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Valium: a Comprehensive Drug Guide

Valium: a Comprehensive Drug Guide

Table of Contents

What is Valium?

Valium (diazepam) is a prescription medication that is used to treat a wide range of conditions including anxiety disorders and seizures.

What is Valium Used For?

The main uses of diazepam are to alleviate anxiety and to control the distress caused by alcohol withdrawal.1

Also, diazepam can treat muscle spasms caused by some neurological illnesses such as cerebral palsy. Diazepam is also used to control seizures such as those caused by epilepsy.1

What Class of Drugs is Valium?

Diazepam is classified as a benzodiazepine drug. Benzodiazepine drugs are used as follows:2

Anxiolytic: Reduces anxiety 

Sedative: Promotes calm or induces sleep

Muscle-relaxant: Decreases muscle tone to alleviate muscle problems 

Anticonvulsant: Used to prevent or lessen convulsions 

Amnestic: Reduces the likelihood of recalling specific events (such as undergoing surgery) 

Most Prescribed Medications

Benzodiazepines are one of the most prescribed types of psychoactive medications in the USA. Between 1996 to 2013, the number of people who filled a prescription for benzodiazepines increased by 67%, from 8 million to 13.5 million Americans.3

Since benzodiazepines like diazepam can treat a wide range of disorders (seizures, anxiety, muscle spasms, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal symptoms) they are prescribed frequently. In 2018, of the top 200 medications sold in the USA, certain benzodiazepines were ranked as follows:4

#23 Alprazolam (Xanax)

#38 Clonzapam (Klonopin)

#55 Lorazepam (Ativan)

#91 Diazepam (Valium)

Is Valium Addictive?

Valium has the potential to become addictive.1 This is especially true if taken in larger doses than prescribed, if it is taken more often, or for longer times than a doctor prescribes.

Tolerance can occur when diazepam is taken over the long-term or excessively, which makes the medication less effective. Tolerance is when more of the drug is needed to feel the same previous effects. Diazepam must be taken regularly to be effective.

If you or a loved one suspect that a Valium dependence or tolerance is developing, do not stop taking the drug on your own. Talk with your doctor about the best way to address any issues. If you abruptly stop taking diazepam, insomnia, anxiousness and irritability can develop.1

Where is Valium on the DEA Schedule of Drugs?

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) puts out a drug scheduling chart. Legal and illicit drugs, substances, and some chemicals which are used to make illegal drugs are each put into one of five categories (schedules). Where each drug is placed is based on the drug’s acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependence potential.

Schedule I drugs have a high risk for abuse and dependence. As the schedule numbers increase, the risk of abuse and dependence decreases. Thus, Schedule V drugs have the least abuse and dependence potential.

Valium is classified as a Schedule IV drug.5 Some examples of other Schedule IV drugs include Soma, Xanax, Darvon, Darvocet, Ativan, Ambien, Talwin and Tramadol.5

Frequently Asked Questions About Valium?

Does it Have a Generic Form?

Valium has one generic form called diazepam.

How Does it Affect Your Body?

Diazepam works with a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA decreases brain activity in the control centers for emotions, memory, logical thought, and involuntary body functions such as breathing. Valium increases the effects of GABA, causing muscle relaxation, anxiety reduction and drowsiness.6

How Long Does Valium Last?

The average time for peak Valium concentrations in the blood is 1 – 1.5 hours.2 Absorption can be delayed or lowered if diazepam is taken around the time of a moderately fat meal.

When food is eaten close to a dose, it can delay diazepam absorption for about 45 minutes as compared with 15 minutes when no food is present.2

Diazepam’s initial distribution phase has a half-life of about 1 hour, although it may last up until more than 3 hours. After that initial phase, there is an extended elimination phase for the half-life (up to 48 hours).2

What is Valium's Half-Life?

Half-life is the time it takes for a drug in the body to decrease by half. For most people, the half-life of Valium is 48 hours.2 The half-life of diazepam goes up by about 1 hour for each year of age starting with a half-life of 20 hours at 20 years old.2

What are the Side Effects?

Diazepam, like other benzodiazepines, can cause side effects even when taken at prescribed doses. If you experience any of these side effects, talk with your doctor.

