Valium is a brand name for the drug, diazepam, and is a prescription medication in a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Once known as “mother’s little helper,” it was considered a miracle drug, with over 100 million prescriptions written to manage an array of problems from menopause to marital stress. Today it is used by those who struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, muscle spasms and even alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The first feeling associated with Valium use for most is a euphoric, relaxed state of being. It is also a muscle relaxer and a Schedule IV controlled substance considered generally safe with a lesser potential for abuse. But the euphoric high it induces has led many to use the drug solely for recreational purposes, creating a higher potential for addiction than once previously thought.
Because of the effects of well-being or euphoria, Valium is easy to abuse, but the risk is not limited to those who use the drug illicitly. Patients with a prescription sometimes become physically dependent on it without realizing it. As a patient or user continues use of Valium, the euphoric feeling subsides as tolerance for the drug increases. In response, the user may increase the amount they were taking in order to replicate the original feeling, believing the drug is failing them instead of their tolerance increasing. But with continued use the drug builds up in the body as they continue to increase their dosage, in turn raising the risk for abuse and possible overdose.
Valium abuse happens when a patient raises their dose without a doctor’s consent, shops around for more doctors to give them more prescriptions or purchases it illegally. Diazepam may also be abused by using it in a way not intended for use, such as crushing a pill and snorting it up the nose for a quicker or more intense high.
Valium overdose may take up to four hours to notice. Signs that an overdose has occurred may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Impaired coordination
- Slowed reflexes
Low blood pressure and fatigue can lead to death if the patient experiences respiratory depression or heart problems. Flumazenil (brand name for Anexate) may be administered by a medical profession if possible, and may have to be given repeatedly in the hours following the overdose due the long-lasting effects of diazepam.
What Does Diazepam do to Your Brain?
As with other benzodiazepine medications, Valium works by enhancing the activity of a neurotransmitter called GABA, or Gamma Aminobutyric Acid. GABA is a chemical messenger that slows electrical activity between brain cells. As the drug boosts the effects of these messengers and brain activity slows, muscle twitching and convulsions lessen as feelings of calm set in.
The resulting effect is extreme relaxation of the mind and muscles. In fact, Valium is in a class of drugs known as hypnotic-sedatives that induce sedation, feelings of detachment and less anxiety. These characteristics are what makes Valium such a versatile medication with an alarming risk for abuse and addiction.
Some of the less desired effects from slowed brain activity are lack of coordination and impaired memory. And there is a drawback to achieving the high that many don’t know about until it happens, which is known as the crash. Once the initial high has peaked, the brain rebounds and users experience irritation, rapid heart rate, depression and anxiety. The only relief for the user is more Valium.
Diazepam alters brain chemistry hence, it is only recommended for short term use. After around four to six months of taking the drug, the patient or user will first become tolerant, and then chemically dependent on it. At this point the brain is literally dependent on diazepam to regulate electrical activity. As tolerance rises and dependence becomes a necessity, many people feel they need to take Valium just to feel normal again. The addiction now becomes dangerous as it becomes easier to overdose.
Signs of Valium Use
Signs of Valium use may or may not be recognizable. If a person has built a tolerance, you may not notice a change in their behavior or personality. However, if someone is a new user or abusing it, some signs may be noticeable. Euphoria is a state of extreme well-being and may be the first feeling that a user may experience. They may appear to be drunk or inebriated, drowsy, sleep more than normal, or seemed confused or disoriented.
If someone is abusing Valium, they may become irritable, overly anxious and have impaired judgment. They may be obsessed with filling their prescription or “doctor shopping” to ensure they have a steady supply to get their fix. Other warning signs are loss of interest in relationships, school, work or activities they used to enjoy. They may isolate themselves, become forgetful and even exhibit a loss of motor coordination. Any of these warning signs are a cause for concern.
Street Names for Valium
When people abuse drugs, they use street names to talk about them, sell or purchase them illegally on the streets. Knowing commonly used street names for Valium may help you to intervene if you suspect someone is abusing the drug. The following are some of the common street names for Valium:
- Benzos (but may refer to a wide variety of benzodiazepines)
- Blue V’s
- Yellow V’s
- Dead Flower
- Sleep Away
- Old Joes
- Drunk Pills
Valium Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms of Valium correlate with the amount used or abused, how long the drug has been taken, and the metabolism and health of the person who was using it. Generally, it is recommended to use medical supervision or the help of professional addiction specialists to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. Stopping Valium cold turkey, or suddenly without tapering down, can cause severe or lethal health issues.
