Diazepam Side Effects & Addiction
Diazepam (Valium) belongs to the benzodiazepine drug family, along with lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax). 1 When sold illicitly, diazepam is sometimes called candy, sleepers, or tranks.
Diazepam is prescribed to treat alcohol withdrawal, and it is also used to treat anxiety disorders and skeletal muscle spasms. 1,2 It is one of the most commonly abused benzodiazepines, in part because it is easily obtained through prescription. 1 Many times, diazepam abuse begins with legitimate prescription use.
Regular use can lead to physical dependence, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms when the person decides not to take diazepam anymore. 2 Detox programs can help people safely quit diazepam without experiencing dangerous side effects, such as seizures. People who have become addicted should continue treatment at a recovery center after withdrawal.
Side-Effects of Diazepam
Diazepam is often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and can reduce fear, panic, or anxiousness. It is sometimes administered to patients before medical procedures. However, it can also lead to side effects, including:
- Memory loss.
- Blurred vision.
- Slurred speech. 3
Some side effects are serious and require immediate medical attention, such as:
- Shuffling walk.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Severe skin rash.
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes.
- Irregular heartbeat. 4
Am I addicted to Diazepam?
To assess whether or not you are addicted to diazepam, look at the effect it is having on your life. Addicts who are ready to begin the recovery process from drugs and alcohol usually must undergo detox as the first step on the road to healing from substance abuse issues.
- Do you skip work, avoid social gatherings, distance yourself from your spouse and friends, or pass on hobbies you once enjoyed to use diazepam?
- Do you plan your days around when you will take or have access to the drug?
- Do you buy diazepam when you cannot afford it?
- Have you lied about your diazepam use?
- Have you bought diazepam illegally, or considered doing so?
- Do you take diazepam more often than prescribed or at higher doses than prescribed?
If the answer to any of the above is yes, you could be developing a substance use disorder and might benefit from treatment.
Overdosing on Diazepam
Diazepam overdose occurs when you take more of the drug than your system can metabolize. The most frequent occurrences of overdose are when someone takes too much at once, or when someone who previously detoxed from the drug takes the dose used at the height of addiction. Withdrawal lowers tolerance, so the person may not be able to handle the dose they once could.
Since all benzodiazepines have the potential for respiratory depression, a diazepam overdose can lead to severe breathing difficulties (especially if combined with other depressants, such as alcohol). Other signs and symptoms of diazepam overdose are:
- Low blood pressure.
- Ataxia (loss of control of body movements).
- Diminished reflexes.
- Profound drowsiness/loss of consciousness.
- Coma (rare).
- Death (rare, but the risk is increased if diazepam is taken with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants). 3
Treatment Options for Diazepam Withdrawal
Withdrawal occurs because once your body becomes dependent upon diazepam, it must readjust to functioning without the drug if you stop taking it.
Symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Abdominal cramps.
- Muscle pain.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Seizures. 2
Fortunately, many of these symptoms can be reduced or eliminated if the dose is reduced gradually – a process known as tapering. Different types of diazepam detox and withdrawal treatment programs offer tapering as well as medical supervision for withdrawal. These programs include:
- Detox centers.
- Inpatient rehab programs.
- Outpatient recovery centers.
Diazepam detox should always be monitored by a doctor, preferably one who can gradually wean you off of the drug to minimize diazepam withdrawal symptoms.
Diazepam Treatment After Detox
Those who have become addicted to diazepam are encouraged to look for a rehab program after they complete detox. These programs can help you understand why you began to abuse diazepam in the first place, and how to avoid doing so again. Many inpatient recovery facilities provide detox services as part of their larger addiction treatment protocol. Similarly, some outpatient programs may supervise detox, but they are not set up to provide 24-hour medical supervision.
Common rehab services in these programs include:
- Individual therapy.
- Group therapy.
- Family therapy.
- 12-step meetings.
- Alternative therapies, such as yoga, acupuncture, and art therapy.
|Diazepam Information at a Glance|
|Medication Name, Costs||Class of Medicine|
|Generic Name: Diazepam
Brand Name: Valium
Cost/Price: $0.05 – $6 1
|Used to Treat Addiction? Yes, diazepam is used to manage acute alcohol withdrawal. 1
Function: used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and seizures 2
Duration of Action: long-acting 3
|Form, Intake, and Dose||Interactions and Complications|
|Drug Forms: tablet, solution, gel 1
Administration Routes: oral, rectal, intramuscular, intravenous 1
Dose: 2mg, 2mg, 5mg, 10mg 1
Overdose Symptoms: drowsiness, confusion, coma, and diminished reflexes 1
|Alcohol Interaction: can cause severe drowsiness, breathing problems, coma, and death 2
Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants: can cause severe drowsiness, breathing problems, coma, and death 2
Contraindications: hypersensitivity to diazepam, myasthenia gravis, severe respiratory insufficiency, severe hepatic insufficiency, sleep apnea syndrome, acute narrow-angle glaucoma 2
|Effects and Adverse Reactions||Substance Abuse|
|Short-Term: drowsiness, fatigue, muscle weakness, ataxia, confusion, constipation, blurred vision, dizziness, agitation, skin reactions 2
Long-Term: anterograde amnesia, tolerance, dependence, withdrawal 2,3
|Risk of Substance Abuse: Yes 2
Signs of Abuse: neglect, anxiety, overdose, secrecy around drug use, cravings, preoccupation with getting more of the drug
|Physiological Problem Signs and Symptoms||Dependence and Addiction Issues|
|Withdrawal Syndrome Onset: may not begin for more than a week 4
Withdrawal Symptoms: restlessness, irritability, muscle cramps, tremors, anxiety, tension, confusion, hypersensitivity to light and noise, dysphoria, insomnia, hallucinations, and seizures 2
Tolerance: Yes 3
|Physical and Psychological Dependence: Taking Valium can cause physical and psychological dependence. 2|
|Legal Schedules and Ratings|
|Controlled Substances Act Rating: Schedule IV 2|
Frequently asked questions
- The timeline for diazepam withdrawal differs depending on how long you took diazepam, how much you took, your health, and other factors. However, symptoms generally may not begin for more than a week, become more intense during the second week, and fade during the third or fourth week. 5
- If you’re considering a home remedy as a natural alternative to help ease the pains of withdrawal, understand that diazepam withdrawal is a difficult process to go through alone. It can also be dangerous: Severe withdrawal effects can include seizures, anxiety, agitation, and mental confusion. Rehab centers specialize in providing relief for withdrawal and can make sure you stop using the drug safely.
- Diazepam detox can take anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks, though the symptoms will be most intense during the second week. 5
. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (2013). Benzodiazepines.
. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2008). Valium.
. DailyMed. (2017). Valium – diazepam tablet.
. Medline Plus. (2016). Diazepam.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
Diazepam Information at a Glance Sources
. DrugBank. (n.d.). Diazepam.
. Food and Drug Administration. (2016). Valium.
. Griffin, C., Kaye, A., Bueno, F., and Kaye, A. (2013). Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System-Mediated Effects. The Ochsner Journal 13(2):214-223.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.