Fainting: Losing consciousness can be caused by diazepam, and a doctor should be notified right away

Vertigo: Vertigo, a sensation of feeling off balance, may occur, especially when diazepam is taken with other medications like antidepressants

Impaired cognition: Cognitive impairment that results from diazepam use can include drowsiness, amnesia, sedation, movement difficulties and inattentiveness

Numbness: Feeling numb in the limbs or face can happen due to long-term diazepam use

Slow reaction time: Diazepam has a sedative effect, so it can also cause slower reaction times. Proceed with caution before operating a motor vehicle or machinery

Confusion: Confusion can cause an inability to think clearly, feeling disoriented, and being unable to recognize people or places

Impaired judgment: The neurological actions that diazepam has on the brain can lead to impaired judgement

Lower sex drive: One side effect of diazepam is a decrease in libido

Valium Withdrawal Symptoms

Valium dependence differs from other drugs types. For other drugs, such as stimulants and opioids, pleasurable effects are felt when the drugs trigger a surge in dopamine levels in the brain, producing euphoria and intense relaxation.

Since diazepam is a benzodiazepine, it doesn’t trigger dopamine surges. Instead, it inhibits the brain’s ability to limit dopamine levels. Diazepam does this by lowering the activity of certain neurons. The result is that when diazepam restricts neural activity, the neurons that produce dopamine can release more dopamine due to the lack of restrictions.

Valium withdrawal symptoms can include:7

Headaches

Nausea / Stomach pain

Tremors: Uncontrollable shakes can happen due to tolerance 

Sweating: Excessive sweating can happen during the day and when asleep at night during Valium withdrawal 

Hallucinations: Though rare, some can experience hallucinations 

Dizziness 

Tiredness 

Confusion 

Anxiety

Since diazepam works on the brain’s receptors to lessen anxious feelings, a return of anxiety (sometimes at higher levels than before) can happen. When anxiety returns at higher levels than before, it’s called “rebound anxiety.”

Depression and Suicide

Feelings of sadness and depression are common withdrawal symptoms. Suicidal ideation from the depression caused by diazepam withdrawal is a troubling side effect. If you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide, talk to your doctor.

Seizures

A return of seizures can happen when diazepam is originally taken to control seizures, especially when a taper down is done too quickly. Also, people without a previous history of seizures can develop a risk of seizures if the taper down is done too quickly from diazepam.

What is the Treatment for Valium addiction?

Treatment for diazepam use disorder is a four-stage process. For the most successful outcomes, all four stages of treatment must occur. They are:

Medical detoxification: A supervised medical detox in a treatment center clears the mind and body of all illicit and legal substances safely while minimizing pain and helping to avoid medical complications

Rehab: Next is entering a residential or outpatient drug treatment program to receive behavioral, psychological, and social therapies

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): Maintenance medications under doctor supervision are prescribed to maintain sobriety. MAT aims to eliminate cravings and prevent relapse. 

Aftercare plan: Once formal treatment is completed, aftercare services such as 12-step meetings, drug testing, sober living homes, individual counseling sessions, and social and recreational activities are provided

CBT for Addiction Treatment

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) helps people overcome Valium dependence and addiction. A CBT therapist helps the individual to recognize thought and behavior patterns that led to diazepam misuse, abuse, or addiction. By working closely together, the therapist acts as a guide for creating healthier, positive ways of handling issues that have roots in diazepam misuse. CBT also teaches stress management as well as coping skills to avoid relapse.

Valium is commonly prescribed for the control of anxiety. Therefore, it is commonly seen that a person with a diazepam addiction also has an anxiety disorder for which the medication was originally prescribed. A person with a use disorder along with a mental health condition, such as an anxiety disorder, has a diagnosis called a co-occurring disorder (conditions that exist along with substance abuse) also known as dual diagnosis. CBT works well in treating co-occurring disorders such as anxiety.8

Final Thoughts

If you or a loved one is struggling with Valium tolerance, dependence, or addiction, seek help as soon as you can. There is a danger of overdose that can cause coma or death. Talk with your doctor, therapist or a treatment center today. Life need not be filled with problems due to drug dependence. With the right treatment, a fulfilling life is possible.

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