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Signs of Valium Abuse

Symptoms of Valium abuse include using the drug without a prescription, taking it more frequently than prescribed, mixing it with other substances like alcohol, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when without the medication. Other abuse symptoms include dizziness, muscle weakness, and fatigue, among others.

Struggling with Benzodiazepine Addiction? Get Help Now

Valium (generic name: diazepam) is a benzodiazepine medication used to treat short-term anxiety, insomnia, or another form of mental distress. It works by changing chemical levels within the brain, and some people develop an addiction after repeated use.

Researchers say about 1% of the population develops a benzodiazepine addiction at some point in life. In a study analyzing 30.6 million adults who used benzodiazepines annually, 5.3 million abused the drug by taking it in a way that wasn’t prescribed. Misuse accounted for more than 17% of all benzodiazepine use overall.

While every person is different, people who abuse Valium tend to develop hallmark physical and mental health changes that point to an abuse syndrome.

How Can Valium Change a Person’s Mind & Body?

Valium is a powerful medication, capable of changing the way a person thinks and feels. Common changes are split into two groups.

Physical Symptoms

When taken as prescribed, Valium can cause several physical side effects, including the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness

These side effects can combine. People with dizziness and weak muscles tend to stagger and fall, and they may experience cuts, bruises, or broken bones.

Any or all of these symptoms could appear in people abusing Valium. They may have other physical symptoms, such as unexplained sedation, poor coordination, fainting, and overall weakness.

Emotional Symptoms 

Valium works directly on the brain’s chemical messenger system, causing depression and confusion. Someone who seems alert and responsive one moment and fuzzy the next could be abusing Valium.

Benzodiazepines like Valium have been linked to aggressive behavior. Studies performed in the 1990s demonstrated that people given Valium were more likely to deliver severe shocks to a fictitious person than people who got a placebo. 

While some people seem sedated on Valium, others may seem unusually aggressive, hostile, or angry. Often, this emotional state is linked to Valium withdrawal. Long-sedated brain cells awaken and overreact, causing emotional issues.

People like this can behave inappropriately while intoxicated and emerge with no memory of what happened. Retrograde amnesia is a known Valium side effect, and it’s incredibly dangerous. People may ruin their relationships and have no idea what happened.

In studies, long-term benzodiazepine abuse has been linked to problems with memory, processing speed, attention, and language. Researchers say that some of these deficits can persist even when people quit using these drugs.

Use vs. Misuse

Prescription drug misuse is defined as taking the medication in a way that’s different than doctors prescribe.

Prescription drug misuse could involve one or all of the following steps:

  • Taking Valium prescribed for someone else
  • Taking a larger dose than prescribed
  • Taking Valium in an unusual way, such as crushing and snorting the pills
  • Using Valium specifically to get high

Not everyone who uses Valium is misusing it. However, anyone who takes one of the steps mentioned above could need help to quit using the drug.

What Does Valium Dependence Look Like?

With ongoing use, brain cells become accustomed to Valium and don’t function properly without it. These same cells also recalibrate, so small doses no longer work. In extreme cases, people feel sick between doses and continue to take Valium to feel healthy.

Valium dependence can keep people trapped in a cycle of abuse, taking more to feel normal, and growing more attached to the drug with each dose. Someone taking massive doses of Valium is likely struggling with abuse. This is a sign that treatment is needed for Valium addiction.

What Does Valium Withdrawal Look Like?

Anyone who has used the drug for long periods needs a treatment team to offer medications and therapies to stay safe as their bodies heal.

As Valium physical dependence deepens, people become sick when they try to quit abruptly or take smaller doses. Withdrawal can be pronounced in people who take the drug at high doses for long periods. 

Valium withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Shaking
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion

In severe cases, people develop hallucinations, including the belief that they’re not real. Others develop seizures as the withdrawal deepens. 

A Valium withdrawal episode is life-threatening. Anyone who has used the drug for long periods needs a treatment team to offer medications and therapies to stay safe as their bodies heal.

How Is Valium Withdrawal Treated?

Never attempt to suddenly stop taking Valium on your own if you’ve been taking it for a while. This is dangerous. Instead, get medical guidance for a tapered withdrawal process.

People with a longstanding Valium habit often need tapering strategies to heal. Doctors give smaller doses of the drug over time, allowing brain cells to adjust to sobriety without malfunctioning.

A typical Valium withdrawal involves the following steps:

  • Assessment: Doctors determine how much Valium you take regularly and how long you’ve used drugs.
  • Planning: Doctors develop a tapering schedule and discuss it with you.
  • Beginning: Doctors monitor you as you take smaller doses. If severe symptoms begin, the taper is moving too quickly and must be adjusted.
  • Watching: Each time the dose is adjusted, these steps repeat.

A typical taper involves reducing the original dose by up to 25%, and then dropping the dose by 5% to 25% every one to four weeks, depending on the person’s tolerance. Some people can finish the program in a few days, and others need a longer time frame. No withdrawal schedule works for all people.

If you develop withdrawal symptoms, your doctor can adjust your taper and provide medications like gabapentin, imipramine, and trazadone to keep you comfortable. Some people benefit from antidepressants too.

What Does Valium Overdose Look Like?

People with a benzodiazepine abuse issue can take too much Valium as they try to combat dependence. People may also overdose if they return to drugs after a day or two of sobriety. Doses that once seemed safe can overwhelm a healing brain, and this can lead to dangerous symptoms. 

Valium overdoses often look like sedation. People may respond to oral questions and seem aware of their surroundings. But they may have slurred speech and muscle weakness. 

Valium overdoses often involve other sedating drugs, including alcohol. Someone who combines medications like this can experience life-threatening sedation, including the complete absence of breathing.

If you think someone has experienced a Valium overdose, call 911 and tell the operator what you’re seeing and what you think is happening. The person likely needs treatment in an emergency room with fluids and supplemental oxygen.

Get Help for Valium Addiction

If you or someone you love is abusing Valium, a medical detox program followed by inpatient rehab could help you build a new and healthier life. Detox will help you stop taking Valium, and rehab will help you strengthen relapse prevention skills. Contact us to find out if this approach is right for you.

Updated March 21, 2024
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  7. The Residual Medium and Long-Term Cognitive Effects of Benzodiazepine Use: An Updated Meta-Analysis. (November 2018). Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology.
  8. The Effects of Diazepam (Valium) and Aggressive Disposition on Human Aggression: An Experimental Investigation. (April 2002). Addictive Behaviors.
  9. Hooked on Benzodiazepines: GABAA Receptor Subtypes and Addiction. (April 2011). Trends in Neurosciences.
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