Valium, also referred to as diazepam, is a benzodiazepine that is prescribed by medical professionals to treat anxiety disorder, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or muscle spasms. In some cases Valium is combined with other medicines to be used in the treatment of seizures.
Valium works by replacing chemicals normally produced in the brain and slowing down any abnormally fast electrical activity. When used, this substance creates general feelings of relaxation, which is one of the reasons it is so addictive. While you may not recognize it at first after prolonged Valium use you begin to develop a tolerance.
Over a period of time, Valium begins to structurally and functionally change the nerve cells of the brain. At this point, once you stop taking the drug your brain is no longer capable of producing the necessary chemicals in the brain quickly enough, meaning you have become physically dependent. Individuals who have become physically dependent on Valium often take more of the drug in order to compensate for the lowered amount of chemicals in their brain, causing them to develop a Valium addiction.
Addiction to this class of drugs can be one of the hardest habits to break because substances like Valium induce a false sense of well-being and relaxation.
Most individuals who have an addiction disorder have a co-occurring disorder. These may include:
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Stimulant abuse
- Poly-substance abuse
- Bipolar disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Exact statistics for Valium alone are not as well known, but there has been a variety of information about benzodiazepines – the class of medications from which Valium is a part.
In 2010, it was estimated that 2.6 million people used a benzodiazepine for nonmedical reasons every month. In 2006, SAMHSA conducted a study of nationwide emergency rooms and discovered that sedative-hypnotics were the most frequently implicated prescription drug in emergency room visits.
The likelihood that an individual may develop an addiction to Valium is high due the psychological and physical addiction properties of this medication. While the drug properties play a role in the development of addiction there is no single cause that makes one person develop an addiction while another can take Valium as prescribed without repercussions. Research has shown that it is likely the combination of a variety of different factors. Some of the most common causes may include:
Genetic: Research has shown that addictive behavior runs in families. Individuals who have relatives, especially first-degree relatives like a parent or sibling, with addiction problems are more likely to develop a problem in later life.
Brain Chemistry: The primary mechanism in Valium is the enhancement of the GABA receptors in the brain and a decreased amount of serotonin – a neurotransmitter located in the brain. When individuals lack certain levels of brain chemicals they may use Valium as a way to make up for these deficits and experience feelings of all-over relaxation.
Environmental: Individuals who grow up in a household where addiction is present learn through modeling that substance use and abuse is a normal coping mechanism when one is faced with troubling life circumstances. Due to this modeling an individual may not have been taught more constructive ways to cope with stressors in their life, so they may turn to Valium to manage their stresses later in life. In addition, many individuals may self-medicate Valium to cope with significant trauma or depression.
Psychological: As benzodiazepine addiction is closely linked to the abuse of other substances, individuals who are already addicted to one or more substances may abuse benzodiazepines like Valium to enhance the positive effects or decrease the negative effects of other substances. In addition, since Valium is often used to manage anxiety disorders, those who are prescribed benzodiazepines to manage anxiety without learning proper coping mechanisms may be at a greater risk for developing physical and psychological addiction to these drugs because those substances are the only way they know how to cope.
There exists a multitude of symptoms that may accompany diazepam abuse and addiction. These symptoms may include:
- Change in appearance due to inattention to personal hygiene
- Change in eating habits
- Slowed movements
- Use drug every day and more than once a day
- Engaging in illegal activities
- Frequent trips to the doctor
- Going to several different pharmacies
- Slower reaction times
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Spinning sensation
- Muscle weakness
- Drooling or dry mouth
- Slurred speech
- Blurred or double vision
- Skin rash or itching
- Memory problems
- Preoccupation with suicide
- Loss of inhibitions
- Poor judgment
Valium is a legally prescribed medication that can be very effective to those suffering with anxiety disorders or to help ease the pain of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, when not taken properly and is abused for a long period of time Valium can cause a number of serious side effects. Some of these effects include:
- Inability to perform physical tasks you once enjoyed
- Mood swings
- Bouts of depression
- Violent or aggressive behavior
- Memory loss
- Incarceration or other legal problems
- Social isolation
- Family and marital problems
- Money problems
- Coma or death due to overdose
Effects of Withdrawal
Long term benzodiazepines abuse causes an individual to become tolerant and physically dependent on the drug. Immediate discontinuation of Valium can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms that an individual experiences during withdrawal will vary depending on how long an individual have been using, the frequency of use, and additional substances that may have been abused.
Withdrawing from benzodiazepines is a serious matter and should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional. Withdrawal symptoms from Valium can not only be unpleasant, but life-threatening if not handled properly. Some withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Dysphoric manifestations
- Panic disorder
- Muscle cramps
- Status epilepticus – a life-threatening condition in which the brain is in a constant state of seizure activity