Valium Addiction and Abuse: Signs, Effects, and Treatment
Last Updated: December 7, 2023
If you are in an immediate emergency, call 911. If you are looking for more information on substance abuse treatment and it is not a medical emergency, call our 24/7 Valium Helpline at 844-266-5715.
Is Valium Addictive?
Valium is a Schedule IV benzodiazepine that can be highly addictive. While the drug has value for its anxiety relief and treatment for muscle spasms and seizures, Valium is commonly abused. Due to its addictive potential, Valium and other benzodiazepines are primarily designed for short-term use.
Valium can have such strong effects on an individual and their brain functioning that they can quickly need higher and higher doses of the drug to feel better and even just to feel normal. When an individual builds up tolerance, getting off of Valium can prove an exceptional challenge. Withdrawal symptoms can impose severe discomfort, and finding more Valium may begin to consume the individual.
How Addictive Is Valium?
The FDA notes that Valium is approved for “short-term relief” of anxiety symptoms and that “it is not known if Valium is safe and effective for use longer than four months.” This is because diazepam (generic Valium) is a fast-acting and long-lasting benzodiazepine with a high potential for abuse — especially in individuals who are already prone to addiction, who take high doses of Valium or who take Valium for extended periods of time.
Why Is Valium Addictive?
Valium is addictive because it can create pleasant feelings or even a sense of euphoria, especially when misused. Substances that have this effect can trigger a reward response in the brain. When this occurs, the brain wants to compulsively seek out the stimulus that led to pleasant feelings, which is how addiction forms. The longer a person uses Valium, the more likely they are to become addicted to it.
Valium can also cause a physical dependence to develop over time. When someone’s brain and central nervous system are repeatedly exposed to the effects of Valium, a need to continue using it develops. This is dependence. If a person becomes dependent on Valium and then reduces their dosage or stops using it suddenly, they’re likely to go through withdrawal symptoms. Many people who are addicted to Valium are also physically dependent on the substance.
Valium Abuse Statistics
Around 14% of adult overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines in 2021. Mixing benzodiazepines with other drugs also greatly increases the risk of deadly overdoses. Those who take both benzodiazepine and opioid prescriptions are 10 times more likely to suffer a fatal overdose compared to people who only take an opioid.
One study found that misuse accounts for more than 17% of all benzodiazepine use. The study also indicated that about 70% of people who misuse benzodiazepines receive them from a friend or relative. The most commonly reported reasons for benzodiazepine misuse included relaxation and improved sleep.
Previously, people over the age of 65 had the highest rate of benzodiazepine use. The current trend is that usage is becoming more common with younger adults. According to the study, adults aged 50 to 64 had the highest use rate. However, the age group with the highest misuse rate was adults aged 18 to 25.
As of 2020, there were nearly 5 million prescriptions a year written for diazepam, the generic name for Valium.
What Is Valium?
Valium is a benzodiazepine medication often prescribed for seizures and anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines like Valium work by slowing down the transmission of neurons (brain and nerve cells). By slowing neuron transmission, Valium treats seizures and creates a sense of relaxation.
Because benzodiazepines can cause a sense of euphoria, some people decide to misuse drugs like Valium. Prolonged misuse can lead to dependence and addiction, and these conditions are often difficult to recover from alone. Fortunately, Valium addiction treatment and recovery services are available at the Orlando Recovery Center.
How Does Valium Work?
Valium boosts the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that is linked to calmness. Since Valium enhances the effects of GABA, it can, therefore reduce feelings of anxiety. Valium can also slow brain activity, which is why side effects include drowsiness.
What Is Valium Prescribed For?
Valium is prescribed for a number of different reasons, including:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Neuroleptic malignant syndrome
- Serotonin syndrome
Experts encourage doctors to prescribe the drug only on a short-term basis due to the risk of addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Valium Abuse
Valium abuse and addiction can manifest in a variety of signs, including physical, behavioral and psychological symptoms. The signs may not present as too severe initially, but they may progress and worsen as an individual uses more Valium over a longer period of time.
- Pounding heart or rapid heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Muscle spasms
- Feeling faint
- Whirling or spinning feeling
- Salivating excessively
- Nausea or vomiting
- Breaking out in big hives
- Disrupted breathing pattern
- Falling down
- Inability to empty one’s bladder
- Skin yellowing
- A severe loss of body water
- Memory loss
- Traveling long distances to fill prescriptions
- Getting prescriptions from different doctors
- Losing a job or receiving a bad work review
- Problems with the law, such as drugged driving
- Living a life focused on using, getting, and recovering from Valium
- Being unable to meet major obligations in work, family, or school
- Repeatedly using Valium in risky situations
- Cutting back on hobbies, social activities, and interests
- Continuing to take Valium despite negative health consequences
- Continuing to take Valium despite relationship problems
- Developing a tolerance for Valium
- Cravings for Valium
- Delusions of wellbeing
- Suicidal thoughts
- Abnormal dreams
- Irritated stomach
- Not being able to maintain focus
Effects of Valium Addiction
The effects of Valium addiction will vary depending on the severity of the misuse, in particular the amount, frequency and duration of the Valium addiction. Effects will range from mild short-term effects to serious and even life-threatening, long-term consequences.
At the beginning of Valium misuse and addiction, the side effects may manifest as more severe versions of the typical side effects one might expect from regular Valium use. However, even in the short term, more severe effects can occur, including difficulty breathing, extreme weakness and hallucinations.
- Dry mouth
- Changes in vision
- Sleep disturbances
- Sexual dysfunction
- Slurred speech
- Extreme weakness
- Extreme drowsiness
- Problems breathing or swallowing
- Swelling of the face, tongue, or lips
- Panic attacks
- Hallucinations or delusions
Long-term misuse of benzodiazepines, including Valium, can result in cognitive decline and impairment. Impaired executive functioning can also inhibit motor skills and limit the brain’s ability to form new memories, a condition called anterograde amnesia. Initial studies indicate that cognitive impairment persists even after an individual ceases taking benzodiazepines.
