Valium Addiction and Abuse

Valium is an anti-anxiety drug with a high potential to form dependency and addiction when consumed in high doses over a prolonged period.

Diazepam - Addiction | Table of Contents

What is Valium (Diazepam)?

Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine, generally used in the treatment of anxiety, seizures, and muscle spasms. It is also used to ease distressing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Valium is a prescription medication that is consumed orally in the form of a pill. This medication is designed for long term consumption, although it possesses a high potential to cause an addiction.

According to a report byABC News, benzodiazepines consist of different onset rates. For example, Valium lasts much longer in the body than shorter-acting benzos like Halcion. Due to this long-acting nature, patients require fewer doses of Valium in a day compared to shorter-acting benzos.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)claims that more than 18 percent of the adult population in the US suffer from anxiety disorders. As a result, there are more than 150 different variations of diazepams currently available on the market today.

FAQ

What is Valium?

Diazepam, also known as Valium, is a prescription medication of the benzodiazepine family that typically produces a calming effect.

What is Valium used for?

The predominant uses of diazepam are to relieve anxiety and to manage the distress caused by alcohol or other drug withdrawal. It is also utilized to treat muscle spasms caused by certain neurological illnesses such as cerebral palsy and also to curb seizures caused by epilepsy.

What class of drugs is Valium?

Valium (Diazepam) belongs to the drug class of benzodiazepines, and benzodiazepine anticonvulsants.

What is Valium's half-life?

The half-life of a specific drug is the time it takes for it to decrease in half its potency in the body. For most individuals, the half-life of Valium is about 48 hours. The half-life of diazepam increases by approximately 1 hour for each year of age, starting with a half-life of 20 hours at the age of 20 years.

Valium Effects, Abuse, and Addiction

Valium operates by reducing hyperactive brain function to ease off extreme anxiety and stress. When consumed at high doses, this medication can induce intense calmness and euphoria. The behavioral effects of Valium intoxication are also quite similar to that of alcohol intoxication.

Valium is most commonly used by individuals who need help coping with the stressors of daily life. Valium consumed in higher doses, for longer periods than prescribed or for reasons other than prescribed, is considered abuse. Although there are several reasons for Valium abuse, many individuals who misuse the drug do not take it to get high. While some patients abuse it to alleviate tension and anxiety, others abuse it to help them induce sleep.

Some of the signs of Valium abuse are:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Changes in appetite
  • Impaired co-ordination
  • Uncharacteristic sadness or irritability
  • Shaking (from withdrawal)
  • Slurred speech

Valium addiction often begins in a seemingly innocuous manner when consumed as a coping mechanism during stressful events or when unable to sleep naturally. Valium addiction can develop rapidly if the medication is used in a way that is not recommended by a doctor. Over time, patients may develop a dependence on the drug. This is caused when an individual’s brain can no longer function normally without the effects of the drug. Most patients with a Valium dependence or addiction are typically unaware of their condition. Consuming Valium for more than 4-6 weeks, even under a doctor’s prescription, raises the risk of forming a potential addiction.

A few signs of Valium addiction are:

  • Having intense cravings for the drugs
  • Staying isolated from family and friends
  • Continuing the drug use despite the harmful consequences
  • Losing interest in pastimes or activities that were once of interest
  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations
  • Requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effect

“I was taking so many pills that I wasn’t even taking them to get high anymore. I was taking them to feel normal. Not that I didn’t get high. I just had to take a ridiculous amount. I want to say in a day I could consume anywhere from 40 to 60 Valium.”

-Rapper Eminem (Marshall Mathers), Rolling Stone, 2011.

FAQ

Is Valium addictive?

Valium runs a high risk of abuse and addiction. This is particularly true if the drug is taken in larger doses than prescribed, taken more frequently, or taken for a longer period than advised by the doctor.

How does Valium affect your body?

Diazepam interacts with a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA reduces brain activity in control centers for emotions, memory, rational thinking, and involuntary body functions such as breathing. Valium further stimulates these effects of GABA, resulting in muscle relaxation, decreased anxiety, and drowsiness.

How long does Valium last?

The average time for Valium concentrations to peak in the blood is 1-1.5 hours. The absorption can be significantly delayed or dropped if diazepam is taken around the time of a fairly heavy meal. When food is consumed close to the dose, it can delay the absorption of diazepam for about 45 minutes compared to the 15 minutes it would take when no food is present. The initial distribution phase of Diazepam has a half-life of approximately 1 hour, although it may last for more than 3 hours. After that initial phase, there is a lengthy elimination phase for the half-life of up to 48 hours.

The Dangers of Valium

Valium was formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1963. Strengthened by an aggressive advertising campaign that targeted middle-class and middle-aged patients, Valium soon became one of the most highly prescribed drugs of the 20th century that led to its mass abuse and addiction.

