Valium, generic name diazepam, is one of the most popular drugs of all time, used to treat anxiety mostly, but also prescribed for other reasons. The World Health Organization lists diazepam as one of the essential medicines needed to support a basic health system. Many people have relied on Valium over the years, and in fact, it was the best-selling medication in the U.S. between 1968 and 1982. The patent on the drug ended in the 1980s, which led to the introduction of a number of generics and alternatives.
Valium is not as popular today as it used to be, but is still available. Other anti-anxiety drugs have come on the market to compete with diazepam. One of the main reasons for this is that Valium is susceptible to abuse and can lead to withdrawal and addiction. Drug addiction is difficult to treat and can have lifelong consequences. If you have become dependent on Valium, you may need professional treatment to overcome your addiction.
What is Valium?
Valium is the original brand name for the generic anti-anxiety drug called diazepam. It was first synthesized at pharmaceutical company Hoffman-LaRoche and went on the market in the U.S. in 1963 after being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hoffman-LaRoche spent a lot of time and money marketing Valium, which led to it becoming the first prescription medication to reach sales of $1 billion.
It wasn’t too long before the potential for abuse of Valium was realized and rates of abuse and addiction soared throughout the 1970s and 1980s. This led to the Drug Enforcement Administration classifying diazepam as a Schedule IV controlled substance. This means that it has a low potential for abuse when compared to drugs in Schedules I, II, and III, but still may be abused and may cause addiction or dependence.
Uses for Valium
Diazepam is in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, psychoactive substances that generally produce a calming effect in those who take them. Valium was originally approved to treat anxiety disorders by treating the short-term symptoms. It is not a cure for anxiety, but can provide temporary relief from general anxiety, social anxiety, and other types of anxiety disorders.
In addition to anxiety disorder, diazepam can be used to treat muscle spasms by relaxing the muscles. Similarly it can be used to treat seizures and it can also be used to relieve the agitation, anxiety, and irritability of withdrawal from alcohol. Other less common reasons to prescribe Valium include insomnia, tetanus, vertigo, and eclampsia.
How it Works
Diazepam works by acting on GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is a type of neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger that sends signals from one nerve cell to another. When diazepam acts on the receptors, the result is an increase in the amount of GABA in the brain. GABA balances activity between nerve cells and has a relaxing effect. It results in sedation, sleepiness, calmness, and muscle relaxation.
The most common side effects of taking Valium are sleepiness, dizziness, weakness, diarrhea, nausea, dry mouth, and changes in appetite. Confusion and amnesia are also possible, as are lack of coordination and impaired motor function. Elderly patients are more susceptible to these side effects, and they are also worsened by use of alcohol, as both act like depressants.
Although not very common, it is possible that diazepam will cause what are termed paradoxical side effects. Some people may become agitated, nervous, excited, and aggressive. They may have seizures or worsening seizures and muscle cramps. These paradoxical effects are more likely to occur in elderly patients, children, and people with a history of alcohol dependence or abuse.
Valium and Alcohol
The combination of valium and alcohol can be very dangerous. The sedative and relaxing effect of valium is similar to that caused by alcohol. Alcohol depresses, or reduces the activity, of the central nervous system. Diazepam worsens that effect. It also becomes easier to overdose when the two substances are combined, and an overdose is more likely to be fatal. Driving or operating any type of machinery is more dangerous for someone using both substances because Valium worsens the impairing effect of alcohol.
Tolerance and Withdrawal
One of the most serious potential side effects of Valium is dependence, or addiction. The first sign of becoming dependent on a drug is tolerance. If you take Valium and abuse it, you will find that over time you need more and more to get the effect you like. This is because you develop a tolerance to it. If you try to stop using it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. These include anxiety, insomnia, headaches, vomiting, and sweating.
Addiction is a dependence on a drug, and it is possible to become addicted to Valium if you abuse it. Abusing a drug means taking larger doses than you have been prescribed and taking it more often than you are supposed to and continuing to take it after your doctor has told you that you should stop. This kind of abuse of diazepam can be very dangerous and can quickly lead to tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and a physical dependence.
The effects of long-term abuse of Valium are serious. They include memory difficulties, a slow pulse, hallucinations, impaired thinking, a heart attack, and coma. There are also other negative consequences of addiction, like lost jobs, homelessness, crime, and damaged relationships. Many people who abuse Valium combine it with other substances including prescription drugs, street drugs, and alcohol. This makes it even more dangerous and more likely to lead to addiction. Because of the potential for addiction, anyone with a history of abuse or addiction of alcohol or drugs is not supposed to be prescribed Valium.
Addiction is a serious disease of the brain that requires professional, sometimes medical, treatment to overcome. The first step in treatment is to detox, or stopping use of Valium long enough to go through withdrawal and have all of the drug leave the body. This can be very uncomfortable and medical treatment during this stage makes it more bearable. After medical treatment, patients need some type of therapy, for instance group support or one-on-one addiction counseling.
Addiction is a lifelong disease and one that can have devastating consequences. This is why it is important to be cautious when taking drugs like Valium. It can be helpful, but with the potential for abuse, it can also be a major problem for some people. If you are struggling with Valium addiction, talk to your doctor or a professional therapist to start getting the help you need to quit.