives, and give them continued support on the road to recovery and happiness. Recovering from Valium addiction can be tough but the individuals at Landmark Recovery are here to help you lived the life you dreamed. To learn more about our inpatient/outpatient rehab programs, as well as the services and care we offer, call one of our dedicated admissions consultants today.