Some of the side effects of Valium abuse are:

  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Skin rash
  • Blurred vision
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness

Many patients tend to underestimate the addictive qualities of Valium as they are medications that are prescribed by their doctor. Valium can lead to coma and convulsions in heavy users. Certain evidence shows that long-term Valium use results in brain damage that affects memory and cognition. Patients who consume high doses of the drug and those who consume Valium with a combination of other drugs can highly increase their chances of an overdose.

Some signs of a Valium overdose are:

  • Double vision
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Unco-ordinated movement
  • Bluish lips

Individuals who use Valium over a long period may develop co-occurring mental health disorders that were not present before. As a patient forms a dependence on the drug, abrupt cessation of Valium consumption can cause an imbalance in the brain that could result in psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. David Knott, a physician at the University of Tennessee, recorded damage to the cerebral cortex in Valium users as early as 1976. The cerebral cortex plays a massive role in the memory, thought process, and attention of a person.

Common Drug Combinations

Valium is often abused, along with other drugs, to enhance the effects of the drugs. Since Valium depresses the central nervous system, it is particularly dangerous to combine this drug with other CNS depressants such as alcohol or opiates. The sedative effects of both CNS depressants amplify when taken together, resulting in breathing difficulties or decreased heart rates to the point of complete failure.

“Combinations of benzodiazepines with opioid pain relievers or alcohol were associated with a 24 to 55 percent increase in the predicted risk of a more serious outcome compared with benzodiazepines alone.”

-The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), 2014.

Valium Statistics

  • 14.7 Million: In 2011, doctors wrote 14.7 million prescriptions for Valium.
  • 3x Admissions: Hospital admissions for benzo treatment (including Valium) increased by three folds between 1998 and 2008.
  • 1.2 Million: About 1.2 million people abused benzos like Valium for the first time in 2013.

How Long Do Other Benzos Last?

Brands Ativan Librium Valium
Length of Action Short-acting Intermediate Long-acting
Time 10-20 Hours 10-30 Hours 20-100 Hours

What is Valium (Diazepam) Withdrawal?

Patients who consume Valium for over four months (or even fewer in some cases) may encounter withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing the drug use. As Valium builds up with continued use, the body reduces the production of natural anxiety-relieving chemicals. Hence forming a physical dependence on the drug. During this stage, patients require Valium to function on a day to day basis and to avoid symptoms of withdrawal. Patients often increase their Valium doses to prevent withdrawal symptoms as their drug tolerance increases.

As withdrawal from Valium is considered dangerous, patients are highly advised to seek medical and professional help when planning to stop drug consumption. Abrupt cessation of Valium use can lead to seizures, coma, and other fatal consequences. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines such as Valium is quite distressing due to its severity and duration. The initial acute withdrawal phase generally lasts up to 90 days, while the post-acute withdrawal phase can persist anywhere between 18 – 24 months.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

The severity of Valium withdrawal symptoms depends on factors such as how long the drug was used, how much of the drug was taken on a daily basis, and if the drug was stopped cold-turkey or tapered off.

As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), taking as little as 15 mg of Valium every day for several months can cause withdrawal symptoms. Individuals who take more than 100 mg of Valium a day are most likely to suffer extreme withdrawal symptoms and complications. Although Valium withdrawal can be severe and life-threatening, its symptoms are often less intense compared to other potent benzos like Xanax.

Some of the common symptoms of Valium withdrawal are:

  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness and insomnia
  • Numbness
  • Panic attacks
  • Memory issues
  • Severe anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Muscle twitching
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sensory hypersensitivity
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors

The following complications can also occur depending on the severity of Valium use:

  • Depersonalization
  • Psychosis
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Numbness/tingling in the arms or legs
  • Death

FAQ

What are the side effects of Valium?

Similar to most benzodiazepines, diazepam can also cause side effects even when taken exactly as prescribed. Some of these side effects are fainting, impaired cognition, vertigo, numbness, slow reaction time, confusion, low sex drive, and impaired judgment.

Does Valium have a generic form?

The only generic form of Valium is diazepam.

Where is Valium on the DEA schedule of drugs?

Valium is classified as a schedule four drug under the Controlled Substance Act.

Duration of Withdrawal

Valium withdrawal lasts longer compared to other benzodiazepines. Due to its long-acting effects, Valium withdrawal symptoms generally take longer to set in. Patients with severe addiction may experience initial symptoms of withdrawal a week after the last dose.

A 1980s study examined the withdrawal duration in patients who had been using 60mg to 120 mg of Valium for 3 to 14 years. The results showed that the withdrawal symptoms of the participants lasted for more than a month.

“The withdrawal period lasted about six weeks. The intensity of the symptoms and signs was high initially, fell during the first two weeks, then rose again in the third week before finally declining.”

Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ),

“Diazepam withdrawal syndrome: its prolonged and changing nature,” 1982.

Valium Withdrawal Timeline

First 4 Days

The initial symptoms of Valium withdrawal will be felt within 12 to 24 hours of the last dose. Withdrawal symptoms such as fear and restlessness start out mildly but increase in severity over time. Rebound symptoms may also appear during this period.

