Rates of prescription medication abuse continue to rise in the US. A number of the most popularly prescribed drugs used to treat legitimate medical and mental conditions are also psychoactive drugs abused to get high, both by those who obtain the prescriptions and by others who get the drugs illicitly.
Valium is one of these commonly prescribed medications that is also a target of drug abuse. Because of its specific qualities, it can also be a dangerous drug, both with a high overdose risk and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. While Valium addiction is a serious condition, it can be effectively managed with comprehensive treatment.
Valium: A Medication for Anxiety
Valium, known generically as diazepam, is one of many members of a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. These drugs are generally used to treat a number of disorders, from anxiety to convulsions and seizures to sleep disorders, among other conditions. In particular, as described by RxList, Valium is used to treat:
- Anxiety disorders
- Severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome
- Muscle spasm symptoms in neural disorders, including cerebral palsy
- Convulsions, as an adjunct to other therapeutics
Unfortunately, Valium has also become a target of abuse because it can create a sense of euphoria and relaxation triggered through the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. As a result, it can lead to substance use disorders.
Reasons for Valium Abuse
Valium abuse has occurred practically since the drug was first introduced in 1963. Diazepam has a calming effect on the central nervous system by supporting neurochemicals that slow down messages between neurons. However, it can also can produce a sense of euphoria through acting on the brain’s reward and pleasure centers – a sensation that is sought by people who use drugs recreationally.
Recreational users are not the only ones who abuse diazepam. In fact, misuse and abuse of the drug is common among those with legitimate prescriptions, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This is because long-term use of the medicine can create tolerance in the user. This, in turn, can lead to the person increasing the dosage to continue feeling the same level of effect. With continued cycles of tolerance and dose increase, the person can eventually develop dependence on the drug and, subsequently, addiction.
Abuse Rates for Valium
Benzodiazepines like Valium are some of the most highly prescribed drugs in the country. Valium and other diazepam products are the third highest prescribed from the benzo class of medications.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2015, nearly 7.5 million people over the age of 12 used diazepam products like Valium, either through a legitimate prescription or through illicit use. The survey also indicates that 1.3 million people specifically misused the drug, either for recreational use or through abuse of legitimately prescribed medication.
Signs of Abuse
Symptoms of Valium misuse, along with signs of substance use disorders, can indicate whether or not a person is abusing Valium. As described by WebMD, the side effects and symptoms include:
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Blurred vision and dizziness
- Lack of coordination and slurred speech
- Slowed breathing and heart rate
Based on information from the National Institutes of Health, general signs of substance abuse include:
- Being unable to control the amount or frequency of drug use
- Being unable to stop using the drug despite a desire to do so or negative consequences
- Having problems with social and close relationships based on substance abuse
- Being unable to keep up with work, school, or other responsibilities, including self-care
- Engaging in risky behaviors while using the drug
- Experiencing withdrawal if the drug is stopped (which, in the case of Valium, can be life-threatening)
In addition, signs that someone may be misusing a prescription include:
- Secrecy or hiding substance use behaviors
- Running out of the prescription too early or missing pills from the bottle
- Having multiple prescriptions for the drug from different doctors and pharmacies
- Continuing to use the drug after the condition it was prescribed for should have resolved
Dangers of Valium Use and Abuse
There are multiple risks and dangers of abusing valium. First, it can cause serious health effects in both the short- and long-term. In addition, there is a high risk of overdose, which can lead to death. Thirdly, Valium misuse and abuse can result in physical and psychological dependence, leading to a severe withdrawal syndrome that can also be life-threatening. Details on these dangers are provided below.
Health Effects of Valium
In the short-term, Valium can cause mild to moderate health issues. The side effects listed above are some of the problems that can arise. In addition, Valium and other benzodiazepines have a number of long-term health effects that can be disturbing.
As reported by AARP, long-term Valium use can lead to cognitive issues, the damage from which can even cause dementia. Valium damages memory by blocking the ability to transfer short-term memory to long-term memory. Additionally, older people who are prescribed benzodiazepines can take longer to eliminate the drug from their systems, making the drug’s effects longer lasting and more profound.
Overdose Risks and Damage
Benzodiazepines like Valium can cause severe health issues when taken in large amounts. This can be a risk both for people who are misusing the drug due to tolerance of the medication and for those who have been in recovery from severe addiction to the drug and relapse to use at high doses.
Valium overdose can be life-threatening. The National Library of Medicine provides a comprehensive list of symptoms of an overdose, which include:
- Loss of coordination
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Slowed heart rate and pulse
Medical help should be obtained immediately if overdose is suspected. Along with the symptoms of overdose itself, the potential physical reactions to sudden withdrawal from Valium can also cause problems.
Dependence and Withdrawal
Valium and other benzodiazepines can quickly cause physical dependence, which is why the drug is generally not meant to be used for more than a few weeks. As a result, abruptly stopping use of the drug can cause a severe withdrawal syndrome, as described by The Ashton Manual, that can be life-threatening. The symptoms of withdrawal may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased anxiety and panic attacks
The withdrawal syndrome can be avoided with a careful tapering schedule to decrease the drug slowly over time, helping the body to adjust more quickly to loss of the drug. For this reason, and because of the high risks of severe symptoms, benzo detox and withdrawal should not be attempted without medical support.
Treating Valium Addiction
Valium addiction can be treated by experienced medical professionals. A variety of therapies can be implemented to help the individual stop using Valium and achieve recovery from the substance use disorder. Treatments include:
- Medical detox support
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help manage cravings and interrupt drug-seeking behaviors
- Peer support or 12-Step programs to provide advice, social support, and experience
- Family therapy to increase support systems and improve relationships
- Education about drug abuse, addiction, and recovery
- Alternative therapies to manage other factors that contribute to addiction
A research-based, experienced rehab center will provide a customized treatment program that fits the individual’s specific needs and provides the level of treatment needed to optimize the chances for recovery.
In order to access the benefits of treatments that have been proven most likely to effectively treat addiction, the person seeking treatment should look for a research-based program. These programs apply therapies that have been shown by research and studies to support recovery efforts and help the individual learn to manage the chronic substance use disorder.
Through these types of treatment programs, the individual is most likely to find the skills, tools, and motivation needed to achieve recovery from Valium abuse and return to a life without substance abuse.