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Valium Addiction

Valium (diazepam) is a prescription benzodiazepine medication. In 2020, doctors wrote more than 4 million prescriptions for this drug.[1] While people with anxiety disorders and other mental health issues could benefit from Valium, others are harmed by it. Valium triggers persistent brain changes that can cause addiction. 

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What Is Valium?

Valium is a brand-name drug containing diazepam, a benzodiazepine. This medication is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a short-term anxiety treatment. Some doctors use this medication to address anxiety caused by alcohol withdrawal.[2]

Key Facts About Valium

Key Facts

  • In 2017, benzodiazepines and other tranquilizers were the third most commonly used illicit or prescription drug in the United States. About 2.2% of the population abused these drugs.[3]
  • People ages 18 to 25 are most likely to abuse drugs in this class.[4]
  • Misuse of an opioid (like Vicodin) or a stimulant (like Ritalin) is closely associated with benzodiazepine abuse.[5]
  • Generic Valium costs less than $10 for 30 tablets in most parts of the United States.
  • A typical dose of Valium for anxiety disorders is 2 mg to 10 mg, taken two to four times daily.[2]

Medical Uses: Why Is Valium Prescribed?

Diazepam is a fast-acting benzodiazepine medication, making it a useful therapy for life-threatening problems like seizures. Doctors often use this drug to help people experiencing difficult alcohol withdrawal symptoms.[6]

Valium is also prescribed to address anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and convulsive disorders. Typically, it’s used as a short-term therapy while teams look for long-term solutions to help their patients. 

How Addictive Is Valium?

Valium, like all benzodiazepine medications, is addictive. Using the medication for long periods or in high doses can alter brain chemistry and make quitting tough. 

Benzodiazepines work by connecting a GABA-A receptor deep within the brain. When they’re connected, Valium molecules force cells to release large amounts of the brain chemical dopamine. 

Dopamine is responsible for addictions to substances like heroin, Vicodin, and OxyContin. Brain cells release this chemical naturally in response to a pleasurable sensation. Drugs mimic this natural function, but they cause an intense dopamine dump. The result is unforgettable euphoria.[7]

The brain’s reward center is altered by dopamine’s presence. When you’re exposed to the people, places, and things the brain associates with Vicodin, significant cravings occur. And in time, brain cells won’t release dopamine without drugs. 

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction 

Valium addiction involves compulsive use of the drug, even when the person wants to quit. It’s a medical condition that stems from a combination of medical factors, habits, and social interactions. Understanding what it looks like can help you recognize the condition in someone you love. 

Symptoms can be physical, behavioral, or social.[2,3] 

Physical 

Valium can be sedating. People who abuse the drug may have symptoms commonly linked to alcohol intoxication. They may slur their speech, stumble, or fall asleep suddenly. At high doses, Valium can cause tremors, headaches, and blurred vision. 

Behavioral 

People may visit multiple doctors, hoping to get new prescriptions for drugs. They may raid medicine cabinets, including those owned by friends, looking for more pills. 

As the addiction deepens, they may stop going to work or school to make more time for drug use. And they may ask for privacy and secrecy. 

Social 

Isolation is common among people with drug addictions. They may spend less time with friends and family and more time with doctors and drug dealers. They may argue with loved ones about their drug use. And if they’re caught driving while under the influence, they may face legal action that further strains relationships. 

Physical Behavioral Social 
DrowsinessDoctor shopping Isolation 
Slurred speech Stealing drugs New friends (including dealers)
Lack of coordination Poor performance at work or school Strained relationships 
Drug toleranceIncreased requests for privacy Neglecting responsibilities 
Withdrawal symptoms (including seizures)Hiding Valium use Arguments about drug use 
Source: [2,3]

Effects of Valium Use

A short-term course of Valium, as directed by a doctor, is typically safe. But people with addictions may use the medication at higher doses (and for much longer) than doctors recommend. The consequences can be severe. 

