Valium is a benzodiazepine, a type of central nervous system depressant (CNS depressant) that slows brain activity and has a sedative effect. While effective when used according to physician’s order, if used improperly benzodiazepines carry a high potential for abuse and addiction.
How Valium Works
Valium is most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. The drug works to decrease brain activity by raising levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA interferes with brain activity causing feelings of relaxation and drowsiness. Valium can be quite effective for treating symptoms of anxiety, but is typically prescribed for short periods of time due to its addictive properties.
Who Is at Risk for Valium Addiction?
Origins of Valium Misuse
Anyone who who takes Valium is at risk for abuse when using the drug improperly or for non-medical reasons. Many people who have addiction involving valium were prescribed the medication to treat an anxiety disorder. To manage their anxiety, some people may take larger doses than recommended or continue to use the medication past the time period recommended by the prescriber, which in many cases is six weeks.
What people like about Valium is its sedative effects, which produces a state of enhanced relaxation they feel like they can’t achieve without the drug. Other people initially get Valium from friends or family in an attempt to self-medicate mental health disorders or other problems. In some instances, Valium is combined with other substances like alcohol in an effort to experience a mellow or calming “high.”
Effects of Valium
When a person first starts taking Valium, it often causes feelings of drowsiness. As the body adjusts to the presence of the drug, these side effects typically disappear. Tolerance to Valium can build quickly. If the drug is used for long periods of time, higher and higher doses must be administered in order to feel any effect.
Continued use can also lead to physical dependence. This occurs when the body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug, and the user begins to experience withdrawal symptoms when going without it. Withdrawal from CNS depressants like Valium can be dangerous, even leading to life-threatening seizures, and should only take place under medical supervision.
Benzodiazepine Side Effects
American Family Physician (AFP) lists the following common side effects of benzodiazepines like Valium:
- Poor concentration
- Trouble with coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Memory impairment
- Emotional numbness
- Increased tolerance
- Physical dependence
Some people who take benzodiazepines experience paradoxical disinhibition, which is when the drug has the opposite effect of what was intended. Paradoxical disinhibition can cause excitement, irritability, aggression, hostility, and impulsivity.
Serious Side Effects
Occasionally, more serious side effects can occur when taking Valium. These can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin rash
- Yellowish skin or eyes
- Irregular heartbeat
An overdose on Valium can be extremely dangerous. Symptoms of Valium overdose include:
- Bluish tinge to lips or fingernails
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty staying awake
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid eye movement
- Stomach pain
If you suspect a person is overdosing, call 911 immediately. Overdose is considered a medical emergency, and prompt medical attention can be lifesaving.
Withdrawal from Valium can be severe, and medical supervision is needed, in case of life-threatening complications. AFP lists the following symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Sensory hypersensitivity
Most withdrawal symptoms disappear after a few days; however, some people experience a milder withdrawal syndrome that lasts for several months. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Many severe symptoms of Valium withdrawal can be avoided by slowly tapering the drug over a longer period of time. Taking increasingly smaller doses over a long period of time allows the body to adjust to functioning without the drug. This kind of tapered approach should only occur under direct medical supervision, as dosages need to be carefully reduced.
Treating Valium Addiction
Detox: Just the Beginning
Addiction to Valium and other prescription drugs is typically treated with behavioral and talk therapy. There are currently no FDA-approved medications for treating Valium addiction, though medications may be prescribed to address specific symptoms during the detox and recovery process.
Counseling, both in individual and group settings, can teach strategies for managing addiction, functioning without drugs, dealing with cravings, and avoiding situations that can lead to relapse. Many people suffering from addiction require more than one course of treatment in order to achieve lasting recovery. Relapse, while common, should not be seen as failure. It is a part of the recovery process for many people and is simply a sign that further treatment is needed.
Some people benefit from inpatient or residential addiction treatment. These programs require that the individual lives full-time at a treatment facility, and these programs provide 24-hour supervision and care. Residential programs typically last several months. Intensive outpatient treatment programs (IOPs) provide similar levels of care as residential programs, but clients continue living at home while spending the majority of each day in treatment. Outpatient treatment is typically more affordable, and it can be an appropriate choice for individuals with a strong support system of friends and family.
All types of addiction treatment programs should incorporate a variety of therapy modalities, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Enhancement Therapy, and Contingency Management, in addition to complementary, alternative therapy. The key is for treatment to be individualized, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery.