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Valium Withdrawal Symptoms and Detoxification

Valium, a brand name for diazepam, is a commonly abused benzodiazepine drug. Valium is a central nervous system depressant that slows certain types of brain activity. It is used to treat conditions involving overactive brain function like anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. In addition to its physical risks, long-term Valium abuse is associated with emotional, interpersonal, and employment problems.

While Valium can be an effective and safe drug when taken as prescribed, it can be dangerous when misused.3 Some people abuse the drug because it induces a pleasurable sense of peacefulness, calm, and relaxation. Others might abuse Valium to counter the effects of stimulants and ease the comedown, or to enhance the effects of other drugs like opioids (an extremely dangerous practice due to the fact that both opioids and benzodiazepines depress breathing).Chronic misuse of Valium can lead to the development of severe physical dependence and addiction. Valium users who abruptly stop taking the drug may also experience serious withdrawal symptoms, such as extreme anxiety or seizures.2

What are the Symptoms of Addiction?

Pills scattered around a pill containerFor many people, Valium addiction goes hand-in-hand with Valium dependence. Valium dependence develops when your body becomes physically reliant on the drug after using it for a period of time.3 People who become significantly dependent on sedative drugs such as Valium will experience withdrawal when they quit.5

A certain amount of physiological dependence is normal for people who aren’t misusing Valium; however, it is common to those abusing and/or addicted to it. For some long-term users of Valium, they may no longer even feel high from the drug but continue to use it to function normally or to ward off withdrawal symptoms, indicating a physical need for the drug to avoid getting sick or suffering potentially severe symptoms of withdrawal.

Someone who is going through withdrawal may experience severe reactions to not having the drug in their system.

Dependence is related to but distinct from addiction. If you are addicted to Valium, you may notice yourself continuing to use the drug despite its negative impact on your life.3 You might also find yourself doing things you never thought you’d do to gain access to Valium, such as stealing money from people you love. If your doctor will no longer prescribe you Valium, you might lie about your symptoms or start going to multiple doctors or pharmacies to obtain a prescription. Compulsive drug-seeking can lead to serious legal, work or school, and relationship problems.

Signs of Addiction

You might be addicted to Valium if you meet 2 or more of the following diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder:5

  • You use Valium in higher doses or more often than you set out to.
  • You have attempted but failed to cut down in the past.
  • You spend a great deal of time in seeking out, using, or recovering from Valium.
  • You experience strong cravings for Valium.
  • You avoid your responsibilities at home, work, or school because of your drug use.
  • Your Valium use has caused interpersonal problems but you continue to use it.
  • You don’t do things you used to enjoy (or you do them far less often) because you’re using Valium.
  • You have used Valium in situations where the result could be hazardous, such as before driving.
  • You continue to take the drug even though it has caused or worsened physical or psychological problems.
  • You experience tolerance, where you need more of the drug to feel the same effects or you don’t feel as much of an effect with the same dose.
  • You go through withdrawal during any attempt to cut back or stop completely.

If you have begun experiencing or exhibiting some combination of these signs, symptoms, or behaviors, it may be an indication that it is time to get professional help. It is never too early or late to seek help for Valium addiction or dependence.

In addition to its physical risks, long-term Valium abuse is associated with emotional, interpersonal, and employment problems.

Despite the harms of abusing Valium, many people are able to recover from addiction with the proper help. Treatment usually begins with a period of professional detox to mitigate the very serious risks of benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Risks Associated with Withdrawal

If you have been using Valium for an extended period of time, you’re likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms when you stop or reduce your use. And these symptoms can be severe enough that inpatient medical detox is the safest course of treatment.

Valium withdrawal symptoms can include:2,6

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Sweating.
  • Muscle spasm.
  • Tremors.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Vomiting.
  • Sensory hypersensitivity.
  • Headaches.
  • Irritability.
  • Rebound anxiety.
  • Delirium.
  • Seizures.

