Is Valium Addictive?
Valium belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Valium, and other drugs like it, increase the effect of a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system known as GABA. GABA reduces the nerve cell’s ability to create, receive, or send chemical messages to other nerve cells. This results in a reduction of a number of your brain’s processes.
Similar to many benzodiazepines, Valium has gotten popular among people seeking to get high from its depressant effects. Many Valium abusers use it with alcohol or other substances.
A notable physical dependency on Valium can happen quite rapidly when it’s abused. Valium has a high risk for abuse and addiction which may lead to overdose and death. It is particularly dangerous to take Valium with alcohol and opioid medications, or any drug that can cause drowsiness or breathing problems.
What is Valium?
Valium has many effects on your body, and many of them can be dangerous when the drug is abused or misused. Valium (generic name: diazepam) is prescribed for sleeplessness, anxiety, muscle spasms, and sometimes to manage alcohol withdrawal.
Why Is It Addictive?
After a relatively short period of time, Valium use can become a Valium addiction. Your brain can become dependent on the effects of the drug quickly. As your use increases, your tolerance builds. This means that you need constantly increasing doses to get the high you got when you first started using it.
Once you become convinced that you need Valium to face the world, addiction has taken hold. When this happens, you will begin facing withdrawal whenever your use of the drug is suddenly stopped.
Research has shown that Valium stimulates the release of dopamine, the natural reward chemical in the brain. Scientists have now discovered that it also affects another pathway in the brain. They believe this is what makes people become addicted to it.
The GABA Pathway
Researchers studied the brain pathway in mice after injecting them with a dose of benzodiazepine. Their results showed that benzodiazepines activate a neurotransmitter called GABA, which helps increase the release of dopamine. This increase in dopamine reflects activity from the use of other addictive drugs like heroin, which works by way of a similar pathway.
The scientists then projected that Valium may be addictive because it works using the GABA pathway. Even though they warn that Valium is not the same as illegal drugs like heroin, they do state that both stimulate similar dopamine processes.
Effects of Valium Use
Because Valium decreases activity in the nervous system and affects the way brain communication or signaling happens between brain centers, when a person abuses the drug, they experience a high that includes these effects.
Short-Term Effects of Using Valium
- Euphoria (extreme happiness)
- Loss of coordination
- Feeling drunk
- Anxiety (this may be more intense than the original anxiety)
- Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
- Stomach cramps
Most addicts will counteract the crash by using more Valium or another drug to slow down their body again and reproduce the sluggish, euphoric feeling again. The danger here is that the body quickly builds a tolerance, making it more and more difficult to reach the euphoric condition with the same amount of Valium. This raises the risk of severe addiction and Valium overdose. This compulsion to take increasingly larger amounts is one of the symptoms of addiction.
Long-Term Effects of Valium Use
Using Valium heavily over an extended period can have powerful effects on your brain and body. These effects may become permanent and life-threatening in some cases. Long-term effects include:
- Loss of memory
- Breathing problems
- Slowed pulse
- Heart attack
Valium addiction may also cause job loss, social isolation, and financial problems. It can even cause permanent physical damage from accidents that happen while you’re under the influence of the drug.
Lasting Health Effects of Valium Use
Chronic abuse or use of Valium is linked to:
- Aggressive behavior
- Cognitive deficiencies
- Psychotic experiences
- Additional drug abuse
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Valium Addiction?
Some of the red flags that indicate Valium addiction include:
- A compulsion to keep taking Valium
- Taking the drug in increasingly higher doses
- Experiencing withdrawal when cutting back or trying to quit
- Obtain Valium without a prescription
- Using it in a way that wasn’t prescribed like snorting or injecting it
- Tampering with the drug to experience a quicker high
- Problems keeping up with responsibilities at home or work
- Damaging close relationships
Can Benzodiazepines Cause Withdrawal?
Typically, you won’t experience any withdrawal problems if you only take them occasionally as a one-off dose. However, if you take benzodiazepines regularly, you may become dependent on them. In this case, you might experience physical withdrawal symptoms if you reduce or stop your dose. Or you may start to feel like you can’t cope with your life unless you take them.
- Stomach cramps
- Agoraphobia (fear of situations that seem difficult to escape from)
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mild to moderate depression
- Problems sleeping
- Panic attacks
- Pain in the face and neck
- Sensitivity to light
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Loss of interest in sex
- Metallic taste and sore tongue
- Ringing in the ears
- Tingling in feet and hands
- Eye pain
- Unsteady when standing
The more severe withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines that may be experienced include:
- A sensation of burning skin
- Delusions (strong beliefs that other people don’t generally share)
- Depersonalization (feeling disconnected from your environment)
- Loss of memory
- Psychosis (losing touch with reality)
When Do Withdrawal Symptoms Begin?
