Valium Use and Abuse
Valium is a prescription medication that can effectively manage conditions such as anxiety, seizure disorders, and muscle spasms. However, it is also widely misused in the United States and can be both physically and psychologically addictive.
What Is Valium?
Valium (diazepam) belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants. 1 It is available legally with a prescription, and it can be used to treat a variety of physical and psychological disorders.
It can be used to:
- Minimize seizure activity in association with epileptic disorders.
- Manage some of the symptoms of the acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome, such as seizures and agitation.
- Provide sedation during a procedure or surgery.
- Reduce the impact of panic attacks or anxiety disorders.
- Help manage anxiety associated with other medical illness, such as irritable bowel syndrome, other gastrointestinal disorders, or cardiovascular disease. 2, 3
Abuse of Valium
Valium is a habit-forming medication, especially when misused by taking a higher dose, taking it more frequently, or taking it for longer than prescribed. 2, 3 When Valium is used excessively or over a long period of time, users can develop tolerance, meaning that previously used doses will not work as effectively as they once did, and higher doses may be required to achieve the desired effect. 2
Many people abuse Valium because it makes them feel relaxed, sedated, and happy. Addicts often take Valium with opioids or alcohol to increase the effects of one or both substances, with cocaine to tone down the high, or by itself to ease the painful symptoms of withdrawal from opioids or alcohol. 3 Since benzodiazepines affect the similar systems in the brain as alcohol, they are often used as a medically assisted treatment for alcohol withdrawal. 2, 3
Due in part to rampant prescription diversion, Valium is one of the two most prevalent benzodiazepines available on the illicit drug market. 1 People who abuse Valium may visit more than one doctor or pharmacy, buy it from someone else, or even write fraudulent prescriptions to obtain it. 1
In the past, Valium was referred to as “mother’s little helper,” and it was immortalized in a song written by the Rolling Stones. 4
Methods of Use
Valium’s effects can be amplified when it is mixed with other depressants.
Valium is most commonly available in pill form and, when taken as prescribed, it shouldn’t produce a significant high. Valium abusers may take more pills than prescribed, take them more frequently than prescribed, or even crush the pills and snort them in an attempt to hasten or intensify the high. Valium is also available in liquid solution form, which can be used by direct injection into a vein for near-immediate effect.
Since it is a central nervous system depressant, the effects of Valium can be amplified when it is mixed with other depressants, such as alcohol, sleeping pills, or GHB. Valium misuse is more common among users of other drugs, especially alcohol, cocaine and opioids. 3 Combining Valium with other depressants, such as alcohol or opioids, can increase the likelihood of experiencing negative side effects, such as respiratory depression or even death. 1
The Effects of Valium
Using Valium can affect the mind and body in the short-term, cause unpleasant side effects, and also have long-term consequences if chronically abused. Addiction is another concern of abusing Valium.
Short-term effects of using this substance can include:
- Numbing of one’s emotions.
- Reduction in anxiety.
- Sleep induction.
Taking Valium can lead to unpleasant side effects and can endanger one’s overall health. These risks are drastically increased if the dose and/or frequency used are more than prescribed, if one is taking Valium that is purchased illegally, if the user is not under the care of a medical professional or psychiatrist, or if it is combined with other medications or substances.
Taking Valium can lead to side effects ranging from common to dangerous. Some common side effects can include: 1, 2, 3, 5
- Slurred speech.
- Lack of coordination.
- Low blood pressure.
- Slowed breathing.
- Slowed reaction time.
- Impaired ability to drive.
- Impaired judgment.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Feelings of confusion.
- Memory impairment.
- Troubling or disturbing dreams.
- Nausea and diarrhea.
- Appetite changes.
- Dry mouth.
- Frequent or difficult urination.
- Feeling restless or excited.
- Blurry vision.
- Changes in libido; sexual dysfunction. 2
Dangerous or life-threatening side effects can be experienced as well and require immediate attention from a medical professional. If you are having difficulty walking, breathing, swallowing, or sitting still or are experiencing tremors, seizures, fever, a serious rash, irregular heartbeat, or you notice that your skin or eyes are turning yellow (jaundice), seek medical attention immediately. 2
Taking Valium can also have long-lasting effects in various areas of functioning. Addiction to Valium can create physical, mental, financial, vocational, educational, social, and even legal consequences. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6
- Developing a tolerance, meaning that more Valium is needed to attain the desired effect.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the medication or drastically reducing the dose, which can include insomnia, intense anxiety, irritability, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, tremors, sweating, feelings of dissociation, increased sensitivity to sensory inputs (lights, sounds, smells), and even potentially fatal seizures or delirium tremens (DTs).
- Increased risk of developing depression.
- Long-term changes to the brain and associated functioning.
- Development of a psychological dependence.
- Impaired memory, especially when consistently taken in combination with alcohol.
- Inability to focus or pay attention to tasks.
- Reduced ability to identify visual and spatial relationships between objects.
- Difficulty paying bills or managing finances if users are abusing Valium in large amounts.
- Stealing money or items to finance one’s habit.
