Valium is a brand name drug that contains diazepam, which has a variety of uses and belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. Diazepam has a calming effect on the central nervous system. Doctors typically prescribe it to treat anxiety, acute withdrawal symptoms, and seizures. Valium is also used to sedate patients and relieve muscle spasms before medical procedures.

How Valium Is Abused

prescription valium abuse
Though Valium is generally safe when an individual takes it as directed by a doctor to treat a specific condition, it can be harmful when misused or abused. Valium works by enhancing the effects of a particular neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA, and its immediate effects, which may be pleasurable to some, are quickly overridden by more dangerous and negative side effects.

Because Valium ultimately decreases activity in the nervous system and slows communication among nerves, its immediate effects are euphoria, a lack of coordination, and the sensation of being drunk; however, after the more enjoyable effects peak, they are soon followed by negative effects. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Stomach cramps

Individuals who dread the crash that comes after taking diazepam often respond by taking more to get back that sluggish, happy feeling, which leads to a vicious cycle of abuse and can ultimately turn into a full-blown addiction. Like many drugs, the body eventually builds a tolerance to Valium when people continue taking it. A higher tolerance makes it harder to reach that euphoric state of bliss, even briefly, but the crash is still present, and withdrawal symptoms can occur between doses.

When individuals continuously increase their dosage to reach a certain state, they also run the risk of overdosing, which can result in blurred vision, labored breathing, deep sleep, and tremors. Though recovering from a diazepam overdose is fairly likely, the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) reports that it can have severe complications like pneumonia, brain damage, and even permanent disability.

Of course, not everyone who abuses Valium will overdose, and no matter how severe an addiction might seem, it is never too late to seek help. According to the National Drug Control Policy, many addiction treatment programs actually use Valium and other powerful sedatives to ease withdrawal symptoms for those who have abused substances in other drug classes. People who are addicted to Valium may wonder how they are expected to recover if their drug of choice is given to others during treatment, but there are a variety of ways to approach recovery. The first step to helping a loved one is recognizing the signs of abuse in the first place.

Abusing Valium

According to American Family Physician (AFP), benzodiazepines like Valium produce almost immediate effects, which is why doctors usually prescribe them for short-term use and tell their patients to take them “as needed.” AFP also reports that Valium is one of the top 100 most commonly prescribed medications, making it fairly accessible for people to abuse.
Abusing Valium side effects
People often think that taking prescription drugs is safer than taking illegal drugs, and they use that kind of logic to rationalize their abuse of Valium starting from a young age. According to the University of Michigan’s 2014 Monitoring the Future Study, 4.7 percent of 12th graders had used tranquilizers like Valium in the past year.

Abusing prescription drugs is dangerous because many people don’t associate the consequences of doing so with those of abusing illegal drugs, so they ignore the precautions, like not operating heavy machinery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that a 2010 study on fatal crashes found that 8.4 percent of drivers involved tested positive for Valium.

Ultimately anyone can abuse and develop a subsequent addiction to Valium. Though there are no definitive reasons why one person can take Valium without any negative consequences while another develops a dependence on the drug, research has demonstrated that some circumstances can influence a person’s susceptibility to developing an addiction of any kind. These factors are:

  • Genetics: Addictive behavior can run in the family. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc., genes are responsible for about 50 percent of the risk of addiction. Individuals who have immediate family members who struggled with addiction are more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol than those who do not.
  • Brain chemistry: Valium affects neurotransmitters in the brain. When individuals have a deficiency of certain chemicals in their brains, they may be more likely to develop a dependence on Valium in an effort to achieve balance.
  • Psychological: Individuals who are already addicted to one or more substances may start using benzodiazepines like Valium to enhance the positive affects or minimize the negative effects of the other drugs, and they may develop a dependence on Valium in the process. People who take Valium for anxiety may also be at greater risk for developing a psychological addiction to it because they see it as their only way of coping in life.
  • Environmental: Individuals who grow up in an environment where substance abuse appeared to be a normal or healthy coping mechanism may be more inclined to abuse drugs like Valium when they get older.

If family members suspect a loved one is abusing Valium, they should step in as soon as possible and encourage the individual to attend treatment. Signs of Valium abuse include:

  • Confusion
  • Few or no inhibitions
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Agitation and hostility
  • Seizures
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Tremors
  • Slower reaction times, especially while driving

Though it is entirely possible to successfully treat an addiction to Valium, family members should remember that it can be complicated, especially if the loved one is suffering from a co-occurring disorder. Many people who start taking Valium do so because they are struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another substance use disorder. If that is the case, seek treatment at a facility that can effectively treat co-occurring disorders.

Treating Valium Addiction

The first step to treating a Valium addiction is entering a detox program. As a benzodiazepine, medical detox is always required for Valium withdrawal. Life-threatening complications, such as seizures, can develop during benzodiazepine withdrawal, so at-home detox attempts should never be made.

In an ambulatory detox program, clients will have 24-hour supervision throughout the withdrawal process. Medical professionals will help to manage symptoms of withdrawal, ensuring that clients are safe and comfortable during detox.

According to NLM, the most common withdrawal symptoms of Valium are:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Withdrawal symptoms may be uncomfortable, but they are entirely manageable, especially in an ambulatory detox setting. Following detox, clients typically enter a comprehensive addiction treatment program to address the reasons that led to the substance abuse in the first place.

Intensive outpatient programs in particular provide clients with a safe place in which to pursue recovery while they still return home to their families in the evenings. Treatment plans should be customized to meet the individual needs of each person in treatment. Since there is no treatment plan that will work for everyone, all programs must be flexible and adjust as the person progresses in recovery.

Even with regular therapy and peer support groups, overcoming Valium addiction is a challenge and a lifelong endeavor.

Some individuals experience residual effects from Valium abuse, like memory loss and difficulty breathing, but in the right treatment setting, they can learn to mange the long-term physical effects of severe abuse.

Family members can help by supporting their loved one every step of the way and offering words of encouragement throughout the recovery process. With comprehensive treatment, sustained recovery can be reached.