Withdrawal symptoms may begin several hours after you stop taking a short-acting benzodiazepine. Since Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine, withdrawal symptoms may begin up to three weeks after you stop taking it. This is because long-acting benzodiazepines can remain active in your system for a period of time after you stop taking them.
The longer you take benzodiazepines, the more difficult it is to stop, and the greater your chance of withdrawal symptoms. Some people experience depression when withdrawing from benzodiazepines. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antidepressants to help you handle the symptoms of depression.
There are many medications that will have an adverse interaction with Valium. Always check the drug interaction warning literature before using Valium. Don’t take Valium with any of the following common substances:
- Narcotic cough medications
- Antibiotics such as erythromycin and clarithromycin
- Sleep or anxiety medications
- Muscle relaxant medications
- Narcotic pain medications
- Some medications for blood pressure, heart disease, irregular heartbeat
- Certain depression medications
- Certain medications for psychotic disturbances
- Some seizure medications
- General anesthetics like lidocaine or tetracaine
By no means is this a complete list of all possible interactions. Provide your healthcare professional with a list of all the medicines, herbs, non-prescription medicines, or supplements you take. Also, inform them if you smoke, drink alcohol, or use illegal drugs.
What is Rehab for Valium Addiction?
Addiction to Valium can be disastrous not only for the addict but also for their friends and family. Most individuals who have become addicted to Valium find they are unable to stop using the drug under their own willpower. The best chances of recovery from a private rehabilitation center.
Although not always dangerous, ending a Valium addiction does present some unique challenges in the form of increased possibility of agitation, seizures, and delirium.
Because quitting Valium carries with it some significant withdrawal symptoms, a medically-assisted detox is usually recommended as the most appropriate first step in treatment. Detox allows your body to fully process and eliminate Valium from your system while a medical team assesses your vital signs, makes you more comfortable, and manages any medical complications that might arise.
Treatment of Valium addiction may include reducing the dose gradually over a span of weeks or months. This is especially important for people who have been using high doses. Changing to a different benzodiazepine medication with a slower onset of action and a lower abuse potential, such as the medication, Librium. Switching to Librium will help diminish the risk of seizures during withdrawal. Changing to a long-acting barbiturate, such as phenobarbitol.
After completing detox, the person continues their treatment through behavioral therapies such as:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)–CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for many substance abuse and mental health problems. In CBT, you explore how your faulty thoughts and feelings have affected your behaviors and are linked to your substance abuse.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)–DBT is based on cognitive behavioral therapy, but it’s adapted for people who experience intense emotions. It focuses on helping people accept the reality of their life and behavior while helping them learn to change.
- Motivational Interviewing (MI)– MI focuses on the individual’s goals. The idea is that people will be more motivated if they set their own goals. It looks to the future, not past trauma or root causes of addiction. It is best used in combination with other therapies.
- Individual Therapy–The individual works one-on-one with their counselor.
- Group Therapy–In group therapy, people are able to discuss problems and learn helpful tips from others who are recovering.
- Family Therapy–Because addiction affects the whole family, all members should be educated about their loved one’s addiction and how effective communication and support will add to the family’s overall functioning.
Levels of Care
- Inpatient Rehab–Also called residential treatment, this is the highest level of care. At this level, you will live at the treatment center. This allows you to focus on recovery without the distractions of your previous lifestyle.
- Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)–PHP is the highest level of outpatient care. In a PHP, you will receive the same intense treatment as inpatient rehab every day at the treatment center and go home at night.
- Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)–This level of care allows you to live at home and go to work or school while attending treatment sessions several days per week for about 3 hours per day. It is good for people who have a strong support system at home.
- Outpatient Program (OP)–An OP is appropriate for people who have a mild addiction and a stable home life. It is frequently used as a step-down from a higher level of care.
What Can First City Recovery Center Offer You?
First City Recovery Center can provide you with a comprehensive treatment plan that can help you from detox to sober living. Our experienced professionals and addiction specialists are licensed and trained in behavioral, individual, and group therapies. Our medical professionals are able to offer you a completely supervised medical detox to help you be more comfortable and handle any emergency that may arise during withdrawal. And if you are suffering from a co-occurring mental health condition, we have a dual diagnosis program and mental health professionals, specifically for that condition.
In addition, First City can offer you a complete continuum of care after detox. We are equipped to provide inpatient care as well as all levels of outpatient care. In this way, you can receive treatment from the same team throughout your recovery. Everything you need is in one location in Kokomo, Indiana. Don’t just sit there. You can do something about it. It is possible to recover. Contact us today. We are happy to answer any questions.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.