Valium Uses, Side Effects, Risks & Addiction

Valium (diazepam) is a benzodiazepine that is typically administered for medical procedures. However, when patients take Valium routinely over a period of time, drug tolerance and physical dependence can develop. Read the article to learn more about the risks.
Evidence Based
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What is Valium?

Valium is a pharmaceutical drug that may be taken safely for certain health conditions or medical procedures. However, Valium is also commonly misused and contributes to several social and public health issues facing the country. There are signs that indicate Valium addiction, as well as professional resources to help people recover from it.

Valium pill

Valium is a brand name for the prescription drug diazepam. It is a type of benzodiazepine, a small molecule that increases the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system. This induces relaxation, both mentally and physically. Patients often take it orally in tablet form, but may also receive it as a rectal gel or as an injection into a vein or muscle.

Diazepam is the generic name for the drug. Pharmaceutical companies market diazepam under several different brand names, including:

  • Valium
  • Vazepam
  • Valtoco
  • Valrelease
  • Diastat
  • Dizac
  • Q-pam
  • Diazepam Intensol
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Uses of Valium

Doctors may prescribe Valium for several conditions or situations, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • Agitated movements
  • Vertigo symptoms
  • Alcohol or opioid withdrawal
  • Withdrawal from other benzodiazepines
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Tetanus
  • Spastic muscles (muscles that cannot move well because they are stuck in a contracted position)
  • Sedation before, during, or after surgery or uncomfortable procedures like colonoscopies or MRI scans
  • Overdoses of stimulants or hallucinogens, such as LSD, cocaine, or methamphetamine
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Because of its utility in so many different circumstances, Valium is one of the most widely used drugs in the U.S. Over five million prescriptions for diazepam (Valium) were written in 2017.

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Risks of Valium

Like other medications, Valium use comes with some potential adverse effects, even when used appropriately. When people overuse it or take it without the guidance of their healthcare provider, the risks of serious complications increase significantly. Drug abuse or dependency themselves are potential risks of taking Valium, so patients with a prescription must be careful and keep an eye out for early warning signs of tolerance or addiction.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Side Effects of Valium

Common side effects of Valium include:

  • Confusion
  • Sedation or drowsiness
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Unsteadiness when walking
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Decreased alertness

These effects are more likely or more pronounced with higher doses.

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Valium Overdose

Some serious complications can arise from a Valium overdose. It is important to get medical assistance immediately if this happens. Potential overdose effects include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hyperventilation or slow breathing
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of strength or energy
  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Pale or blue hue to lips, fingernails, or skin
  • Sleepiness, drowsiness, or fatigue
  • Dulled or slowed thinking or movement

Contraindications

Taking Valium could make certain existing disorders worse. Likewise, other conditions may cause more serious side effects to occur. People should avoid Valium or only take it under careful medical supervision if they have certain conditions. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Epilepsy or seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Mental health disorders (such as depression)
  • Substance use disorders (alcohol or drug abuse)
  • Myasthenia gravis (a neuromuscular disease)

Since Valium can harm infants and developing fetuses, women should avoid it if they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Two pills mixing equals dangerous

Interactions with Drugs and Medications

Valium interacts with some medications and can also affect how the body processes them. Other drugs that act on the central nervous system (CNS) tend to have stronger effects in combination with Valium. Depressants, in particular, such as alcohol or certain cold, allergy, or sleep medications, have a pronounced effect. People taking these drugs together may become excessively drowsy or much less alert.

Examples of medications that interact with Valium include:

  • Flumazenil (used to counter the effects of benzodiazepines)
  • Other benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Other sedatives or tranquilizers
  • Antihistamines
  • Anticholinergic agents (Benadryl, Dramamine, etc.)
  • Opioids and other prescription pain medications (codeine, morphine, oxycodone, etc.)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Anesthetics (including some used in dentistry)
  • Muscle relaxants
Graphic of head filled with pills

Is Valium Addictive?

When patients take Valium routinely over a period of time, they may develop a tolerance to it or a physical dependence on it. When someone has developed a tolerance, they need to take higher doses of the drug to gain the same effects they once had at lower doses. Those with physical drug dependence undergo withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug. This can happen even after only short-term Valium use.

People with a history of mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse are much more likely to develop a Valium use disorder than those without these conditions.

Graphic of head filled with pills

Valium Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Someone with a Valium dependence or addiction may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Reduced ability for normal doses to control seizures or anxiety
  • Increased stress or agitation
  • Progressively increasing the dose to achieve desired effects
  • Increased cravings for alcohol or increased alcohol consumption
  • Taking higher doses or taking doses more frequently than prescribed
  • Higher incidence and severity of side effects
Graphic of woman going through withdrawal.

Valium Withdrawal

Valium withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous, even life-threatening. Therefore, patients should only stop taking Valium under professional medical supervision. Typically, clinicians will have a person gradually wean off of it, slowly taking lower and lower doses. Clinics and treatment centers can also be ready to administer medications or other medical interventions if needed.

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Valium Addiction Treatment

Fortunately, expert help is available for those with a Valium addiction. It is important to have professionals provide medical assistance during withdrawal, identify alternatives to manage any underlying conditions without Valium, and provide mental health support during and after the transition period.

The first step in overcoming a Valium addiction is weaning off of the drug. Doctors will gradually lower the dose of the medication over the course of a few weeks. They may also prescribe a different benzodiazepine with fewer side effects and a lower potential for abuse to replace it.

After discontinuing Valium, the next course of treatment is typically psychotherapy. This may involve behavioral counseling, group therapy, mindfulness training, or other forms of mental health support. Often, these techniques help patients learn to manage conditions like chronic pain or anxiety for which they originally started taking Valium.

Help is always available for anyone with a Valium addiction. With the proper support and resources, there is a high probability of success overcoming Valium dependence.

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Resources

“Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) 2007-2017.” Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Rockville, MD.

“Diazepam (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Feb. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/diazepam-oral-route/description/drg-20072333.

Altamura, Alfredo Carlo, et al. “Understanding the Pharmacokinetics of Anxiolytic Drugs.” Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology, vol. 9, no. 4, 2013, pp. 423–440., doi:10.1517/17425255.2013.759209.

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Updated on: July 20, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
About
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Medically Reviewed: March 11, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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