Valium was immortalized by Rolling Stones in their 1966 song, “Mother’s Little Helper,” but this portrayal of the drug as a harmless way to deal with the ups and downs of everyday life couldn’t be further from the truth. Valium addiction can have devastating consequences—even when a person begins taking the drug with a legitimate prescription.
Also known by the generic name diazepam, Valium is a benzodiazepine that is most often used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders. It works by strengthening the effects of a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that slows down brain activity. It is generally prescribed in 2 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg tablets.
Valium was patented in 1959 and widely prescribed through the 1960s and 1970s. As awareness of the potential for addiction grew, doctors became more reluctant to prescribe the medication. Valium went from being the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States in the early 1980s to being the 135th most prescribed medication in 2017.
Valium, like other benzos, is only recommended for short-term use. Long-term use of Valium can cause serious interference with the function of the central nervous system and lead to increased anxiety, agitation, and insomnia. Clinical studies evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration have not confirmed the safety or effectiveness of Valium use for more than four months. Tolerance typically develops within six months of use—even when the patient is taking the medication exactly as prescribed.
Signs of a Valium Addiction
Although Valium addiction can happen to anyone, women and teens or young adults appear to be most at risk. Women are more likely than men to seek out prescription medication for anxiety disorders. Teens and young adults are drawn to recreational use of Valium because they mistakenly believe experimenting with prescription medication is less dangerous than seeking out illegal street drugs.
Someone who is addicted to Valium often displays the following behaviors:
- Needing more of the drug to experience the same effect
- Feeling as though they need Valium to be “normal”
- Having cravings for Valium
- Lying or becoming defensive when confronted about their Valium use
- Seeing multiple doctors or pharmacies to obtain Valium
- Hoarding pills or pretending to “lose” prescriptions to stockpile Valium
- Buying Valium on the black market
- Feeling incapable of giving up Valium on their own
- Having trouble maintaining performance in work or school
- Suffering from a general loss of interest in hobbies and relationships with friends or family
- Experiencing financial and/or legal problems related to Valium usage
Some of the physical symptoms associated with prolonged use of Valium at high doses include drowsiness, memory problems, muscle weakness, diminished sex drive, dilated eyes, visual problems, and nausea or vomiting.
Since Valium is a sedative, it can cause impaired coordination. This can lead to an increased risk of falls or other forms of accidental injury.
A Valium overdose is associated with the following symptoms:
- Impaired reflexes
- Impaired balance
- Lack of coordination
- Mental confusion
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
A Valium overdose is considered a medical emergency. The risk of a fatal overdose is highest when Valium has been taken in conjunction with alcohol, opioids, or other addictive substances. However, if the drug is crushed and snorted, smoked, or injected, this will bypass the blood-brain barrier and cause it to directly enter the bloodstream—allowing for overdoses at a lower dose than what would be seen if the pills were digested and metabolized through the stomach and gastrointestinal system.
Substance use disorders are chronic illnesses. Someone with an addiction to Valium is unable to change their behavior without help from trained healthcare providers.
Valium withdrawal has been associated with serious complications such as seizures, so it’s safest and most effective to seek treatment from a facility that can provide medically-managed detox that includes 24/7 monitoring of vital signs and the use of medications to minimize uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, our full continuum of care includes medically-managed detox at our Pennsylvania residential treatment center followed by intensive individual, group, and family therapy to help clients develop the coping skills necessary for lasting sobriety. With a holistic approach to healing the mind, body, and spirit, we’re committed to helping our clients build a life free from the burden of addiction.