Valium is the brand name for a drug called diazepam, and it was one of the first benzodiazepines to be synthesized. Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, but they can also cause dependence, addiction, and some serious side effects. Valium is a common medication for people with anxiety disorders. If you or someone you know has been taking Valium, it’s important to know the potential side effects. Learn more about the effects of Valium in normal use, withdrawal, and overdose.
Valium is typically used to treat anxiety, seizures, and it can also be used to treat insomnia and muscle spasms. As a benzodiazepine, the drug is GABAergic, which means it works in the brain by affecting a naturally occurring chemical messenger called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short.
GABA is responsible for inhibiting excitability in the brain. That means it’s capable of calming you down and easing anxiety when it’s time to rest. People with disorders caused by overactive nervous system functions, like insomnia and anxiety, may not have enough of their own natural GABA to calm them down when needed.
Valium can also cause you to feel drowsy with regular use, and it’s generally recommended that you avoid driving after taking it. Like alcohol, Valium might affect your reaction time and awareness, which can make driving dangerous.
Valium comes with some common side effects that can be similar to other depressants like alcohol. The most common are drowsiness dizziness, fatigue, blurred vision, or unsteadiness. These side effects can occur with normal use, but they are more likely with high doses, taking doses too frequently, or abusing the drug recreationally. If your side effects seem to get worse or if they last a long time, you should notify your doctor as soon as possible.
Many people who use Valium as directed don’t experience any side effects. It is possible for it to cause side effects even if your doctor determines that the medication is safe for you.
As with any medication, it’s important to keep your doctor updated if you experience serious or lingering symptoms.
Like other benzodiazepines, long-term use and high doses can lead to tolerance and dependence. Tolerance is when your brain gets used to the drug and begins to adapt your brain chemistry around it. This may feel like the drug’s effectiveness is diminishing or that you need to increase your dose to achieve the same effects.
If you do, you are likely to become chemically dependent. Chemical dependence is when your brain and body start to rely on the drug to maintain normal brain chemistry. At this point, it will feel like you need the drug to feel normal. If you miss a dose or cut back, you will start to feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
If you feel like you’ve become chemically dependent on Valium, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. With medical help, you can wean off of the drug or switch to a new medication.
Depressants are unique when it comes to withdrawal. Most drugs, like opioids and stimulants, cause uncomfortable symptoms that can be difficult to get through, but they aren’t life-threatening. Depressants like Valium can actually cause life-threatening complications during withdrawal. Because benzodiazepines suppress excitability in the nervous system, quitting suddenly can cause your nervous system to become overexcited, leading to discomfort and potentially dangerous symptoms.
Seizures and a condition called delirium tremens are the most dangerous symptoms you face while you go through Valium withdrawal. You’re more likely to experience these symptoms if you were dependent on a high dose, and you stop suddenly.
You may also experience severe symptoms if you have gone through withdrawal from a depressant before because of a phenomenon called kindling. Depressant withdrawal can make some long-lasting changes to the brain that makes subsequent withdrawal periods more extreme. If you’ve detoxed from benzodiazepine for alcohol dependence before, you may experience more dangerous symptoms.
However, medical treatment can help to avoid extreme symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens. Medical detox can also help ease uncomfortable symptoms and treat other medical conditions and complications you might encounter.
Taking an excessive dose of Valium can cause dangerous, overdose symptoms. As a depressant, Valium can shut down essential central nervous system functions during an overdose. Benzodiazepines are designed to slow down excitability enough to induce sleep or ease anxieties, but high doses may also slow breathing and lower your heart rate.
Benzodiazepines on their own are less likely to cause an overdose than other prescriptions depressants like barbiturates. However, an overdose is more likely if you mix Valium with other depressants or opioids. Mixing depressants can cause potentiation, a phenomenon where two drugs enhance each other’s effects. This can cause an overdose with much smaller doses of each individual drug.
If a Valium overdose is left untreated, it can lead to oxygen deprivation, brain damage, heart failure, coma, and death. If you are with someone that took a depressant and notice that their breathing has slowed or stopped, you should call emergency services immediately.
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