As a person withdraws from diazepam, common symptoms will appear such as anxiety, tachycardia (racing heart), insomnia, and personality changes. These side-effects are the opposite of the effect the drug had on the user and become apparent as the drug is no longer suppressing the central nervous system. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the brain no longer has the drug to stimulate the GABA receptors as it had in the past, and it will take time for the brain to readjust itself back to a healthy state.
Other withdrawal symptoms include:
- Stomach issues
Because Valium is a long-lasting drug and remains in the system longer than most benzodiazepines, these symptoms may start out mild, intensify and last up to two weeks.
If the addiction is severe with higher amounts used over a prolonged period of time, more severe symptoms may arise. These can include: sensitivity to light, hallucinations, numbness or tingling of the arms or legs, delirium, psychosis or seizures.
As the physical symptoms of withdrawal wear off, some of the psychological ones may last, or come and go for weeks or even months after the last dose. These may include: anxiety and depression, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. Cravings for the drug may continue for many months, but will eventually subside as the user gets healthier and the body adjusts.
As with any drug, if a person was abusing Valium with other drugs or alcohol then withdrawal symptoms will be worse. Because the cravings continue and withdrawal can be physically uncomfortable, overdose is a risk. This is especially true if the person has stopped using for a week or longer, tolerance has lowered, and they take the drug in the amount they did before.
Treatment for Valium Addiction
Treatment for Valium addiction can be tricky and professional oversight is highly recommended. Many patients have begun diazepam as a prescription drug to treat anxiety, so abstinence from the drug can induce rebound anxiety. For some, this anxiety may be so severe they relapse. Oversight can reduce the risk of this happening.
Physical detoxification is the first stage of treatment during which time the person refrains from using the drug, and what is built up in the body slowly works its way out. This can create physical discomfort, or in severe cases cause extreme agitation, delirium and seizures. Medical treatment may be used to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Some physicians may use the treatment method of tapering down the diazepam. In this case, they oversee the administration of controlled amounts of the drug while slowly reducing the amount each day until dependence is no longer an issue. This allows the patient to become used to getting smaller amounts of the drug, giving the brain time to adjust, and in turn reducing withdrawal symptoms.
In some cases, a physician may switch the patient from diazepam to another, weaker drug as a replacement. Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), is a drug that may be used for this. It is weaker and can mitigate the risk of seizure during withdrawal. Phenobarbital may also act as a replacement drug, though often reserved for use with people who have had a long term, high dosage addiction. Other medications may be used including anticonvulsants, sleeping aids or antidepressants to aid in withdrawal symptoms. Any replacement drugs require strict oversight to avoid abuse or relapse.
Once physical detoxification is complete, substance abuse or addiction treatment should begin. This may be outpatient treatment, for those with lesser addictions, or inpatient treatment, for long term or acute addictions. Individual counseling, group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or other methods may be used to aid in recovery.
Outpatient may be preferred for those with lesser addictions. It may begin after physical detoxification or sometimes coincide with detoxification. A patient may check into a hospital, clinic or other outpatient facility for administration and oversight of any replacement drugs or taper down dosages of diazepam on a daily basis. Some facilities may have counselors or therapists on staff to help with the psychological treatment of Valium addiction. Group therapy may be offered as well as specialized treatments such as CBT.
Inpatient facilities offer more oversight in all aspects of Valium addiction treatment. Medical supervision will ensure the patient is physically cared for during detoxification as vital signs can be monitored. Behavioral and psychological therapies are often available that ensure full recovery. They may include specialized treatments, and some higher end facilities may offer yoga or meditation classes to help the patient learn stress coping skills.
Individual or group therapies are designed to get at the heart of the addiction. A patient may learn why they took a path to addiction, uncover patterns of behavior and learn how to make healthier choices. They will be able to talk freely, which is often a powerful stress reliever and a positive step in recovery. Sometimes family therapy will be advised. This may help the patient learn healthier ways to interact, while teaching the family how to aid in the patient’s recovery.
Specialized therapies may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. In this case, a patient works one-on-one with a therapist who is CBT certified. They may learn what might trigger them to relapse and learn ways to prevent relapse.
Behavioral Modification Therapy is another specialized and proven method for addiction treatment. It is based on a reward system by rewarding the patient with “gifts” such as food vouchers in return for positive behaviors like attending therapy.
Interpersonal Interviewing Technique is a specialized treatment method that aims to increase a patient’s motivation for change. This is often used for those who have an aversion to addiction treatment and desire to continue their habit.
Valium addiction treatment is available to anyone looking to free themselves from addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, do not wait to get help. Enroll in a treatment center today and begin your journey toward recovery.