Short-Term Effects

Some common side effects associated with Valium include the following:[2]

  • Confusion
  • Intestinal issues, such as constipation and nausea
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Changes in sex drive or ability
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness

In rare cases, using benzodiazepines like Valium is associated with more serious side effects, including panic attacks, agitation, restlessness, irritability and anger, anxiety, depression, difficulty controlling impulses, trouble sleeping, mania, and even thoughts about death, dying, and self-harm.[2] If you experience any of these symptoms while taking Valium, especially if you consider suicide, contact your doctor right away.

Long-Term Effects 

Drug tolerance is common with long periods of Valium abuse. People need bigger doses to achieve the effects that smaller amounts once produced. And in time, they may develop drug dependence. They will feel sick between doses and keep using the drug to avoid illness. 

Researchers say long-term use can also lead to the following issues:[8]

  • Cognitive impairment: People using Valium for long periods may emerge with slowed reaction times and memory problems. Those issues may never be resolved. 
  • Car accidents: Driving while on Valium is similar to driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.079%. 
  • Fractures: Benzos can increase the risk of hip fractures in the elderly by 2.55 times. 

Continued Valium abuse can also decimate relationships. People lose their homes, marriages, and children due to their drug use. It’s hard to get those things back once they’re lost. 

Short-Term Effects Long-Term Effects
Confusion Drug tolerance 
Changes in sex drive Drug dependence 
Muscle weakness Withdrawal symptoms 
Lack of coordinationCognitive impairment 
Increased suicide risks Car accidents 
Difficulty urinating Loss of relationships 

Sources: [2,8]

Mixing Valium With Other Substances 

It’s common for people to add Valium to other substances. Some people use benzodiazepines to manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms from other drugs. And some mix to make a high last longer. It’s never wise to combine anything with Valium[2]. 

Drugs commonly added to Valium include the following:[4]

  • Alcohol: Both Valium and alcohol are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Combining them can lead to intense sedation, which could be life-threatening. 
  • Opioids: Drugs like Vicodin, heroin, and OxyContin can slow breathing rates, just like Valium. Combining opioids with Valium can lead to an overdose. 
  • Marijuana: Vicodin can slow reaction times just like marijuana. Combining them can lead to fatal accidents. 

Overdose Dangers

Mixing Valium with other CNS depressants, including those listed above, can increase overdose risks. These episodes can be life-threatening. 

A Valium overdose can cause the following symptoms:[2]

  • Confusion
  • Serious lapses in memory
  • Falling in and out of consciousness
  • Entering a coma, with the person unable to be woken up

In cases of severe respiratory depression, a person overdosing on Valium may not be able to draw in enough air to get the oxygen their body needs. This can cause a cascade of issues, and it may cause permanent brain damage or death if medical attention isn’t obtained quickly.

Valium Compared to Other Drugs 

While benzodiazepines share many similarities, Valium is distinct from other benzos in certain ways. Read about how Valium compares to other popular benzodiazepines like Klonopin and Xanax:

Valium Withdrawal Symptoms 

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause major discomfort and make quitting the drug more difficult if one has grown dependent. In rare cases, it can be life-threatening, so medical supervision is required.[2]

Common symptoms include the following:[2]

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tremors
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Perceptual changes
  • Insomnia

In some cases, withdrawal symptoms may be severe enough to be treated as a medical emergency. 

Some people withdrawing from benzodiazepines may experience seizures or have temporary psychotic breaks from reality, where they may believe things that aren’t true and act irrationally. It is possible for people experiencing psychotic breaks to potentially endanger themselves or others without realizing what is happening.

Treatment Options 

If you believe you may be addicted to Valium or any other benzodiazepine, you should talk with an addiction treatment professional, as they can customize your treatment to your unique situation and needs. Your plan might include the following components: 

Supervised Taper

Severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, are more common in people who quit using Valium abruptly. As a result, experts recommend a personalized taper schedule.[2]

Your doctor assesses how much Valium you take regularly and how you feel when you quit. Together, you develop a schedule to take less and less. Eventually, you’re using none at all. 

