Valium is a benzodiazepine, also known as diazepam, and although it is prescribed to treat anxiety it is also often misused. The depressant effects of Valium cause sedation and relaxation as well as a mild sense of euphoria. People who misuse Valium risk becoming addicted and being unable to control use. Over the long-term, Valium addiction can cause serious health problems, but it can be treated successfully with assisted detox, therapy, social support, self-management, and lifestyle changes.
What is Valium Addiction?
Addiction to Valium is a dependence on this prescription medication. There are levels of substance use disorders, from mild to severe, and the term addiction is typically associated with severe substance use disorder. Valium is the well-known brand name of the benzodiazepine called diazepam. These drugs are used to treat anxiety and are habit-forming.
Many people are able to use Valium as a medication without becoming dependent on it, but addiction is always a risk. The risk is greatest for those who abuse the drug, whether it was prescribed to them or not. Abuse means using Valium without a prescription or using it in a way that is not prescribed, such as larger or more frequent doses. Addiction to Valium causes tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal and is difficult to overcome without professional care. Treatment with detox, therapy, support, and self-care can help most people stop abusing this drug.
Facts and Statistics
Valium is a benzodiazepine, a class of drugs used to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and seizure disorders. It is a central nervous system depressant that induces relaxation, sleepiness, and sedation. Abuse of valium often occurs when a person is seeking to feel more relaxed, to cope with negative emotions, or to get a high.
- Valium was first introduced and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1963.
- Made by Roche Pharmaceuticals, Valium quickly became a blockbuster drug, selling $230 million by 1973.
- Diazepam and other benzodiazepines are listed as Schedule IV controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for its potential for abuse and risk for dependence.
- Using Valium or other benzodiazepines with opioids is very dangerous, because they both depress the central nervous system, lowering heart rate and breathing.
- Overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines have increased in recent years, and most included opioids.
- The number of prescriptions written for benzodiazepines like Valium increased by 30 percent between 1996 and 2013.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Valium Addiction
Valium and other benzodiazepines are very useful for some people who really struggle with anxiety or panic disorder. However, when someone misuses this drug there are clear signs of being under its influence, including:
- Drowsiness and lethargy
- Difficulty thinking or focusing
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
Valium addiction occurs when an individual abuses the drug until the point that he or she struggles to control use. This causes tolerance, requiring more of the drug to get the same effect, cravings when not using, and withdrawal symptoms. Dependence is also characterized by trying to limit or stop use of Valium but failing, spending a significant amount of time and energy getting or using Valium, and experiencing negative effects from using the drug but continuing to use it anyway.
Someone who is addicted to Valium may start using higher and higher doses, risking long-term health consequences. Signs of high-dose abuse of Valium include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, mood swings, loss of appetite, slowed breathing, disorientation, memory problems, angry outbursts, and impaired judgement.
It is possible to overdose on Valium, a very serious risk of misusing this drug. An overdose can be fatal, and it is even more of a risk for someone who is combining Valium with an opioid, such as a narcotic painkiller. Signs of overdose include extreme drowsiness and confusion, loss of consciousness, and slowed or stopped breathing. This should be treated as a medical emergency.
Causes and Risk Factors
The ultimate cause of Valium addiction is misuse of the drug. Using more than is recommended, using it more frequently, or using Valium after a prescription runs out are all ways that the drug can be abused and trigger an addiction. It is possible, but much less common, for someone who uses this drug as directed for a short period of time to become addicted.
More complicated than the cause of addiction are the reasons that a person abuses Valium. Individual reasons vary and may include attempting to cope with an undiagnosed mental illness, but there are several known risk factors that make someone more susceptible to abusing benzodiazepines:
- Having a prescription for Valium
- Having Valium in the home, or otherwise having access to it
- A family history of substance abuse
- Being a woman, as many more women than men are prescribed Valium
- Struggling with other substance use disorders
- Living with a mental illness, especially one that is untreated
- Being around people who abuse benzodiazepines
- Being unemployed and a having a lower socioeconomic status
- Having experienced trauma as a child
Not everyone with one or more of these risk factors will abuse Valium or, even if they do, develop an addiction. However, these are factors that contribute to and make it more likely an individual will abuse or become addicted to a benzodiazepine.
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Withdrawal and Detox
Addiction to any substance is characterized by physical and psychological symptoms when not using the drug, called withdrawal. It is important in overcoming this addiction to go through withdrawal, a process known as detox, but it can be challenging. Withdrawal from Valium can cause:
- Anxiety and stress
- Panic attacks
- Trouble thinking and concentrating
- Excessive sweating
- Heart palpitations
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Muscle pain and stiffness
In severe and long-term cases of addiction to Valium a person in withdrawal may experience seizures and even psychosis. Withdrawal can be more than just uncomfortable; it can also be dangerous. This is why it is so important that individuals struggling with this addiction go through detox under medical supervision. Ongoing treatment after detox is also important for long-term recovery and because stopping use of Valium can trigger serious anxiety and depression.
Many people who struggle with an addiction, including to Valium, also have other health problems. Most common are other substance use disorders and mental health conditions. Abuse of Valium may trigger mental illness in people predisposed to it, but the correlation may also be explained in the reverse. Having a mental illness that is untreated can lead to substance abuse as a way to find relief. In fact, studies have found that people with serious mental illness commonly abuse Valium and other benzodiazepines.
Anxiety disorders are the most common co-occurring disorders with Valium addiction, but substance use disorders involving other drugs are also typical. Opioid abuse with Valium is particularly dangerous, as is combining alcohol and Valium. The dangerous depressant effects of these substances compound each other and reduce the risk of overdose.
Treatment and Prognosis
Treatment can help any individual struggling with Valium abuse, as long as it is comprehensive and ongoing. Detox is the beginning of treatment for Valium addiction, but it is not the end. This step should be medically-supervised and is the process of eliminating the drug from the body. It triggers withdrawal, a major reason that people who try to quit on their own fail to do so and relapse.
Once detox is complete, ongoing treatment can begin. This is the long-term part of treatment and may be done on an outpatient or inpatient basis, depending on the needs of the individual. Therapy is the backbone of treatment for Valium addiction and may include behavioral therapies, one-on-one addiction counseling, family therapy, and group therapy and support.
There are no medications commonly used to treat benzodiazepine addiction, but treating any co-occurring mental illnesses is important and may involve the use of medication. Treatment should also involve a holistic approach that provides patients with good nutrition, exercise, positive coping mechanisms and relaxation strategies, and alternative therapies like music, art, or animal therapy.
Treatment should also involve planning for relapse prevention. Effective care for any type of addiction includes helping patients develop strategies, such as avoiding triggers or finding positive outlets for stress relief, that will help them avoid relapsing. Also important for successful recovery and relapse prevention is having a strong social support network made up of family and friends.
Overcoming Valium addiction isn’t easy, but it is possible. Anyone who is struggling with this can find a good treatment plan that will use a combination of therapies, treatment for co-occurring disorders, holistic approaches, support, and relapse prevention to ensure an effective recovery from this illness. The prognosis is generally good for those who are committed to treatment, who take advantage of ongoing care, and who make lifestyle changes that support sobriety.