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Valium (Diazepam) Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 1, 2019

Valium (diazepam) abuse can be an easy habit to fall into and may quickly develop into addiction. Currently, there are many treatment options for Valium abuse and addiction.

Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine that is used to relieve anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. In some cases, Valium may even be used to control agitation caused by alcohol withdrawal. Usually, benzodiazepines are only prescribed for short-term treatment due to their high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction.

Use of medications such as Valium is on the rise, and the number of benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths has exponentially increased in recent years, new research reports. Benzodiazepine overdose deaths increased at a faster rate between 1999 and 2010 than the rate of benzodiazepine prescriptions during this time. This data suggests that more of the medication is being obtained illegally and people are likely misusing it.

Researchers and other healthcare professionals are now saying that the United States may see a benzodiazepine crisis equal to that of the opioid crisis, CNN reports. Abusing Valium can quickly develop into a Valium addiction.

It is vital for individuals who wish to stop taking Valium to do so in a controlled manner, as stopping abruptly can lead to potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Because Valium (diazepam) is a long-acting benzodiazepine, it can take time for the body to adjust to being without it.

Successfully recovering from Valium abuse and addiction often requires a combination of treatment options, including a medically supervised tapering program followed by inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment and behavioral therapy.

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Signs Of Valium (Diazepam) Abuse And Addiction

Valium (diazepam) abuse can start quickly, as individuals may take too much of the medication to catch up on sleep or cope with painful emotions. It is common for people who abuse Valium to hide their drug abuse, which can make it difficult for their loved ones to identify that they are in trouble.

The more frequently someone abuses Valium, the more likely they are to become tolerant to its effects. Once tolerance begins to develop, individuals will increase the amount of Valium to achieve the same desired results. This can make it even more difficult for them to hide their drug abuse. When someone is under the influence of Valium, they may appear drunk.

Common signs of Valium abuse include:

  • slurred speech
  • euphoria
  • impaired coordination
  • dilated pupils
  • changes in appetite
  • uncharacteristic sadness or irritability

Side Effects Of Valium (Diazepam) Abuse And Addiction

Benzodiazepine medications like Valium are typically prescribed for relaxation, calmness, and relief from anxiety and tension. In some cases, side effects of Valium will occur, although they can vary widely depending on the size of the dose and the individual.

Short-term side effects of Valium (diazepam) abuse can include:

  • confusion and depression
  • altered vision
  • tremors and vertigo (a whirling sensation)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation and diarrhea

Chronic Valium abuse can also cause some people to develop a co-occurring mental health disorder, or increase the severity of an existing disorder. The brain can become dependent on Valium to regulate stress. Without it, individuals who have become dependent on the drug become imbalanced.

Long-term abuse of Valium can also be traumatic. Some evidence has shown that extended use can lead to brain damage which can affect memory and cognition.

Possible Risks Of Valium (Diazepam) Abuse And Addiction

Many people underestimate the possible risks of Valium (diazepam) abuse because it is a prescription medication. However, even individuals with a legitimate medical prescription are susceptible to the drug’s negative consequences.

Taking large amounts of Valium can lead to convulsions and loss of consciousness. Research also indicates that people who abuse benzodiazepines are more likely to participate in risky behavior such as motor accidents and unprotected sex.

The biggest potential risk occurs when Valium is combined with other substances, particularly if someone combines it with another sedative like alcohol or opioids. Unfortunately, research indicates that the most common abuse of medications like Valium is as a secondary substance of abuse. This means that when someone abuses the drug, they take it with a primary drug of abuse.

Mixing depressants can cause their effects to become amplified, which can depress breathing and heart rates to dangerously low levels. More than 30 percent of opioid-related overdoses also involved benzodiazepines such as Valium in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Roughly 46 percent of alcohol-related emergency room visits in 2014 also involved benzodiazepines, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).

How To Safely Withdraw From Valium (Diazepam)

To safely withdraw from Valium (diazepam), individuals must slowly taper off their Valium dose. It is never recommended to stop taking benzodiazepines such as Valium suddenly. Anyone who has taken Valium for four continuous months or longer is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they no longer take the medication.

Over time, Valium builds up in the fatty tissues of the body, causing the body to slowly stop making anxiety-relieving chemicals on its own. Withdrawal symptoms gradually become more intense as the body starts to depend more on the drug for these chemicals.

Once someone is physically dependent on Valium, they will need the drug to function normally and prevent the symptoms of withdrawal. The more Valium that has built up inside the body, the longer it will take to eliminate it. The severity of withdrawal symptoms and length of a Valium withdrawal are dependent on the severity of the drug abuse.

Common Valium (diazepam) withdrawal symptoms include:

  • abdominal cramping
  • severe headaches
  • tremors
  • excessive sweating
  • muscle pain
  • vomiting
  • severe anxiety
  • confusion
  • restlessness and insomnia
  • numbness
  • hallucinations
  • seizures

Why Medically Supervised Valium (Diazepam) Detoxification Is Important

Detoxing from Valium can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on how large a dose the individual is used to taking. Because Valium withdrawal can cause such severe symptoms, some individuals may continue to take the drug to avoid experiencing them. By doing this, they can get caught in a cycle of abuse that leads to addiction.

When someone is serious about wanting to stop misusing Valium, a medically supervised detox program can be essential to coming off the drug safely. Medically supervised detox helps get people through the worst part of their Valium detox by providing them with around-the-clock medical supervision and support.

Medically supervised Valium detox is not an addiction cure, and further addiction treatment is always recommended. Even after completing a detox, individuals can still experience severe cravings for the drug and without continued treatment will likely relapse and begin to abuse Valium again.

Treatment Options For Valium (Diazepam) Abuse And Addiction

There are many treatment options for Valium (diazepam) abuse and addiction. Formal addiction treatment is often the only way for individuals who have abused Valium for more than six months to come off the drug.

More and more people are coming forward to get treatment for Valium abuse and addiction. In 2008, more than 58,000 people entered treatment programs for addiction to benzodiazepines, such as Valium. Depending on an individual’s circumstances, they may be referred to an inpatient or outpatient program.

Outpatient programs allow individuals to live and work at home, but may not provide enough support for someone who has just detoxed from a potent substance like Valium. If outpatient care is the only feasible option, it is vital to ensure that the program provides a good counseling component, or it is not likely to be of much help.

Inpatient treatment, on the other hand, requires the individual to live on-site for a minimum of 30 days. This is beneficial for a few reasons. Primarily, it provides a safe, supportive, and substance-free environment. Inpatient programs also offer additional tools to aid in recovery including life skills and addiction education that individuals can apply to life after recovery.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - VALIUM® brand of diazepam TABLETS

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Diazepam

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