Valium Abuse, and Addiction

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Valium (diazepam) is a prescription medication often used to treat anxiety disorders and other conditions. However, it can also be habit-forming, especially when it’s used in ways not directed by a health provider. If you or someone you love is misusing Valium, other prescription drugs, illicit substances, or alcohol, our team of therapists and addiction specialists can help. At Guardian Recovery, we offer effective treatment for dual-diagnosis disorders to address substance use and psychiatric disorders simultaneously, including for individuals struggling to curb benzodiazepine use.

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What Is Valium?

Valium is a medication that belongs to the benzodiazepine drug class and is commonly prescribed to relieve symptoms of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. It is also considered a tranquilizer that can be used to treat insomnia and sleep disturbances, as well as acute alcohol withdrawal and muscle spasms. Valium works by enhancing the effects of a chemical messenger in the body called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps to reduce brain activity and promote relaxation. Still, due to its calming and rewarding effects on the central nervous system, it has the potential for misuse, dependence, and addiction.

Valium Addiction Statistics

Valium is a frequently prescribed medication, and due to its potential to be habit-forming, misuse is also common. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), among all individuals aged 12 or older, past-year misuse of prescription benzodiazepines declined from 5.5 million (2.1%) in 2015 to 4.8 million (1.8%) in 2019. These estimates for 2019 were also lower than those between 2015 and 2018. (1)

That said, of those aged 12–17 in 2019, 1.5 percent (or 381,000 people) misused prescription benzodiazepines in the past year, and of adults aged 26 or older, 1.5 percent (or 3.2 million people) misused prescription benzodiazepines in the past year. The numbers for these did not decrease independently. Instead, they remained stable among both populations between 2015 and 2019.

In fact, the most significant decreases in past-year benzodiazepine misuse for 2019 were found to be among young adults, specifically those aged 18–25. From 2015–2019, these numbers declined from 1.8 individuals (5.2%) to 1.3 million people (3.8%) in 2019.

Finally, according to Psychiatry Online, adults aged 50 and above were more likely than younger adults to use a benzodiazepine more often than prescribed or to help with sleep. (2)

How Addictive Is Valium?

Valium and Xanax (alprazolam) are the two most prescribed benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medications in the U.S. Both are readily absorbed, enter the brain rapidly, and, due to the feelings of relaxation and reward they produce, are associated with dependence and withdrawal symptoms. In fact, according to research, they are among the most “reinforcing” benzodiazepines. (3) Adverse effects related to their use are purported to be uncommon, but several have been regularly observed.

Additionally, long-term use of all benzodiazepines can lead to tolerance, meaning increasingly higher doses are required for individuals to experience the desired effects, and withdrawal symptoms, which are similar to those of alcohol cessation, can be severe and potentially life-threatening.

Risk Factors for Valium Misuse & Addiction Development Include:

  • Personal or family history of substance misuse, including alcohol or other drugs.
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders or depression.
  • History of trauma or extreme stress.
  • Long-term or high-dose use, increasing the development of tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
  • Polydrug use or concurrent use of Valium with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids.
  • Social and environmental factors, such as peer pressure, drug availability, and exposure to social conditions that normalize drug use.
  • Lack of social support, such as family, friends, or a therapeutic network.
  • Genetic traits that increase susceptibility to addiction.

Also, while Valium misuse can affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds, certain demographics may be more susceptible, including women and older adults, partially due to the fact that they are more often prescribed it. (4)

Does Valium Misuse Affect Mental Health?

Valium misuse can have significant effects on one’s mental health. While it is primarily prescribed to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and other mental health conditions, its misuse can lead to various mental health issues.

Ways Valium Misuse Impacts Mental Health Include:

  • Intensified “rebound” anxiety or panic symptoms.
  • Symptoms of depression and major depressive disorder.
  • Mood dysregulation, emotional instability, and mood swings.
  • Impairments in cognitive function, including memory, attention, and decision-making.
  • Irritability, agitation, and aggression.
  • Psychosis or psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking.
  • Social isolation and relationship problems.
  • Risk of self-harm or suicidal ideation.

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Visible Signs Someone May Be Addicted to Valium

When someone is addicted to Valium, there can be visible signs and symptoms that may indicate dependence. However, addiction manifests differently in individuals, and not all signs may be present.

