Valium Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

Valium Addiction Treatment Guide

Valium is a brand name for diazepam, which is a benzodiazepine medication. This is a class of drugs that is considered a nervous system depressant. Benzodiazepines, which are also called “benzos” by some people, raise the level of GABA in the brain. GABA is the acronym for gamma-aminobutyric acid. It is a neurotransmitter that naturally occurs in the brain.

Since GABA blocks or inhibits some neural signals and causes a decrease in the nervous system’s activity, it is considered an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Valium attaches to GABA receptors in the brain.

When it does this, it helps people feel less anxious, stressed, and fearful. It also inhibits or prevents seizures, so it is often used for this purpose.

Valium Addiction Treatment

Commonly, doctors prescribe these benzodiazepines to treat specific conditions like anxiety. As long as the client takes the medication only as prescribed and for a short period of time, there aren’t problems. However, unfortunately, people sometimes become hooked on drugs. If someone uses the medication long enough, dependence can occur. Not only can someone become addicted to benzos, but the medication can also be fatal, particularly if combined with alcohol.

Individuals don’t necessarily realize how addictive these substances can be since they are widely used. Valium, in particular, is a substance that is legally prescribed by doctors worldwide. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has it on the list of essential medications.

Origins and Background of Valium Use

Sedatives have been around since people began drinking alcohol. The first chemical sedatives were developed during the 19th century. Benzodiazepines (BZDs) didn’t come on the scene until the 1950s. At that time, a pharmacist working for Hoffmann-La Roche, Leo Sternbach, discovered the drug that became known as Librium, which was used to treat anxiety.

This product was so successful that the pharmaceutical industry tried to create more BZDs. Diazepam came on the market in 1963 under the brand name Valium. It rapidly became the most prescribed drug in the United States. In 1978, there were 2.3 billion pills sold.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 18% of adults in the United States have at least one form of anxiety disorder. While there are many different types of benzodiazepines used today, diazepam is a staple. It has been around for over 50 years and continues to be prescribed although it has a dark side.

At first, Valium was considered harmless, but by the 1990s, many medical professionals became concerned about overprescribing the substance. Nevertheless, it remains widely prescribed to this day.

Worldwide, over 2 billion doses of Valium are sold annually. Unfortunately, those who regularly use this drug can become dependent on it. This reliance can lead to the loss of not just money, but also relationships, health, and ambitions.

Valium Addiction Treatment

Someone who has been using Valium for prolonged periods of time may experience dependence on the substance. If they attempt to stop using the medication suddenly, seizures and other withdrawal symptoms may occur. Since these reactions can be dangerous, a supervised withdrawal should be done at a qualified treatment facility.

Some individuals might have taken Valium for years before there were any discernable problems. Others may find that in just a short period of time, they are abusing the medication. This is because each person’s physiology, as well as their life experiences, is unique and will determine the individual’s susceptibility to the drug.

Progression of Valium Addiction

Initially, Valium makes the client feel better. They may feel anxious, for example, about a specific event, such as a social function or a medical procedure. Or maybe it’s a particularly stressful day with too many activities scheduled and not enough time.

Not everyone takes Valium based on a doctor’s prescription. Thanks to the popularity of the drug, it is often readily available to those who choose to use it recreationally.

The effects of using Valium “for fun” are the same as taking it for medical reasons. At first, the effects might simply seem pleasant. However, over time, the individual will find they need the drug in order to manage daily life in a normal way.

They may come to believe that they can only function when they are taking Valium. They don’t realize that it is actually causing negative emotions or thoughts.

When the individual continues to take Valium regardless of the negative side effects they experience, this is a sign that the person is dependent. If the person is experiencing a hard time maintaining relationships, jobs, and interests, then this is a sign that the person is dealing with an addiction.

Why Is Valium Prescribed?

Valium and other benzodiazepines are used to treat the following conditions:

• Anxiety
• Insomnia
• Panic attacks
• Seizures and convulsions
• Nausea
• Alcohol withdrawal
• Depression

Different benzodiazepines work best for different applications, however. Valium works best at treating anxiety and panic attacks, helping relax muscles, and for treating seizures. It is fast acting, which makes it a good choice for many immediate applications.

The drug is meant for short-term use, but many individuals use Valium over the long term. This leaves them physically and psychologically dependent.

