Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problems in the United States. In fact, they may be one of the most common health concerns in the country. Each year, 40 million adults are affected in the U.S., accounting for more than 18 percent of the population.
Since before the 20th century, anxiety has been treated medically with central nervous system depressants. In the 1960s, a new class of drugs called benzodiazepines began to see wide use. One of the first drugs in this category to be approved for medical use was Valium.
But is it effective and safe in treating anxiety disorders? Learn more about the drug’s effectiveness and its side effects.
Valium is a central nervous system depressant that’s used to treat insomnia, seizures, and anxiety disorders. But is it effective? Valium is the brand name for a drug called diazepam, which is one of the first-ever benzodiazepines.
Diazepam was used for anxiety disorder treatment since the 60s and 70s, and it’s been studied extensively for this use. The drug was approved for use in 1960, and its effectiveness for anxiety was studied in a double-blind study in 1966. Researchers were hopeful, but the study only showed it being slightly more effective than the placebo.
Another study in 1972 compared diazepam with another benzo and found that it yielded positive results in treating anxiety. A study in 1988 investigated both standard Valium and controlled release Valium. The study found that both formulations were useful in treating anxiety.
Research has shown that Valium can be used to treat anxiety effectively, but it may not be helpful for everyone. Some may need psychotherapy or a combination of both medications and psychotherapeutic options. Mental health disorders are complicated, and finding solutions often require medical and clinical expertise.
Despite Valium’s usefulness as a treatment for anxiety and other disorders, it comes with its fair share of adverse effects. As a benzodiazepine, the most common side effects are drowsiness and sedation which is to be expected for a hypnotic sleep aid, However, when the drug is used to relieve anxiety, sleepiness can get in the way of everyday activities. Other more severe side effects can be caused by heavy doses of Valium, including confusion, amnesia, and hangover-like symptoms.
Like alcohol, Valium can cause anterograde amnesia, also called blacking out. This is when you have memory gaps during the time you were on Valium. This is typically caused by high doses of the drug or mixing the drug with other substances like alcohol.
Valium can cause a chemical dependence in people who abuse the drug or use it for too long. Dependence is caused when your brain gets used to the drug and starts to rely on it to maintain normal functions. It may stop producing some of its own inhibitory chemicals and begin producing more exciting chemicals to maintain balance. If you miss a dose, cut back, or stop using the drug, you may start to experience uncomfortable symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms are caused when you stop using Valium after developing a chemical dependency. The loss of the foreign chemical in your system can cause a chemical imbalance in your nervous system. Like alcohol, Valium can cause potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal starts with anxiety, insomnia, and tremors, but as symptoms peak, it can cause seizures and a sometimes deadly condition called delirium tremens.
If you think you might be dependent on Valium, speak to a doctor before quitting cold turkey.
When you work closely with your doctor and only take the recommended doses, Valium can be a safe medication for anxiety. However, it’s important to monitor your symptoms and let your doctor know when you are feeling excessive side-effects or if you feel like you’re becoming dependent. As a rule of thumb for all prescription medications, it’s good to ask your doctor about any side effects or changes that you might be worried about.
If you start taking doses higher or more frequently than recommended, it can be dangerous and even deadly. Valium is a central nervous system depressant that lowers down some of the functions of your brain and nerves. This helps people with disorders that are caused by overexcitability. However, high doses can slow down your nervous symptom functions to a dangerous degree. Essential autonomic functions like your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing can be affected. Overdose deaths are often caused by very high doses that cause your breathing to slow or stop or by cardiac arrest.
Benzodiazepines don’t usually cause fatal overdoses on their own unless very high doses are taken. This rarely happens accidentally. However, a Valium overdose death may be more likely if the drug is mixed with other substances.
Mixing Valium with other benzodiazepines, barbiturates, other sleep-aids, alcohol, or opioids can cause a phenomenon called potentiation. Potentiation refers to when two drugs with similar effects cause one another to become more potent. Since Valium is a nervous system depressant, mixing it with another nervous system depressing drug can quickly lead to overdose.
Ask your doctor before mixing anything with Valium. If you are prescribed an opioid while you are taking Valium, confirm with your doctor that it’s safe. Always let medical professionals know that you are taking Valium when you are being treated for pain or injuries.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Kerry, R. J., Jenner, F. A., & Pearson, I. B. (1972). A double blind crossover comparison of RO 5-3350, bromazepam, diazepam (Valium) and chlordiazepoxide (librium) in the treatment of neurotic anxiety. Retrieved from from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1974-11634-001
Gundlach, R., Engelhardt, D. M., Hankoff, L., Paley, H., Rudorfer, L., & Bird, E. (1966, January). A double-blind outpatient study of diazepam (Valium) and placebo. Retrieved from from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00404713
Ogbru, A., PharmD. (n.d.). Benzodiazepines Drug Class: Side Effects Types & Uses. Retrieved from from https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drugs-condition.htm
ScienceDirect. (n.d.). Drug Potentiation. Retrieved from from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/drug-potentiation
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, January 10). Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm
Ward, J., & Skreta, M. (1988, January 20). Multi-centre general practitioner comparative study of controlled-release ('Valrelease') and conventional ('Valium') forms of diazepam in patients suffering from anxiety. Retrieved from from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1185/03007998809110451