Signs of Valium Use May Include:

  • Physical symptoms, such as drowsiness, confusion, impaired coordination, and an unsteady gait. Prolonged use or withdrawal, which can result in tremors, muscle cramps, and sweating.
  • Changes in appearance, such as neglecting personal hygiene and appearing disheveled.
  • Doctor shopping, or visiting multiple healthcare providers to garner prescriptions for the medication.
  • Preoccupation with Valium, seeking out ways of obtaining it, using it, and planning their next dose.
  • Financial difficulties, due to spending a significant amount of money on obtaining the drug. They may also face issues paying bills or other financial responsibilities.
  • Neglecting obligations at work, school, or home, such as missing deadlines, performing poorly, or frequent absenteeism.

Common Symptoms & Side Effects of Valium Dependence

Valium (diazepam) dependence can develop when the drug is used regularly or for a prolonged period. Dependence occurs when the body adjusts to the presence of Valium and requires it to function normally.

Physical & Psychological Effects of Valium Dependence and Addiction Include:

  • Drug cravings and an all-consuming desire to obtain and use Valium.
  • Tolerance, in which increasingly higher doses are required to achieve the desired effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, which can include anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, sweating, tremors, and, in severe cases, seizures.
  • Slurred speech or difficulty communicating words clearly.
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness, particularly when standing up or changing positions quickly.
  • Impaired coordination, including clumsiness, an unsteady gait, and difficulty with certain tasks.
  • Sedation, including drowsiness, lethargy, and relaxation.
  • Psychological symptoms, such as increased anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
  • Memory impairment, such as problems with short-term memory recall and concentration.
  • Altered cognition, including slowed thinking, decreased alertness, and impaired judgment.
  • Nausea and gastrointestinal disturbances, such as nausea, vomiting, or upset stomach.
  • Social and occupational impairment, e.g., a reduced ability to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • Continued use despite adverse consequences in various aspects of life.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, such as social engagements, hobbies, and relationships.

What Should You Do if Someone Overdoses on Valium?

If a person overdoses on Valium, it is important to seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or visiting the nearest emergency department. Overdose symptoms include extreme drowsiness, confusion, slowed breathing, and even coma. Although benzodiazepines are unlikely to result in death when used independently, misusing them with other prescription drugs, illicit substances, or alcohol places a person at a much higher risk of experiencing life-threatening symptoms and lethal complications.

Valium Overdose Rates & Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzodiazepines were involved in more than 12,000 deaths in 2021—a steady increase since 2015. (5) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that benzodiazepines are involved in more than 30% of drug overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics. (6) This problem is so pervasive that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started requiring its strongest warning on the drug labeling of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines after a review found that the growing combined use of these medications has resulted in severe side effects, including slowed or difficult breathing and death.

Treatment & Rehab Options Available for Valium Addiction

Treatment and rehab options are available to help individuals overcome Valium (diazepam) addiction. The most appropriate approach depends on the individual’s needs and the severity of their addiction.

Common Treatment Options Include:

  • Medical Detox—This process involves gradually tapering off the drug under medical supervision to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and safely remove Valium from the body.
  • Inpatient Rehab—These programs provide intensive, 24/7 therapeutic care at a treatment facility for a specified period, typically ranging from a few weeks to several months.
  • Outpatient Rehab—These programs allow individuals to live at home while attending regular treatment sessions and offer flexibility to continue with their daily responsibilities, such as work or school.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)—Psychotherapy strategies, such as CBT help individuals identify and alter negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with drug use, address underlying issues, and improve coping skills.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)—Certain antidepressants or anticonvulsants can help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings during the recovery process.

Aftercare and Support—After completing a formal treatment program, individuals may participate in ongoing therapy, support groups, and relapse prevention programs.

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At Guardian Recovery, we offer effective, comprehensive treatment options for those who are finding it challenging to curb their substance use. Using evidence-based therapeutic interventions, our goal is to ensure each individual is provided with the skills and support they need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, and enjoy long-lasting sobriety. For a free, no-obligation health insurance benefits check, contact us today to begin your recovery and wellness journey.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt29393/2019NSDUHFFRPDFWHTML/2019NSDUHFFR090120.htm#illi11 (2)https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.201800321# (3)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0740547291900267 (4)https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr137-508.pdf (5)https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse (6)https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_10.pdf

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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