Valium is the brand name for the prescription medication diazepam and is classified as a benzodiazepine.
It belongs in the grouping of drugs that possesses sedative qualities that make them medically useful for treating the symptoms of disorders such as anxiety and insomnia.
Unlike other benzos, Valium has a relatively wide range of different uses and is regularly prescribed to help with:
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- Muscle spasms
- Restless leg syndrome
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
- Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome
That last one may seem surprising, but Valium is the drug of choice for weaning someone off an addiction to other stronger or more dangerous benzos. Because Valium has a very long half-life, it makes it easier to taper down dosage with less discomfort from withdrawal symptoms.
Still, even though Valium can be a very beneficial drug when used correctly under the proper circumstances, it is commonly acknowledged as having a high risk for both addiction and abuse. Even when it’s being used in medical maintenance therapy for benzodiazepine withdrawal, it is administered in very low doses for only a short period of time, as people can build up a tolerance to Valium within less than a week of regular use.
What is perhaps most dangerous about misusing Valium, as well as any other benzodiazepine, is that people who are abusing it are rarely ever abusing just Valium. When someone is using Valium with other drugs, they are much more likely to overdose or suffer an adverse or even life-threatening reaction to mixing these substances.
People will often use Valium as a way to come down from stimulants like cocaine, or even just take Valium as a way to ease social anxiety at parties, not realizing the potentially fatal effects of mixing Valium with alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2015, the United States had more than four times as many overdose deaths caused by benzos when compared to 2012, and as one of the most over-prescribed class of drugs in the country, those numbers may continue to climb even higher.
When You Should Worry About Taking Valium
Anxiety can be debilitating and lead people to fall back from their daily routines. It leaves people unable to function properly, and interfere with job performance, family and social relationships, and school. Nearly 31 percent of American adults will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. There are remedies, such as Valium, that treat some of the worst symptoms of anxiety. While it can be effective at treating their condition short-term, it is highly addictive and can lead to deadly withdrawal.
Since 1963, Valium has been one of the more popular anti-anxiety drugs in the country. Heavy users of the drug can experience an intensification of their psychological symptoms that made them use the drug in the first place. Some behavioral and mental changes attributed to Valium addiction can include:
- Increased anxiety
- Irrational thinking
- Disorganized thoughts
- Memory problems
When you start to exhibit these signs, it is time to start worrying about your Valium use. Someone addicted to the drug will show concern about obtaining and using the substance, even at the expense of their health.
The long-term effects of Valium are complicated by psychiatric disorders, and studies show there is an increased risk of benzodiazepine use in those with mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizophrenia.
Due to the Valium withdrawal symptoms and their potential dangers, it is strongly encouraged for someone dealing with Valium addiction to seek professional treatment immediately.
What Are the Symptoms of Valium Withdrawal?
Valium works in the same manner as other benzos, binding itself to the brain’s gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, receptors. GABA is the name of a chemical in the brain that controls how your body responds to things like stress, fear, and anxiety, blocking the nerve impulses responsible for those feelings to calm the body down.
Valium increases the amount of GABA in the brain, creating a much stronger block against those feelings of anxiety and instead, producing feelings of sedation and relaxation. The problem is what happens when someone stops taking Valium after their body becomes dependent on the amount of GABA the drug produces, causing a kind of system crash that causes the symptoms that correspond with valium withdrawals.
Symptoms associated with withdrawal from Valium are very much the same as from other benzodiazepines. While they are usually milder in comparison to stronger benzos like Xanax, they can still be very severe and incapacitating if someone has been abusing a large amount of Valium over a long period of time.
Common Valium withdrawal symptoms include:
- Fluctuations in weight
- Unstable moods
- Panic attacks
- Elevated heart rate
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle cramps
- Rebound anxiety
- Seizures (although these are usually not as common)
Can Valium Withdrawal Kill You?
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines, in general, are among some of the most unpleasant withdrawal experiences, with symptoms that can range from extremely uncomfortable to life-threatening.
For many people undergoing a Valium detox, rebound anxiety can be one of the most difficult symptoms to manage, as symptoms of anxiety are the reason why a large number of people abusing Valium started taking it in the first place.
Rebound anxiety occurs when an individual who had been using Valium to treat anxiety stops taking it, and their anxiety symptoms, not only return, but come back significantly more intense than before. These symptoms are typically far worse than the feelings of anxiety they experienced before they had started taking Valium in the first place.
The symptoms produced by Valium withdrawals also become even more severe and also last a good deal longer if someone has what is known as benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, which can also cause extremely dangerous symptoms not commonly associated with Valium withdrawal to manifest, including:
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Total psychosis
Those who end up struggling with benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome during their withdrawal from Valium were, prior to detox, engaging in extremely heavy Valium abuse packed into a fairly short time frame, such as two to three months.
As a result of rebound anxiety, benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, and a host of other symptoms, those going through withdrawal from Valium are highly susceptible to relapse to ease these symptoms and are more likely to take too much and overdose.