It’s never safe to quit benzodiazepines like Valium cold turkey. Even if you’ve used the drug under the direction of your doctor, you can experience severe withdrawal symptoms when you quit. Always work with a doctor to get sober safely. 

Medical Detox 

Some people can taper Valium use at home with the help of a doctor. Others need more help. 

A medical detox program for benzodiazepines allows you to move out of your home and into a facility with staff members who can supervise your taper process. 

Your team ensures you don’t experience life-threatening symptoms as you taper. And since you’re inside a safe facility, your relapse risks are low. 

Inpatient & Outpatient Rehab

Addictions are whole-body illnesses. Rehab programs address your drug use on multiple fronts, allowing you to change your life for the better. 

An inpatient rehab program surrounds you with therapy. You move into the facility and work on your recovery all day long. Appointments, support group meetings, good meals, and plenty of rest give you the strength to address your addiction.

An outpatient rehab program allows you to transition to independent life without relapsing. Connect with your team in appointments, but live at home while you work on your recovery. 

Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often recommended to treat substance abuse. This therapy involves talking with a mental health professional about the thoughts and feelings that may lead to drug abuse. They work with you to help you understand the root cause of these thoughts and feelings and how to better control them. 

Other therapies are often incorporated into treatment plans, such as group therapy, family therapy, or alternative therapies, like art therapy, music therapy, or adventure therapy. Support group participation, such as attendance at 12-step meetings, is often recommended as part of the recovery process. All this helps you to build a new life in recovery that supports ongoing sobriety.

Valium Addiction Frequently Asked Questions 

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about Valium abuse. 

How long does Valium stay in your system?

Valium stays in your body for about four hours. It’s designed to start working quickly and leave the body just as fast.[2]

Is it dangerous to mix Valium with other substances?

Yes. Valium is a CNS depressant, capable of slowing breathing and heart rates. Combining it with other CNS depressants can lead to an overdose.

How long does it take for Valium to kick in?

It takes about an hour to feel the full impact of an oral Valium dose.[2]

How does Valium make you feel?

Most people feel sedated while using Valium. You may also experience euphoria or a generalized sense of well-being. 

Is Valium a controlled substance?

Yes. Valium is a Schedule IV controlled substance, per the U.S. Department of Justice.[9]

How addictive is Valium?

Valium doses increase dopamine production within the brain, just like opioids do. This medication is addictive and shouldn’t be used without a prescription. 

What is Valium used for?

Valium is used for short-term anxiety disorders, seizure disorders, and alcohol withdrawal.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated January 17, 2024
Resources
  1. Diazepam drug usage statistics, United States, 2013 to 2020. ClinCalc. Accessed July 21, 2023
  2. Valium. Roche. 2016. Accessed July 21, 2023.
  3. Votaw VR, Geyer R, Rieselbach MM, McHugh RK. The epidemiology of benzodiazepine misuse: A systematic review. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2019;200:95-114. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2019.02.033
  4. Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published October 2021. Accessed July 21, 2023.
  5. Maust DT, Lin LA, Blow FC. Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States. Psychiatr Serv. 2019;70(2):97-106. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201800321
  6. Benzodiazepines. Bounds C, Nelson V. Stat Pearls. Published January 7, 2023. Accessed July 21, 2023.
  7. Tan KR, Brown M, Labouèbe G, et al. Neural bases for addictive properties of benzodiazepines. Nature. 2010;463(7282):769-774. doi:10.1038/nature08758
  8. Risks associated with long-term benzodiazepine use. Johnson B, Streltzer J. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(4):224-225.
  9. Controlled substance schedules. U.S. Department of Justice. Accessed July 21, 2023.
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