Back To Top
SAMHSA HELPLINE: 1-800-662-4357 FIND SUPPORT

Valium (Diazepam)

Risk factors, physical effects, and why treatment works

Patented in 1963, Valium, a brand name of diazepam, is one of the oldest benzodiazepines on the market. The drug is often prescribed to reduce anxiety or relieve the physical effects of alcohol withdrawal, such as tremors and muscle spasms. It is also used to treat neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy and paraplegia, and to control seizures.

Diazepam is considered a depressant for its calming and relaxing properties, but it can be misused, even if it’s prescribed. This is especially true for those who have a history of substance use disorder, take the drug for a long time, or take it in high doses.

Used as prescribed, on its own, and for targeted concerns, diazepam is relatively safe. But mixing diazepam with alcohol and other drugs can produce dangerous side effects.

Recovery is possible.

1. Signs of a problem

Diazepam is an effective treatment in certain situations. For instance, it is sometimes prescribed to help you relax before a dental or medical procedure. But if you continue to use diazepam for longer periods of time, you can develop a tolerance, and need more doses to get the same feeling of relaxation or to induce sleep.

Taking more doses to offset the drug’s dwindling sedative and muscle relaxation effects can be harmful. Diazepam can cause extreme drowsiness, impairing your ability to conduct everyday activities such as driving, exercising, working, and socializing.

And misuse of diazepam can interfere with your judgment, leading to taking risks such as driving before its effects wear off or mixing it with alcohol or other drugs — a potent combination of substances that can slow breathing or even induce coma.

If you or someone you know is prescribed diazepam, take only the required amount. Read the warning label about potentially dangerous drug interactions. And look into alternative therapies to treat anxiety and other diagnosed conditions before opting for a prescription for diazepam or another benzodiazepine.

Do you think you or someone you know has overdosed on diazepam? Call 911 immediately.

2. Diazepam withdrawal

Several factors determine the severity of diazepam withdrawal symptoms, include how long you’ve been taking diazepam, the amount and frequency of your dosage, and whether you are using other depressants, such as opioids or alcohol. Using lower doses for shorter periods of time results in less severe withdrawal symptoms. Using larger doses for longer times can intensify and extend the withdrawal period.

Signs of withdrawal include abdominal pain, agitation, anxiety, confusion, disturbances in perception (things seem unreal or distorted), headaches, irritability and restlessness, muscle aches, sweats, tremor, sense of unease, and vomiting. If you stop using the drug abruptly, you may experience more severe symptoms of withdrawals such as hallucinations or seizures.

Diazepam and the brain. All benzodiazepines work by dampening the central nervous system. Diazepam in particular acts fast and lasts a long time — about 12 hours. It provides relief for people who have anxiety or muscle control issues by telling the brain to relax and rest. It acts on many areas of the brain, impairing our ability to control our movements, speak clearly, perceive our surroundings, and remember events.

Getting diazepam treatment

If you recognize signs of diazepam misuse or withdrawal in yourself or a loved one, start your recovery by reducing your dosage under the guidance of a licensed medical professional. If you experience withdrawal or other symptoms during treatment, your medical team may recommend physical exercise, which studies show increases your brain’s serotonin levels and stimulates feelings of calm.

  • Treatment: Treatment works in ending misuse of or dependency on diazepam. Licensed medical and mental health professionals can help you reduce your dosage of the drug and provide counseling.
  • Therapy: Cognitive and other behavioral therapies undertaken with the help of a licensed mental health professional can help you understand and reduce the symptoms.
  • Recovery: With guidance and patience, recovery is possible. After a treatment plan is established, manage your progress with the ongoing support of family, friends, and others in recovery and the guidance of medical and mental health professionals.

Making a recovery plan

Recovery is possible with the guidance of a licensed medical professional to lower your dosage and a mental health professional to provide therapy and nonpharmaceutical options to relieve symptoms. Manage your progress with periodic guidance from your medical and mental health team and friends, family members, and others who can provide support to you in your recovery.

Sources:

Pregnant Women Report Taking Medicines for Anxiety and Other Mental Health Conditions, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 9, 2020

Diazepam, StatPearls Publishing, January 2021 (updated March 13, 2021)

Diazepam, MedlinePlus, May 15, 2021

Benzodiazepines and Opioids, National Institute on Drug Abuse, February 3, 2021

Diazepam, StatPearls Publishing, January 2021 (updated March 13, 2021)

Diazepam, StatPearls Publishing, January 2021 (updated March 13, 2021)

Diazepam, StatPearls Publishing, January 2021 (updated March 13, 2021)

Mind and Body Approaches for Stress and Anxiety, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health, April 2020