Valium is an anti-anxiety medication, a benzodiazepine, of which the active ingredient is diazepam. It works by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. GABA is responsible for calming the nerves in the brain. Valium can also be used to treat insomnia and seizures due to the effects on GABA.
Valium use is recommended for short periods of time only, due to the medication’s high potential for both abuse, physical dependence, and addiction. If physical dependence and addiction occur, individuals can experience uncomfortable, and even life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking Valium abruptly.
Valium can linger in the body for hours after the initial dose, which can cause individuals to feel hungover the next day. This also poses a large risk if they choose to drive while still under the influence of Valium. Some of the other effects of Valium may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
Individuals may be initially introduced to Valium by friends or family members who will give them the medication to help with anxiety. This constitutes abuse of Valium, since any use of the drug other than as prescribed is considered abuse. This includes taking a dose larger than prescribed, taking the medication more frequently than prescribed, and taking it for a longer period than indicated by the prescribing physician. Those who use Valium to achieve a euphoric high, to “escape reality,” or to feel pleasure are also abusing the medication. These individuals may often take doses much higher than those used for therapeutic purposes.
If combined with other central nervous system depressants, individuals can experience severe respiratory depression, which can lead to coma and death. Also, due to the amnesic properties of Valium, some individuals may use the medication as a “date rape drug.”
Since Valium has such addictive potential, even those who use the medication as prescribed are at risk for physical dependence. This is a normal occurrence, states the National Institute on Drug Abuse, that happens when a drug is used regularly. The body adapts to the presence of Valium, and individuals who may have used it exactly as prescribed find themselves experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they stop – even as soon as hours after their last dose.
Some withdrawal symptoms, listed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, can mirror the drug’s side effects. These may include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Hyperthermia (high body temperature)
- Muscle weakness
- Rapid heart rate
Some of these withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, so it is crucial that individuals only stop using Valium under the care of a physician or licensed addiction treatment center.
Aside from physical dependence, addiction to Valium is a very real possibility. Both abuse and physical dependence can lead individuals to become addicted to the medication. Individuals may exhibit multiple signs of addiction, including:
- Attempting to refill Valium prescriptions early
- Continued use of Valium, even if they desire to quit
- Continued use, even if it causes or exacerbates physical or mental illnesses
- Inability to maintain responsibilities at home, work, or school
- Extreme cravings for Valium
- Financial and legal problems due to the substance use
- Visiting multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions, also called “doctor shopping”
- Engaging in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex, while under the influence of Ambien
- Continued use, even if it causes strain on interpersonal relationships
- Becoming socially isolated; not attending social or work events
- Forging or stealing prescriptions for Valium
- Stealing Valium or money from family members and friends to buy Valium
As previously stated, individuals should not attempt to stop using Valium abruptly. Medical detox is always required in cases of benzodiazepine addiction. If the addiction is not severe, a physician may prescribe a tapered dosing schedule, so the individual may be safely weaned off the medication. Attempting a cold-turkey or at-home detox from benzodiazepines can lead to life-threatening issues.
In cases of Valium addiction, individuals may need to enroll in a licensed addiction treatment center. There, they will undergo medical detox, as they are slowly tapered off the drug. In some instances, other medications may be used during the detox process to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. With inpatient care, individuals are monitored around the clock by trained medical professionals and kept safe and comfortable.
After medical detox is complete, individuals will begin the bulk of addiction treatment, which is therapy to deal with the reasons behind the substance abuse. With comprehensive care that includes various therapies and continues to aftercare, individuals can stop abusing Valium for good.