Week 2

Valium withdrawal symptoms usually peak during the second week. The full-blown symptoms of withdrawal, including insomnia, sweating, nausea, and muscle pain, also start to set in during this time.

Weeks 3-4

Valium withdrawal can last for a month after discontinuing the drug use. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms tends to diminish, making them more manageable during this stage.

Weeks 5+

Most individuals who have developed a physical dependency on benzodiazepines, such as Valium, encounter Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) during this stage. Such symptoms can occur unexpectedly after months or even years of having no apparent symptoms.

Treatment for Valium (Diazepam) Addiction

An increasing number of individuals are pursuing treatment for Valium addiction. In 2008, more than 60,000 people received treatment for an addiction to benzodiazepines, such as Valium. Valium addiction treatment is usually a combined approach of tapering down doses and partaking in therapy.

FAQ

What is the Treatment for Valium addiction?

Treatment for diazepam addiction consists of four stages, namely medical detoxification, rehab, medication-assisted treatment, and aftercare plan. All four of these stages have to occur to achieve the best possible outcomes with regard to addiction recovery.

Valium Detox

Valium detox is the process of removing Valium from the patient’s body while minimizing withdrawal symptoms. Valium detox can be dangerous without appropriate medical supervision. Valium detoxification involves the gradual reduction of doses over a certain period. This reduces withdrawal symptoms and prevents complications such as seizures to a great extent.

“Most guidelines and researchers … advocate a fixed discontinuation schedule varying from 4 to 8 weeks in duration.”

– Lowinson and Ruiz’s Substance Abuse Textbook, Fifth Edition

The severity of Valium addiction is the main factor that determines the duration of the detox process. Patients who have severe addictions tend to take longer as abruptly reducing their Valium doses can result in harmful withdrawal symptoms.

Rehabs for Valium Addiction

After the completion of detoxification, patients must receive further treatment at an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center. Patients who are diagnosed with a severe addiction are generally recommended to attend an inpatient treatment program.

Inpatient rehab

Inpatient rehab is a vital aspect of the recovery process. This program is well known to improve the chance of a successful, relapse-free recovery for those with a history of heavy Valium abuse. Inpatient rehabs offer a structured environment with staff available 24 hours a day. Daily routines may vary between rehabs but often involve group meetings, chores, one-on-one therapy, planned activities, and career counseling.

Inpatient rehab is also an ideal choice for patients struggling with polydrug abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. Patients addicted to more than one substance require treatment for each of the existing addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 95 percent of patients admitted for an addiction to benzodiazepine such as Valium in 2011 was also dealing with other forms of addictions.

Inpatient rehab programs typically range from 28 to 90 days, depending on the severity of one’s addiction and other complications involved. Although these programs generally offer more autonomy for recovering addicts, the longer they stay in treatment, the higher their chances of a prolonged recovery.

Outpatient and ongoing treatment

Individuals with mild to moderate Valium addiction often choose an outpatient clinic to help them through recovery. Outpatient programs may also be an ideal option for those who are addicted to Valium alone. Patients who complete inpatient rehabs are also advised to attend outpatient treatment programs to help them gradually integrate back into the outside world of temptations and triggers.

Outpatient programs help patients taper down their Valium doses during detox without compromising their personal and professional lives. Patients are usually required to visit the clinic to renew their Valium prescriptions, which are routinely adjusted by an addiction specialist until it is safe to stop taking the drug entirely.

Since detox alone does not address the underlying behavioral and psychological issues that initially led to Valium addiction, counseling and therapy are also included as important components of treatment at an outpatient rehab. Engaging regularly with a counselor can help recovering addicts learn how to manage cravings and maintain abstinence from Valium. Once a patient is completely detoxed from Valium, ongoing treatment can aid them in preventing relapses. Ongoing treatment usually involves continuing therapy or attending 12-step meetings.

Some suggestions to help former Valium users avoid relapse:

  • Find a new hobby – Boredom is generally an instigator for most recovering addicts. Getting involved in a project or hobby that requires your full attention is an ideal strategy to avoid cravings. Hobbies or fun activities may include baking, painting, drawing, or even playing video games.
  • Get a healthy amount of sleep – Healthy sleeping habits are proven to reduce stress and anxiety and improve concentration tremendously. They may also help reduce the temptation to use Valium as it helps reduce anxiety.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and exercise – Just like healthy sleeping habits, a decent diet and exercise can also help the brain decrease stress and enhance cognition. Exercise can be a great source of distraction from cravings.
  • Continue counseling and meetings – Many patients relapse once they stop continuing with treatment and aftercare programs. The desire to take Valium will definitely emerge after detox, which is why a counselor and support group is needed to help keep the patient on track.
  • Avoid all mood-altering substances – Individuals struggling with addictions to Valium are at a high risk of relapse if they indulge in alcohol or other mood-altering substances, prescribed or not.
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