Valium is the brand name of the prescription drug diazepam, a long-acting central nervous system depressant belonging to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. Its relaxing effect makes Valium useful to treat anxiety disorders, however many find this feeling addicting.
Tolerance to Valium develops quickly and long term use can result in both physical and psychological dependence. If stopped suddenly, a user can experience potentially life-threatening seizures.
Valium is frequently obtained with a prescription; in 2016 there were more than 6 million prescriptions in the United States.
Valium goes under the street names Vallies, Jellies, Moggies and Eggs.
History of Valium
Released in 1963, Valium was one of the first benzodiazepines brought to market in the United States. Benzodiazepines like Valium were originally designed to be safer alternatives to barbiturates, a class of dangerous central nervous system depressants. Despite their increased safety compared to barbiturates, benzodiazepines can still be dangerous, especially when combined with other drugs such as alcohol or opioids.
How Valium Works in the Brain
Valium exerts is calming effect by enhancing the activity of a natural “slow down” chemical in the brain called GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). GABA plays an important role in how fast neurons fire. Overactive neuronal firing can result in both psychological disorders such as crippling anxiety and physical disorders such as epilepsy. By enhancing the “slow down” chemical in our brain, Valium helps those with anxiety feel more relaxed.
Medical Uses for Valium
Valium has several legitimate medical uses including:
- Anxiety Disorder – The calming effect can help those suffering from anxiety disorders and excessive worrying.
- Panic Attack – Panic attacks are a specific type of anxiety disorder characterized by a sudden feeling of intense fear, often associated with increased heart rate and sweating. Valium can be used to relax individuals experiencing a panic attack.
- Insomnia – Valium is effective for those who have trouble getting to sleep due to racing thoughts and anxiety. Because tolerance builds quickly to Valium’s sleep-inducing effects, its use as a sleep-aid should be limited to only a few weeks.
- Agitation – Those experiencing psychotic episodes due to drug use or dementia tend to become agitated and/or violent. Valium can be used to calm these individuals so they are no longer a threat to themselves or others.
- Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome – Long time alcoholics attempting to detox from alcohol may experience extreme shaking (delirium tremens) and life-threatening seizures. Valium is effective at controlling these withdrawals symptoms.
- Muscle Spasms – Valium is sometimes used to control painful muscle spasms when other agents have failed.
Side Effects of Valium
Valium use is associated with significant side effects. A Valium abuser may experience the following:
- Amnesia – While under the influence of Valium, the ability to retain memories is impaired. Users may have difficulty remembering what happened after they took it.
- Drowsiness – Valium can make users incredibly tired, especially when they start taking it. Users may fall asleep at work or while driving.
- Confusion – Valium can make a user confused and disoriented; they may be incoherent and have difficulty following simple instructions.
- Depression – Long term use of Valium can make a user feel depressed.
- Agitation – Some people may experience an opposite effect from Valium and feel agitated/nervous when taking the drug.
How strong the effects of Valium will be is dependent on several factors, including:
- Dose – Larger doses result in stronger effects.
- Age – The elderly tend to be much more sensitive to the effects of Valium than younger people; it also tends to stay in the system much longer.
- Body Weight – Lighter individuals require a lower dose to feel the effects of Valium.
- Drug Mixing – When combined with other depressants such as alcohol or opioids, the effects of Valium are made significantly stronger. It is dangerous to use Valium and drink alcohol.
While Valium is usually safe when taken as prescribed, too much Valium can result in an overdose. This is especially true when taken with alcohol, which multiplies the effects of Xanax.
The signs and symptoms of Valium overdose may include the following:
- Excessive drowsiness, unable to stay awake
- Extreme confusion
- Low blood pressure
- Impaired reflexes
- Respiratory depression
While a Valium overdose is unlikely to cause death by itself, when combined with alcohol or opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone or morphine, overdose can be lethal. The antidote for benzodiazepine overdose is a drug called flumazenil, however it is reserved for cases of severe respiratory depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Valium Addiction
Many users find the relaxing effects of Valium to be addicting. While many will intentionally seek out the drug, even those without a history of substance use disorders can become addicted.
Some signs and symptoms that may signal addiction to Valium are listed below.
- Drug Craving – Users who are addicted to Valium may have strong cravings for the drug once its effects wear off, often resorting to stealing from a friend or family member to support their habit.
- Social isolation – Once addicted, many users will become obsessive in their efforts to obtain and use the drug, often isolating themselves from friends and family.
- Depression – Because Valium can cause depression when used long term, users may feel sad and lose motivation in activities they used to enjoy.
Tolerance and Dependence
Tolerance to Valium develops rapidly, where more of the drug is required to achieve the same effect. When tolerance develops, users will often take more of the drug to feel high. This vicious cycle continues indefinitely, with users taking increasingly higher doses only to further build tolerance.
If taken for more than 2-3 weeks, a user may become physically dependent on Valium. Physical dependence occurs when the body adapts to the drug and eventually requires it to function properly. Once dependent, a user will suffer withdrawal if Valium is not taken.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Valium
Symptoms of withdrawal range from incredibly unpleasant to life-threatening. Some symptoms are listed below:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Muscle aches/pains
Seizures associated with Valium withdrawal can be life-threatening and should be managed in a hospital setting.
Because Valium stays in the body longer than most benzodiazepines, withdrawal symptoms may not begin until days following the last dose.
Addiction treatment for Valium abuse will often take place in a treatment facility, where the user can receive around-the-clock support. Medical detox in a treatment center will focus on managing both the user’s physical and mental health.
The initial goal for addiction treatment of Valium is to control withdrawal symptoms. In most cases of benzodiazepine withdrawal, the user is switched from whichever benzodiazepine they are abusing to Valium. In cases of Valium addiction, since the user is already taking Valium, the dose may be decreased (tapered) immediately to begin a tapering period.
Discontinuing Valium completely and suddenly, know as going “cold turkey,” is incredibly dangerous and should never be attempted due to the risk of life-threatening seizures. To treat Valium addiction, the dose will be slowly tapered over time.
How long the tapering period will last is very dependent on the individual, however an example taper may include decreasing the dose by 5-25% every 1-4 weeks until it can be safely discontinued. The tapering period may last months, especially for long term users who require time to recover from dose reductions.
Substance abuse is a challenging problem to overcome. Because Valium is dangerous to quit without the help of a medical professional, it is recommended that anyone addicted to Valium seek out the help of a qualified addiction specialist.