The severity and duration of Valium withdrawal depends upon the dose, length of use, how abruptly the drug is stopped, and personal factors like your health.6,7

Unmanaged Valium withdrawal can be dangerous. In some cases, users can develop seizures as well as delirium tremens, which is a condition commonly associated with alcohol withdrawal that involves severe confusion, shaking, and hallucinations.6,8

Abruptly stopping Valium, rather than slowly tapering from the drug, increases the likelihood of severe withdrawal and certain withdrawal complications.2,6 There is no way to predict which of these symptoms you may experience when you stop suddenly. You may experience some or all of them, and because some are life-threatening, you should not try to stop cold-turkey on your own.

For most people, Valium withdrawal generally lasts 1–4 weeks.7 However, in some cases, persistent or protracted withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia, may persist for several months after the last time they used.6,7

Options for Detoxification

Doctor with patientBecause of the risks associated with Valium withdrawal, it is safest to detox under the care of your doctor or a medically supervised detox program.3,8 Medical detox programs specialize in managing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and can help you safely taper off of the drug. Detox programs may also provide counseling and therapy that can help you start learning tools to better manage your triggers and cravings when detox is complete.

Valium withdrawal treatment programs closely monitor your withdrawal progress; staff doctors may prescribe certain medications to treat specific symptoms and reduce the likelihood of you developing life-threatening complications.8 Anticonvulsant drugs like carbamazepine and valproate may help manage any seizure activity, and clonidine or propranolol may be prescribed to manage blood pressure, heart rate, and tremors. Antidepressants like trazodone may also alleviate sleeping problems.

Your doctor may wish to taper you off of the drug, which means giving you increasingly smaller doses over a period of weeks or months.3,8 In some cases, doctors may also substitute Valium with a longer-acting benzodiazepine, such as chlordiazepoxide (Librium), or a barbiturate like phenobarbital, to aid in detoxification.8 This technique helps minimize withdrawal symptoms and prevents more serious complications, like seizures, from developing as you withdraw. The amount of time it takes to taper off of Valium depends upon the amount you’ve been taking. Generally, it takes 3-5 weeks to taper off of Valium, but your doctor will determine the best taper for you.7

Once you are completely detoxed from Valium, you may want to consider further treatment. While withdrawal treatment rids the body of the drug, many people continue to experience cravings that, if left untreated, could lead to a relapse. The anxiety that may also have been treated by Valium may come back and contribute to relapse if left unmanaged.

Developing a plan for continued recovery can help you maintain long-term sobriety and reduce your relapse risk.

Addiction Treatment Rehab Programs

Doctor and patient having a conversation about treatmentSubstance abuse rehabilitation can help you develop tools to cope with urges and manage any prolonged withdrawal symptoms so that you can maintain your sobriety and stay on the road to recovery.

Inpatient treatment programs provide intensive therapy sessions along with a drug-free residence for the length of your stay. Programs may differ in duration, which can range from a few weeks to several months. Inpatient rehab can be a good option when transitioning from inpatient or residential detox because they will continue to provide you 24-hour care in a highly structured environment.

Outpatient treatment programs also offer therapy sessions but typically on a less frequent basis and without the ability to provide 24-hour support and housing. Unlike inpatient programs, you can come and go from an outpatient treatment facility and can continue to work, go to school, and live at home. Outpatient program types include partial hospitalization programs (PHP), which typically provide 20 hours of treatment per week, and intensive outpatient programs (IOP), which offer treatment for 6 to 9 hours per week.9

Some Valium users continue to experience anxiety after they stop taking the drug.5 Anxiety is excessive worry that is difficult to control and may also include restlessness, fatigue, sleeping problems, and difficulty concentrating.4 If anxiety is left untreated, it can increase the risk for a relapse. There are several alternative medications that may be prescribed by medical professionals to manage anxiety that have a much lower, if any, abuse potential.10 Anti-anxiety medications like BuSpar (buspirone) and beta-blockers such as propranolol are considered safe treatments for anxiety and carry a lower risk for dependence compared to benzodiazepines. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline), are a class of antidepressants that are also used to treat anxiety and carry a low risk for dependence.10

Valium is a commonly abused drug, so rehab and detox centers are accustomed to managing cases of Valium dependence and addiction. If you find that important parts of your life, such as your job and relationships, are taking a backseat to your Valium addiction, it is time to seek help. You can recover from your Valium addiction regardless of how long you have been using.

