By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 19 February 2024 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair

Valium (diazepam) is a benzodiazepine and is used to treat various conditions including anxiety disorders and alcohol withdrawal. It can cause several side effects, including drowsiness, muscle weakness, loss of coordination, and fatigue. Prolonged or heavy use of Valium can increase the risk of severe side effects and dependence.

Valium (Diazepam) Side Effects

What is Valium?

Valium is a brand name for the benzodiazepine medication diazepam. It is a sedative, anxiolytic, amnestic, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant. Valium can only be obtained with a prescription, although it is also sold and used illicitly. [1][2]

Valium is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance because it has a potential for abuse and dependence. [2][3]

What is Valium used for?

Valium is approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of: [1]

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Acute anxiety symptoms

  • Acute alcohol withdrawal

  • Muscle spasms occurring in the context of various conditions

  • Seizure or convulsive disorders, as an adjunctive medication

A typical dose of Valium (diazepam) is 2-10mg, to be taken 2-4 times per day. [4]

Diazepam should be used as a short-term treatment and should not be used for longer than four months. [1]

Why do people abuse Valium?

Valium is often abused due to its relaxant and calming effects. It is potent, fast-acting, and long-lasting, and is regularly used alongside other substances, such as opioids and cocaine, to enhance euphoric effects. [2][5]

Benzodiazepines, such as Valium, are highly addictive and can cause physical dependence within as little as two weeks. Because of this, some people may begin to abuse Valium after being prescribed the medication. [1][6]

Diazepam is typically prescribed as a short-term treatment. If this prescription is stopped after a dependence has developed, the individual may attempt to obtain the medication illegally to prevent benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. Similarly, if they develop a tolerance to their medication, they may begin using larger doses than prescribed, to achieve the same effects. [2]

Valium abuse and misuse may involve: [2][6]

  • Attempting to obtain numerous prescriptions for personal use, also known as ‘doctor shopping’

  • Selling or sharing personal prescriptions with others

  • Illegally purchasing Valium

  • Taking larger or more frequent doses than prescribed

  • Continuing to take Valium after the prescription is stopped

  • Administering the medication in an unintended manner, such as crushing and inhaling it nasally

Common side effects of Valium

People taking Valium, whether prescribed or illicitly, are likely to experience some side effects. Common side effects of Valium include: [1][3][4]

  • Drowsiness

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle weakness

  • Feeling unsteady or lacking coordination

  • Headaches

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness

  • Shaking

  • Nausea

  • Constipation

  • Blurred vision

  • Incontinence

  • Urinary retention

  • Dry mouth

  • Increased saliva

  • Impaired memory

Severe side effects of Valium

In some cases, Valium can cause severe side effects, particularly if it is misused. If severe or persistent side effects occur, consult with a doctor immediately. [1][3][4]

Severe side effects of Valium include:

  • Paradoxical effects, such as agitation, aggression, or anxiety

  • Severe mood changes, such as depression

  • Suicidal ideation

  • Psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia

  • Insomnia

  • Falls or fainting

  • Reduced heartbeat

  • Breathing difficulties 

  • Uncontrollable shaking

  • Chest pain or tightness

Abusing Valium or using large doses for prolonged periods can increase the risk of severe side effects, including seizures, respiratory failure, memory loss, and depression. Prolonged use or misuse can also increase the risk of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. [1][5]

When Valium tolerance develops, the effects of the medication become reduced. This can lead to the individual requiring larger or more frequent doses to achieve the same effects.

Dependence is more likely to occur with prolonged use, although it can occur within weeks. This causes the body to become reliant on the medication, causing withdrawal symptoms if Valium use is stopped. Valium (diazepam) withdrawal symptoms can include shaking, stomach cramps, muscle pain, anxiety, restlessness, confusion, and insomnia, and can lead to an increased risk of abuse. [3]

Addiction, tolerance, and dependence are distinct conditions, although they often occur alongside one another. Valium addiction can cause drug-seeking behaviors and compulsive use, which can have harmful effects on personal, social, and professional functioning. [6]

Valium overdose

Heavy Valium use or abuse can increase the risk of overdose, especially if combined with other substances. However, even small doses of Valium can cause an overdose, particularly if the medication has not previously been used. [1][3]

Benzodiazepines, such as Valium, are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. If they are taken alongside other CNS depressants, such as opioids or alcohol, dangerous effects are more likely to occur, such as oversedation and breathing issues, which can increase the risk of life-threatening overdose. [1][7]

Symptoms of a Valium (diazepam) overdose include: [4]

  • Extreme confusion

  • Trouble breathing

  • Extreme drowsiness

  • Loss of consciousness

In the event of an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Getting treatment for Valium dependence

Valium is long-acting, so it typically causes less severe withdrawal symptoms than other benzodiazepines. However, it is advised to gradually reduce the dosage before stopping use, to prevent withdrawal symptoms. [5]

Individuals prescribed Valium should be gradually tapered off their medication by the prescribing doctor. Those using Valium illicitly may choose to abruptly stop, although this can increase the risk of withdrawal symptoms. [1]

Ddiazepam withdrawal can also cause the onset or return of symptoms such as anxiety or sleep disturbances. As such, it can be beneficial to utilize professional support and treatment during this process, which can be provided through inpatient or outpatient services. [3]

Prolonged and heavy Valium use can increase the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms. In these cases, inpatient treatment may be required so the individual can be monitored by professionals who can treat any severe psychological or physical effects. [6]

Treatment for Valium dependence and addiction can include: [6][8]

  • Holistic therapies: Holistic approaches, such as nutrition, exercise, and yoga, can improve physical and mental well-being and improve the recovery process.

  • Ongoing support: Often, it is beneficial for individuals to receive continued treatment and support during and following the withdrawal process. This may include support groups or group therapies, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or other 12-step programs, which can improve the recovery process and help maintain abstinence.