Valium is a medicinal drug in the benzodiazepine class of drug that’s used to treat anxiety disorders, sleep problems, seizures, and muscle spasms. It’s among the most common drugs in its category and has been used since the 1960s.
It’s also in a broader category of psychoactive drugs called central nervous system (CNS) depressants that help to regulate excitability in the nervous system. This group also includes barbiturates and alcohol.
Barbiturates once dominated the medical field as the preferred method to treat sleep disorders and anxiety, but they fell out of public graces in the 1960s when their adverse effects became more apparent. These side effects included intoxication, the toxicity that leads to overdose when overused, and chemical dependence. Meanwhile, benzodiazepines like Valium were gaining popularity. By the late 1970s benzos where the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, selling 2.3 billion tablets in the United States in 1978 alone. During this time, depressants like Valium were heavily marketed to women, especially mothers.
This caused some controversy when it was perceived that these drugs were being aggressively marketed to otherwise healthy women. The phenomenon was crystallized by The Rolling Stones’ song titled “Mother’s Little Helper,” which says, “And though she’s not really ill. There’s a little yellow pill. She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper.” While they are less toxic than barbiturates, benzos have a high likelihood of causing chemical dependence and addiction when overused. Still, they are perceived as a less harmful alternative.
Benzos work similarly to barbiturates and even alcohol. They are GABAergic compounds, which means they suppress the nervous system by interacting with gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating excitability in your brain and body.
But in people who have problems with anxiety and sleep disorders, GABA can use a boost. Drugs like Valium bind to the brain’s GABA receptors and increase the efficiency of the GABA chemical. The result is a feeling of relaxation, sedation, and hypnotic effects.
Valium has its drawbacks, however. It can cause euphoria and intoxication that’s similar to alcohol, which makes it popular as a recreational drug. Abusing Valium can lead to chemical overdose, dependence, addiction, and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
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Valium addiction can become a severe chronic disease, but it usually comes with some warning signs and symptoms that can alert you to a growing substance use problem. A Valium addiction can be difficult to spot at first, especially if the person has a prescription. However, addictions are difficult to hide for long. If you are worried about a friend or family member, there may be some behavioral signs of Valium addiction that you might be able to notice.
Valium abuse is similar to drunkenness from alcohol and can include symptoms such as:
If someone has developed a chemical dependence or addiction on Valium, they may start to show some behavioral signs, including:
If you are worried that your Valium use is becoming a substance use disorder, you may notice some physical or psychological symptoms. As a chemical dependence develops, you will feel like you need to increase the dose to counteract tolerance. If you skip a dose, you may start to feel withdrawal symptoms like irritability, anxiety, tremors, and confusion.
Ultimately, addiction presents itself when you compulsively use the drug, even if it causes serious consequences. If you have problems at home, work, with the law, or with your health, and you still use, you may have a severe substance use disorder.
Addiction treatment is a process of medical and psychotherapy designed to address a substance use disorder and any underlying symptoms. When you first enter an addiction treatment program, you will go through an intake and assessment process that’s intended to determine your most pressing needs.
The first level of care many people enter when they seek addiction treatment is medical detox. This is the highest level of care in formal addiction treatment and involves 24 hours of medically managed treatment every day for about a week. People with a substance use disorder involving Valium are more likely to need medical detox because of the dangerous nature of benzodiazepine withdrawal.
After detox, you may go through lower levels of care including inpatient programs, intensive outpatient services, and outpatient services. Through these treatment steps, you will go through psychotherapy in the form of individual, group, family therapy, and a number of other therapy options. Treatment will be tailored to your individual needs, and your treatment plan will be reassessed and modified each week if needed.
Compared to other options like barbiturates, benzodiazepines have relatively low toxicity. Of course, extremely high doses can lead to a potentially deadly overdose, but it would take more to get you to the danger zone than if you were using a barbiturate. If you take more than a recommended dose of a benzo like a Valium, you may experience severe drowsiness, confusion, depression, and muscle weakness. Some of these effects can lead to accidents and injuries, especially if you get behind the wheel of a car.
Valium also can be dangerous for people who have struggled with depression in the past. The drug is a depressant that can exacerbate depressive symptoms. If you are using Valium and experience suicidal thoughts of action, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
Valium is at its most life-threatening when it’s mixed with other drugs like alcohol, other benzos, barbiturates, or opioids. All of these combinations can suppress your nervous system to dangerous levels. The result can be respiratory depression that leads to oxygen deprivation, brain damage, coma, or death.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 30 percent of overdoses involve benzodiazepines like Valium. The majority of these cases involve mixing benzos with opioids. As a CNS depressant, Valium can be dangerous during withdrawal. Depressants cause a buildup of suppressed excitatory chemicals that go into overdrive when you stop taking the drug. If you quit abruptly, you are more likely to experience severe symptoms of an overactive nervous system like seizures and a condition called delirium tremens (DTs), which can be fatal without medical intervention
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