Another effect of Valium addiction that has long-term consequences is overdose. Valium can slow the central nervous system, including breathing and heart rate. Ingesting too much Valium can cause respiratory depression, which can lead to a lack of oxygen to the brain and can result in death. The risk of overdosing on Valium is greatly increased when it is combined with another substance like alcohol or opioids. Symptoms of Valium overdose include:
- Physical weakness
- Impaired coordination
- Nausea or throwing up
- Double vision
- Profound drowsiness
- Rapid, uncontrolled eye movement (nystagmus)
- Restlessness or excessive excitement
- Awake but unresponsive
- Loss of consciousness
- Altered breathing patterns
- Low blood pressure
- Bluish tint in lips or fingernails
Valium Addiction Withdrawal and Detox
Valium misuse and addiction will inevitably lead to the experience of withdrawal when someone tries to quit Valium. Even those who use the drug per their prescription can experience withdrawal if they have taken Valium for a few months or more.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines like Valium can be difficult and dangerous. You should never try to quit abruptly or “cold turkey.” Severe withdrawal can result in coma, seizures or even death. Please seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing withdrawal from Valium or another benzodiazepine.
Withdrawal symptoms will vary based on how abruptly an individual decides to quit and what their regimen of Valium intake was like. Someone who is heavily dependent on Valium and decides to quit all at once will have a much different experience than someone who tries to taper off more gradually.
Valium withdrawal symptoms include:
- Stomach pains
- Tremors (typically in the hands)
- Mood swings
- Muscle pain
- Reduced appetite
- Sensory hypersensitivity
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Numbness or tingling in the arms and/or legs
- Death (extremely rare but possible in severe cases)
Benzodiazepines like Valium can cause withdrawal symptoms that are severe and can linger. In particular, Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine, so while the withdrawal symptoms may not be as intense as a counterpart like Xanax, the withdrawal symptoms will likely last longer.
- Days 1–4: Some individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms early, within the first 24 hours or so. Others will feel the onset of withdrawal around the second day after the last dose. By the third or fourth day, nearly all Valium users will have experienced the onset of Valium withdrawal symptoms.
- Days 5–14: Withdrawal symptoms will likely peak during this period in the first two weeks. For some, withdrawal symptoms may be unbearable, and professional help like medical detox may be their best option to move beyond the most severe withdrawal symptoms safely.
- Weeks 3–4: After enduring peak withdrawal, symptoms will begin to subside. While symptoms may become more manageable during this period, most individuals will likely still feel intense cravings and may struggle with relapse without professional help.
- 1 month and beyond: Withdrawal symptoms may linger. Some people may experience flare-ups of symptoms well after the most acute symptoms have passed.
Detox from Valium Abuse
Withdrawing from Valium on your own can be dangerous. Professional detox is always recommended to work through withdrawal as safely and comfortably as possible. With medical detox, you receive 24/7 medical monitoring along with treatment for whatever symptoms you face. If you don’t want to face severe Valium withdrawal symptoms alone, Orlando Recovery Center has trained professionals waiting to provide you with help and resources. Reach out to one of our Recovery Advocates today for confidential help and resources.
Valium Addiction Treatment
Specialized treatment is often necessary to help someone end Valium addiction and begin the recovery process. Once detox is complete, a person will begin addiction treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Inpatient treatment is for severe addictions that must be managed in a controlled setting. Many people begin outpatient treatment following an inpatient program, but those with less severe addictions may begin outpatient programs immediately following detox.
Inpatient Rehab for Valium Addiction
Inpatient rehab is a residential treatment program that offers patients intensive care and rehabilitation for their Valium addiction. In many cases, Valium addiction can have such a hold on someone’s life that focused treatment in a substance-free environment away from triggers is necessary to help them enter into and stay in recovery.
“I chose this particular rehab after extensive research online, and I have to say it was the best thing I’ve done for myself in 30 years!!” —Mike M.
During inpatient rehab at Orlando Recovery Center, patients receive a full-time treatment plan from addiction experts that is customized to meet their unique needs. You’ll also have access to individual and group therapy, expert medical care, a nutritious meal plan and a host of other amenities.
Outpatient Rehab for Valium Addiction
Outpatient rehab allows those recovering from Valium addiction to participate in a more flexible treatment program that affords them the opportunity to retain commitments outside of rehab at work, school or home. Outpatient rehab will still offer addiction support and medical care, but at a pace that is suited toward those with more mild Valium addiction.
“Spent 6 weeks at ORC as an intensive outpatient and was thoroughly
amazed at the care I received.” —Tammy F.
At Orlando Recovery Center, we recommend outpatient rehab for individuals who have a supportive community outside of rehab and whose Valium addiction may be characterized as a mild substance use disorder. Outpatient rehab is also a nice option for individuals who have completed more intensive inpatient rehab but who would benefit from additional care and support after inpatient treatment is complete.
Get Help for Valium Addiction Today
Valium abuse and addiction can be life-threatening, but there are many ways to find the treatment you need. If you or someone you love is struggling with Valium abuse or addiction, the Orlando Recovery Center is here to help. Our multidisciplinary team of experts is trained to treat Valium addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety. Contact us today to learn more about Valium addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation.
Food and Drug Administration. “Valium Package Insert.” 2016. Accessed January 4, 2022.
Maust, Donovan; et al. “Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adul[…]n the United States.” Psychiatric Services, February 2019. Accessed January 4, 2022.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Benzodiazepines and Opioids.” February 2021. Accessed January 4, 2022.