- Decreased productivity at work or at school.
- Having trouble focusing at work or at school.
- Strained family relationships.
- Loss of contact with friends who may object to Valium use.
- Skipping social events due to using Valium or lack of funds due to Valium use.
- Seeing multiple doctors (doctor shopping), filling prescriptions at more than one pharmacy simultaneously, buying diverted Valium, stealing money or items to pay for Valium, and driving under the influence are all illegal activities and can result in arrests or even jail time.
- Due to the effects of Valium, driving ability can be impaired and lead to increased risk of having a car accident.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Helpline Information to learn more about treatment programs to help you or your loved one overcome Valium addiction.
Valium addiction is clinically known as a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder. The symptoms include: 6
- Continued use of Valium, even after experiencing negative personal consequences.
- Being unable to function at work, school, or home due to Valium use.
- Continuing to use Valium when it is physically dangerous, such as when driving.
- Continuing to use Valium even after experiencing recurring or persistent problems with social relationships due to or exacerbated by using Valium.
- Developing tolerance, meaning that a higher dose is required to achieve the desired effect or, if the same amount is used, less effect is experienced.
- Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal if use is stopped abruptly or intake is drastically decreased.
- Using more Valium than intended or using it for longer than planned.
- Persistently wanting to use less, or failing in attempts to control one’s use of Valium.
- Spending much of your time getting, using, or recovering from using Valium.
- Cutting back on or completely stopping important occupational, social, or recreational activities due to Valium use.
- Experiencing strong cravings or urges to use Valium.
If you or someone you know displays at least 2 of the symptoms above, you should consider seeking formal addiction treatment.
However, certain methods of use can increase the risk of overdose, including:
- Taking Valium at much higher doses or more frequently than prescribed.
- Taking it without medical supervision.
- Mixing Valium with other substances. 3
Mixing Valium with prescribed medications, including other benzodiazepines, antidepressants that cause sedation, medications to control seizures, allergy medication, and antipsychotics can have dangerous interactions, making each medication work more strongly. 3
Combining Valium with alcohol, opioids, or other drugs can exacerbate the effects of either substance, slowing down breathing and heart rate and increasing the risk of overdose and death. 3, 5
Symptoms of overdose can include both physical and psychological symptoms, including: 1, 7
- Blurred or double vision.
- Rapid side-to-side motion of the eyes.
- Upset stomach.
- Excessive drowsiness.
- Uncoordinated movement.
- Slowed heart rate.
- Shallow, slow, or difficult breathing.
- Bluish lips and fingernails.
- Loss of consciousness.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has overdosed on Valium, call 911, your local poison control hotline, or get to your nearest emergency room. An overdose of Valium can be lethal, but immediate medical attention can provide life-saving treatment.
Deaths due to benzodiazepine overdoses quadrupled between 1996 and 2013.
Valium abuse occurs in Americans of all ages, and the statistics appear to have remained stable in recent years. 8
- The most recent survey shows that in 2014, 1.9 million Americans aged 12 or older, or 0.7% of the population, reported current use of tranquilizers such as Valium for nonmedical purposes. 8
- Approximately 103,000 American between the ages of 12 and 17 (0.4% of teens) reported current use of tranquilizers for nonmedical purposes in 2014. 8
- In 2014, 1.2% of young adults between the ages of 18 to 25, or approximately 416,000 people, were using tranquilizers for nonmedical purposes. 8
- About 1.4 million adults aged 26 or older, or 0.7% of adults, reported current use of tranquilizers for nonmedical purposes. 8
Overdose rates for Valium and other benzodiazepines are on the rise.
- Deaths due to benzodiazepine overdoses quadrupled between 1996 and 2013, with 31% of the 23,000 fatal prescription drug overdoses in 2013 attributed to benzodiazepines. 9 In that same time period, the average quantity of filled prescriptions for benzodiazepines more than doubled. 9 Rates of prescriptions written for various benzodiazepines increased drastically between the years of 1996 and 2013, with nearly a 70% increase. 9
- Three-quarters of overdose deaths due to benzodiazepines also involved concurrent use of narcotics. 9
- Overdose deaths due to benzodiazepines are not limited by age. The fastest-growing age group dying from benzodiazepine overdoses is those older than 65. 9
Find Treatment for Valium Addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with Valium addiction, please call our helpline at 1-888-319-2606 Helpline Information . Trained professionals are waiting to help you on the path to recovery. Don’t hesitate to call to get linked to treatment resources today.
. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2015). Drugs of Abuse.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2010). MedlinePlus, Diazepam.
. Longo, L.P. & Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines – Side Effects, Abuse Risk, and Alternatives. American Family Physician.
. Carney, P., Cott, J., Crowe, C., DeCurtis, A., Dolan, J., Fricke, D., Zanes, W. (2013). 100 Greatest Rolling Stones Songs. Rolling Stone.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Commonly Abused Drug Charts.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). MedlinePlus, Diazepam Overdose.
. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50).
. Reinberg, S. (2016). Fatal Overdoses Rising from Sedatives like Valium, Xanax. Chicago Tribune.