Valium (Diazepam)

Key takeaways:

  • Due to its prevalence as an anxiety medication, many people who abuse Valium may be doing so unknowingly
  • The likelihood of overdosing on Valium is greatly increased if the drug has been taken with other CNS depressants such as opioids or alcohol
  • If Valium has been abused over a long period and/or in high doses, the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous to health

Valium is a potent long-acting central nervous system depressant of the Benzodiazepine class of prescription drugs. Used to treat a variety of mental health disorders, Valium can cause dependence and addiction to form if abused.

Understanding Valium (Diazepam)

Valium is the brand name for Diazepam, a form of long-acting benzodiazepine used to treat mental health disorders such as depression and general anxiety disorders, as well as muscle spasms and stiffness. [1] It is believed that Valium, a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, works by enhancing certain neurotransmitters in the brain, reducing hyperactive brain function, and helping reduce anxiety and stress. 

Valium prescriptions come in pill form often intended to be taken 1-4 times daily. As the effects of Valium are long-acting, it can be taken less frequently than other forms of short-acting benzodiazepines. Valium stays in the system between 20 and 100 hours which is considerably longer than short-acting variants such as lorazepam (10-20 hours).

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Effects of Valium abuse

Valium is commonly prescribed to people feeling high amounts of stress and anxiety on a day-to-day basis. Due to its prevalence as an anxiety medication, many people who abuse Valium may be doing so unknowingly. Many don’t abuse Valium to get high either, instead using the drug to regulate their mood or to help them sleep. When taken in larger doses, Valium can cause calming and euphoric effects. This paired with long-term use causes many to form a physical dependence on the substance as their tolerance for the drug builds and they need higher doses to feel its effects - or to feel normal. 

Common side-effects of Valium [1]:

  • drowsiness
  • feeling tired
  • loss of appetite
  • blurred vision
  • muscle weakness
  • Loss of coordination and balance

Valium overdose

Valium is often considered to be safe, even in high doses, due to its legal status, regular use, and lack of social stigma. This misunderstanding around the drug's potential risk has led to many people overdosing on Valium. 

The likelihood of overdosing on Valium is greatly increased if the drug has been taken with other CNS depressants such as opioids or alcohol. These substance combinations greatly reduce respiratory function as well as impairing mental faculties. 

A Valium overdose is potentially fatal. If you suspect you or someone you know may have taken a Valium overdose, call 911 or seek medical help immediately. Signs of a valium overdose include:

  • Extreme drowsiness or dizziness
  • Unusual mood or behavior
  • New or worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures

Valium addiction

Valium holds a high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. As with most forms of benzodiazepine medication, taking Valium outside of the prescribed amount can cause a dependence on the substance to form quickly. Taking Valium for long periods of time (more than six weeks) can increase the likelihood of an addiction forming. 

Doctors and diagnosing clinicians use a set of criteria to assess the severity of a person's addiction. Some of the criteria used to assess a valium addiction include: 

  • Social or interpersonal problems related to Valium use
  • Neglected major roles to abuse Valium
  • Withdrawal Symptoms appearing when not taking Valium
  • Used larger amounts over longer periods longer
  • Trying and failing to quit
  • Physical or psychological problems related to Valium misuse
  • Craving 

Symptoms of withdrawal

The severity of withdrawal symptoms from Valium depends on multiple factors:

  • Length of use
  • Amount taken 
  • Whether use was stopped abruptly (cold turkey) 

If Valium has been abused over a long period and/or in high doses, the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous to health. If someone stops taking Valium abruptly and without tapering off of the substance it can make the withdrawal process even worse. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause seizures, coma, psychosis, and other life-threatening side effects, so a medically supervised detox is always advised.

Common Valium withdrawal symptoms

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Vomiting
  • Severe anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Restlessness and insomnia
  • Numbness
  • Panic attacks
  • Memory issues
  • Weakness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sensory hypersensitivity
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle twitching

Severe Valium withdrawal symptoms

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Depersonalization
  • Numbness/tingling in the arms and/or legs
  • Delirium
  • Psychosis
  • Convulsions
  • Coma

As a long-acting benzodiazepine, withdrawal symptoms can take longer to present themselves. In heavy users, it can take as long as seven days for the first signs of withdrawal to present themselves and they can last for several weeks. 

Recovery for a Valium problem

Benzodiazepine addiction can be extremely difficult to get over and the same is true of Valium. Thankfully there are treatment options available throughout the country, either by attending an inpatient residential rehab or outpatient treatment center.  

These facilities offer a safe and comfortable place to detox and a course of treatments including therapy, counseling, support groups, and long-term recovery plans. Speak to a treatment provider today to get help with Valium addiction.

Valium faqs

Here are some frequently asked questions about Valium:

How long does valium last?

The duration of a drug’s effects on the body is often measured by the half-life of the substance, that is how long it takes for half the drug to be eliminated from the body. For Valium, the half-life of the substance is 48 hours.[2]

As drugs like valium break down in the body, they form separate substances known as metabolites. Common metabolites in valium include temazepam, oxazepam, and nordiazepam.

Metabolites can occasionally have a longer half-life than the substance itself; with nordiazepam having a half-life of around 100 hours, for example. The half-life of Valium can also be extended if multiple doses of the drug are taken over a period of time or in large quantities in a single dose.

How long does it take to feel the effects of Valium?

Valium can be taken in multiple ways including orally in pill form, intravenously, and via rectal gel. When taken intravenously, Valium can start having an effect in as little as a minute and up to five minutes. When taken orally, the drug takes effect within an hour and rectal gel (commonly used to treat seizures) often works within the same time scale. [3]

Valium works by increasing the activity of the GABA chemical in the brain. GABA affects different areas of the brain including areas that control emotion, memory, automatic functions, and thought. By increasing GABA production in these areas, Valium helps reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and relax muscles. [3]

How long does Valium stay in your system?

The length of time Valium is detectable in the system varies depending on a variety of factors. These can include body mass index (BMI), how long the drug has been taken for, in what volume, age of user, and gender. It also changes depending on which of the four main types of identifying test is used. These are urine testing, blood testing, hair follicle testing, and saliva testing. The length of time Valium is identifiable in each test is as below. 

Test type Time period
Urine Up to 6 weeks
Blood Up to 48 hours
Hair Up to 90 days
Saliva Up to 10 days

What is Valium used for?

Valium is a common brand name for diazepam, a fast-acting and long-lasting benzodiazepine that is most commonly prescribed to treat various anxiety disorders. Like other benzos, Valium is also used to treat other conditions such as seizure disorders, restless leg syndrome, muscle spasms, insomnia, and in some cases as a treatment for alcohol withdrawal symptoms.[4]

Benzodiazepines such as Valium were introduced in the 1960s as a replacement for addictive and dangerous barbituates. Though they are still considered safer, on the whole, benzos still hold a high risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction and should only be used in the prescribed amount.