Valium Side Effects

Like most medications, Valium has some side effects. These include shakiness and trembling, agitation, and issues with elimination. If an overdose has occurred, the person may lose consciousness, have irregular or shallow breathing, experience confusion, have difficulty breathing, or lose muscle control. These situations demand immediate medical attention.

Signs of Valium Addiction

There are several signs that indicate a dependence on Valium. If you or a loved one has these symptoms, it may indicate there is a problem:

• Memory problems
• Dilated pupils
• Slowing down of reflexes
• Slurred speech
• Having a hard time focusing
• Craving Valium and taking extreme steps to obtain it

Articles have warned that the substance can be more difficult to overcome than drugs like heroin. Dependence on Valium can destroy lives and have a long-term impact.

Valium Treatment Options

The best treatment for Valium addiction is inpatient rehab. This allows clients to be assisted in navigating through withdrawal, which is very important because withdrawal can be dangerous if done alone.

At a qualified treatment facility, there are professional healthcare providers who can evaluate clients both psychologically and physically prior to beginning treatment. They can provide ongoing supervision. This should hopefully prevent serious withdrawal symptoms. However, in a worst-case scenario, there are medications that can be provided, such as anti-seizure medications, that can alleviate these conditions.

Ideally, a comprehensive medical detox should transition into comprehensive therapy. It addressed the underlying causes that led the client to form a dependence on Valium. A therapist will work with the client to process the emotional and psychological causes of their addiction and will help formulate methods to avoid temptation in the future.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One method often used to help those struggling with Valium dependence is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a type of psychological treatment that has proven effective for a wide range of behavioral issues that include not only substance abuse issues but also other underlying mental or psychological problems like depression, anxiety, or eating disorders.

CBT helps a client examine patterns of thought and behavior. It helps to pinpoint the triggers that cause use of the substance and helps the client to form new and healthy patterns to replace the past behaviors. This can be used to defend the client against relapse.

The research that has been done on CBT has proven that it’s an effective treatment option. It can show better results in some patients than other types of therapy or psychiatric medications. The principles of CBT are:

• Psychological problems have their basis in unproductive thought patterns.
• Psychological problems are partially based on habitual unproductive behavior that has been learned and can be unlearned.
• People suffering from issues caused by these problems can be trained to find better ways that will help them to lead better lives.

The client learns many ways to manage their thinking patterns. For example, they may learn to recognize how their way of thinking is causing problems. They can recognize a mismatch between these patterns and reality and learn to take a step back and look at things objectively. They can also learn to better empathize with others, which helps them to understand why others react to their behaviors the way they do.

These skills are difficult to learn and put into practice, but they will enhance the client’s confidence and help them use problem-solving skills in tough situations instead of depending on drugs to cope. Particular strategies that are often used include:

• Learning to face fears instead of finding ways to avoid them.
• Role-playing to “rehearse” potential situations beforehand so that coping strategies can be developed ahead of time.
• Practicing mindful thinking to remain calm and relaxed.

The way CBT is used will vary according to the particular needs of the client. The psychologist will work collaboratively with the client to find the best strategy. CBT emphasizes individual empowerment so that they are in control of their own therapy. Over time, they learn to independently manage their own treatment.

Because the emphasis is on solving current problems instead of dwelling on the past, this is a powerful therapy that can move clients forward and help them to lead productive and happy lives free of addiction.

Outpatient Treatment Options

In addition to inpatient treatment options for clients who are in relatively early stages of dependence, outpatient treatment options may be possible. However, even in this case, a 24-hour medically supervised detox may be advised.

Outpatient treatment is less intense but still requires regular visits to a facility for therapy, to receive medications, and to check in with professionals. Therapies such as CBT can still be used and, in fact, are encouraged with this treatment plan.

Once clients have completed the formal treatment process, they are encouraged to continue meeting with local support groups, such as 12-step programs. While dependence on Valium or other benzos can seem like a debilitating disease, there are options available for those who seek help living a full and drug-free life.

With modern therapies and treatment modalities, many people have recovered from their dependencies on these powerful medications. They have been able to restore their abilities to have meaningful relationships, take care of themselves, have jobs and hobbies, and feel fulfilled. They have learned they don’t need a medication to achieve these things.

For those who are unsure how to proceed if they or a loved one is dealing with Valium addiction, the first step is admitting help is needed and reaching out to get that assistance. Once that hurdle is overcome, then the work can begin to move forward to a better future.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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