Valium Information at a Glance
Medication Name, Costs Class of Medicine
  • Generic Name: Diazepam1
  • Generic Name Variations: Diazepam Intensol
  • Drug Class: Benzodiazepine2
  • Brand Name: Valium, Diastat1
  • Function or Use: Used to treat anxiety, seizure disorders, status epilepticus, skeletal muscle spasm, spasticity associated with cerebral palsy, and alcohol withdrawal.2
  • Chemical Makeup: C16H13CIN2O2
  • System: Sedative2
  • Duration of Action: Long2
Form, Intake, and Dosage Interactions and Complications
  • Drug Forms: (for Valium brand) Tablet1
  • Administration Routes: Oral1
  • Dosage: 2mg, 5mg, 10mg2
  • Overdose: Symptoms can include drowsiness, confusion, coma, and death.The risk of overdose increases when taking Valium with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol.
  • Alcohol Interaction: Taking Valium with alcohol can result in oversedation and life-threatening respiratory depression.1
  • Prescription Medications: Consult your doctor before taking other prescription medications.
  • Contraindications: Glaucoma, sleep apnea, severe respiratory insufficiency, severe hepatic insufficiency, and myasthenia gravis.2
Effects and Adverse Reactions Substance Abuse
  • Nervous system: Drowsiness, fatigue, confusion, headache, slurred speech, tremor, dizziness2
  • Gastrointestinal: Nausea, constipation2
  • Psychiatric: Anxiety, restlessness, agitation, irritability, aggression, hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, insomnia, nightmares2
  • Other: Low blood pressure, changes in libido, urinary retention, incontinence, changes in salivation2
  • Risk of Substance Abuse: Valium is a Schedule IV drug with known abuse potential.2
  • Signs of Abuse: Physical dependence and withdrawal, overdose, continuing to use the drug despite negative consequences
Physiological Problem Signs and Symptoms Dependence and Addiction Issues
  • Withdrawal Syndrome Onset: N/A
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Dizziness, confusion, sensitivity to light and sound, anxiety, numbness, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, cramps, hallucinations, seizures.2
  • Tolerance: After an extended amount of time, your body will build up a tolerance to the benzodiazepine, which can result in the need to take more of the drug to feel the same effects.1
  • Cross Dependence: Benzodiazepines like Valium act on the same receptors as alcohol and barbiturates, which can lead to developing cross-tolerance to these other drugs.6
  • Physical Dependence: High risk for developing dependence and withdrawal, especially when taking the drug in high doses and for long periods of time.6
  • Psychological Dependence: High risk for becoming reliant on the drug to reduce anxiety.6
Legal Schedules and Ratings
  • Controlled Substances Act Rating: Schedule IV2

Commonly Asked Questions

How Long Do Valium Withdrawals Last?

The timelines for Valium withdrawal may be different depending on the person, dose, and length of use.6 The typical duration, however, is roughly 1-4 weeks, but prolonged withdrawal symptoms may persist for several months.7

Are There any Home Remedies for Getting Clean Safely?

Withdrawal isn’t easy, but it is possible with medical assistance. Home remedies aren’t recommended for those detoxing from Valium because of the risk of developing serious medical complications.3,8 It is safest to detox in a medically supervised detox program that specializes in treating drug withdrawal. There are many rehab centers that can safely provide you with the relief that’s necessary when going through withdrawal.

How Long Does it Take to Detox from Valium?

It can take 1-4 weeks for Valium withdrawal symptoms to resolve on their own and up to 5 weeks to detox with a Valium taper under the supervision of a medical professional.7 Tapering off of Valium allows for a more comfortable and safe withdrawal. There are many treatment options and programs that can help you detox from Valium.

References

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). MedlinePlus, Diazepam.
  2. Genentech, Inc. (2016). Valium brand of diazepam tablets.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Misuse of prescription drugs.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Prescription depressant medications.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  6. Longo, L. P., & Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines- Side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. American Family Physician61(7), 2121-2128.
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Substance abuse treatment advisory: Protracted withdrawal.
  8. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2015).  Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
  9. Mee-Lee, D. (Ed.). (2013). The ASAM criteria: Treatment for addictive, substance-related, and co-occurring conditions. Carson City, NV: The Change Companies.
  10. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Mental health medications.
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