Beyond that, several of the symptoms themselves can be deadly without the aid and intervention of a medical detoxification specialist.
Many include the potential for self-harm as a result of delirium, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts, as well as the possibility of Grand mal seizures, which can happen when someone tries to quit Valium cold turkey all at once.
Suddenly cutting off the flow of Valium and increasing GABA levels that came with it triggers an overwhelming shock to your body, which is what can cause these deadly seizures.
Attempting to detox from Valium on your own will be a far more painful and protracted withdrawal process than necessary. There is also a higher chance that it can kill you without professional medical supervision.
Controlled medical detox can not only help to mitigate the discomfort of Valium withdrawal symptoms, but a doctor will also make sure to put you on a tapering schedule that slowly reduces your dosage of Valium until it is safe to stop taking it.
What Are the Stages of the Valium Withdrawal Timeline?
While there is an established timeline of stages of withdrawal from Valium based on symptoms, how the drug typically stays in someone’s system and the experience of undergoing a Valium detox is going to differ from person to person based on key facts such as:
- How long someone has been abusing Valium
- How much Valium they were abusing
- Whether they were abusing it with alcohol or other drugs
- How they were taking Valium (as a pill, snorting it, injecting it, etc.)
- If they have a history of prior addictions or mental health issues
- Their overall current health
- If they get benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome
- If they are stopping Valium cold turkey or tapering usage
As previously mentioned, along with more severe symptoms, benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome also considerably lengthens the withdrawal period. Otherwise, the typical timeline for Valium withdrawal is as follows:
- One to Three Days: One of the reasons Valium is often used in tapering someone off of a different benzodiazepine is that it has a much longer half-life than most other benzos. This means that it can take as long as 48 hours after the last use to leave the body and that some people may not start feeling Valium withdrawals until three days after their last use. These early symptoms will generally be confined to difficulty concentrating, mild anxiety, and an irregular heart rate.
- One to Two Weeks: The next seven to 10 days after those first three are when all of the symptoms, psychological and physical, will be at their peak strength, including rebound anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, hallucinations, drug cravings, and more. This is also the stage when people are most vulnerable to having a relapse.
- Three to Four Weeks: Again, because of how long Valium stays in your system, the withdrawal can take quite a long time. At roughly the one-month-mark, many symptoms will still be present but will have at least greatly diminished in strength and become easier to manage.
- One Month and Beyond: Typically, by this time, the majority of Valium withdrawal symptoms should have dissipated, although anxiety and other psychological symptoms may remain.
However, people withdrawing from Valium and other benzos are extremely susceptible to post-acute withdrawal system, or PAWS, which is when the following symptoms can come and go intermittently even months after detoxing from Valium:
- Mood swings
- Drug cravings
- Increased sensitivity to stress
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Inability to concentrate
- Decrease in coordination
While there is, unfortunately, no established timeline for how long PAWS can last, we at The Palm Beach Institute can help provide you with plenty of resources that can provide you with help and support.
What Can Help with Valium Withdrawal?
There are several different medications that a medical detox center might utilize to ease the discomfort of Valium withdrawal symptoms, such as:
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- Anticonvulsants: Anticonvulsant medication is administered in the event that the individual undergoing Valium detox begins to experience seizures but has also, in some cases, been found useful in treating the overall symptoms of Valium withdrawals.
- Antidepressants: Specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been found to be somewhat successful in helping those dependent on benzos cope with withdrawal, and also can help to minimize the impact of rebound anxiety.
- Melatonin: Yes, melatonin, the over-the-counter supplement, can help reduce the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety, and may also help with tolerance issues caused by abusing Valium.
What Is the Next Treatment Step?
Recovery cannot happen without detoxification, but detoxification by itself does not equal recovery. Flushing the Valium out of your body will not cure you of your addiction or unhealthy behaviors associated with it.
If your Valium detox is not followed by the next phase of addiction treatment, relapse is unfortunately inevitable, especially for Valium, due to its lengthy withdrawal process and symptoms of anxiety and depression that can linger for months afterward.
Rehabilitation treatment can mean many different things depending on what works best for someone and just how severe their addiction is. Some may require residential inpatient treatment programs that allow for people to step away from their normal lives and focus wholly on their recovery, while others may only need outpatient treatment to have a successful recovery.
Whichever type of treatment program you choose, it will help you get to the root issues behind your substance abuse and provide you with the tools and understanding needed to help you get sober and stay that way.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). (n.d.). Retrieved from from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS
Chouinard, G., Labonte, A., Fontaine, R., & Annable, L. (1983). New concepts in benzodiazepine therapy: Rebound anxiety and new indications for the more potent benzodiazepines. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6141609
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal: Potentially Fatal, Commonly... : Emergency Medicine News. (n.d.). Retrieved from from https://journals.lww.com/em-news/fulltext/2001/12000/Benzodiazepine_Withdrawal__Potentially_Fatal,.13.aspx
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 29). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
Calcaterra, N. E., & Barrow, J. C. (2014, April 16). Classics in chemical neuroscience: Diazepam (valium). Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990949/