Valium is a common medication used to treat a variety of common issues like anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, and several sedative-hypnotic drugs and antidepressants are used to treat the problem.
Drugs like Valium are intended to slow down the central nervous system to help you relax, and they can have physical and mental effects. However, Valium can also cause negative side effects like chemical dependence and addiction. Learn more about Valium addiction and how it can be treated.
Valium is a prescription medication in a class of sedative drugs called benzodiazepines. It’s used to treat anxiety and muscle spasms. Benzodiazepines are in a larger category of drugs called central nervous system depressants, which work by slowing down activity in your brain and body.
People with anxiety, insomnia, and muscle spasms often have issues that involve an imbalance of brain chemistry or nerve damage that causes hyperactivity in the central nervous system. Depressants like Valium can help slow down system activity in a way that alleviates these symptoms.
Valium works in the brain by interacting with a natural chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical is responsible for binding to its receptor in the brain in facilitating rest and relaxation. It helps calm you down, relaxing your mind and body when it’s time to sleep or unwind. Valium can bind to these GABA receptors and increase the effectiveness of GABA. Other depressants, including alcohol, work in similar ways.
Valium may also be used to treat alcohol use disorders. Because they work in the brain similarly, Valium can be used to taper people off alcohol dependence. However, because they’re similar, Valium can also cause dependence if it’s misused or used for too long. The medication is usually prescribed for short-term therapeutic use. Long-term use of a benzodiazepine can be less effective, and you may be risking dependence or addiction. Benzodiazepines may also have more adverse side effects for older people. Regular use is associated with a higher risk of dependence, dementia, daytime drowsiness, and dangerous falls.
Valium can cause substance use disorders in people who use it for too long, in high doses, or with other depressants. Valium can create a euphoric sense of intoxication that’s similar to alcohol. It can also cause sedation, memory impairment, impaired motor skills, and slowed breathing. Like alcohol, Valium’s euphoric effects can cause addiction, and its effects on your brain chemistry can cause chemical dependence.
Addiction can affect multiple aspects of your life, including your long-term health, relationships, and finances. Valium misuse also increases your risk of experiencing a deadly overdose. An overdose on Valium could cause you to experience some dangerous side effects.
Respiratory depression is the most common deadly side effect of depressant overdose. It causes your breathing to slow to the point of oxygen deprivation. This can lead to coma, brain damage, or death. Valium overdose isn’t usually fatal when the drug is taken on its own.
However, if Valium is mixed with alcohol, opioids, or other prescription depressants, it’s more likely to be fatal. Polydrug use is common in recreational drug use, but it greatly increases your risk of dangerous side effects. It’s also possible to accidentally overdose if you drink alcohol with your prescription.
Always ask your prescribing doctor or pharmacist about mixing alcohol or other drugs with a prescription.
Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the reward center of the brain by changing how your brain reacts to the drug. The reward center of the brain is designed to help identify and encourage you to repeat healthy tasks. It does this by working with rewarding chemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which lift your mood and make you feel good.
However, drugs like Valium, which can create a euphoric effect, can increase the levels of those feel-good chemicals in your brain. Your reward center doesn’t know the difference between Valium misuse and healthy, rewarding activities like eating your favorite meal.
Addiction is identified by the compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences. When you develop an addiction, your reward center will create powerful compulsions to use the drug that are difficult to resist. And in many cases, these compulsions get out of control.
Addiction also coincides with chemical dependence, which occurs when your brain adapts to the presence of a drug. When you stop taking the drug, your brain chemistry will become imbalanced, and you’ll experience uncomfortable withdrawal. Because Valium is a depressant, suddenly stopping Valium use can cause your central nervous system to become overactive. This can cause potentially dangerous symptoms like seizures, or a condition called delirium tremens.
Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms mixed with powerful compulsions to use can make it extremely difficult to quit Valium on your own.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 5.4 million people over age 12 misused benzodiazepines within the past year of the survey. That accounts for around 2 percent of the population. Benzodiazepines like Valium can be used on their own for a recreational high, but they can also be mixed with other substances like alcohol or opioids for a more intense euphoria. However, this is also more dangerous. The majority of benzodiazepine overdoses involve other drugs.
Valium addiction is a chronic disease, but it’s one that can be treated with the right help for your individual needs. Addiction is a complex disease, so it requires personalized treatment for multiple needs, including biological, psychological, and social needs.
When you enter an addiction treatment program, you’ll go through an assessment process with medical and clinical professionals who can help determine the best level of care for your needs. There are four main levels of care, with the highest levels being reserved for people with the most intensive needs.
Medical detox is the highest level of care and involves medically managed treatment 24 hours a day. This level of care is for people who are likely to go through severe withdrawal symptoms, or people going through withdrawal with other medical conditions or complications.
Depressants like Valium can cause potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, so Valium addiction often requires medical detox. Detox may involve taking medications that are used to treat symptoms or tapering you off the drug you’re dependent on. You may also begin clinical therapies to address the psychological and social aspects of addiction.
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After detox, you’ll continue treatment in the next level of care. If you still have high-level needs, you may go through an inpatient program with medical monitoring or clinical care 24 hours each day. If you can safely live on your own, you could attend an outpatient or intensive outpatient program during the day while you live independently at night.
Treatment may involve a variety of therapy options, including addiction individual, group, and family therapy. You may also go through several behavioral therapies throughout treatment, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, which is often used in relapse prevention.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Types of Treatment Programs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
RxList. (2018, February 6). Benzodiazepines Drug Class: Side Effects, Types & Uses. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drug-class.htm
SAMHSA. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf
Tannenbaum, C. (2015, May). Inappropriate benzodiazepine use in elderly patients and its reduction. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409441/