Valium (diazepam) is a long-acting benzodiazepine (BZD) used to relieve symptoms of anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures, and, in some cases, to manage some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Abusing Valium can cause both short- and long-term side effects to an individual’s mental and physical health.
Benzodiazepines are some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the U.S. Prescriptions for benzodiazepines, such as Valium, have increased in the United States by 67 percent between 1996 and 2013. As the availability of Valium has grown, so too has the rate of its misuse.
Short-Term Side Effects Of Valium Abuse
Valium works to decrease the activity in the central nervous system (CNS), as well as increase the levels of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which reduces activity in certain parts of the brain related to anxiety.
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Possible short-term side effects of Valium include:
- loss of appetite
At higher doses, individuals may also experience:
- impaired motor function
- slurred speech
- blurry vision
- mood swings
In rare cases, some individuals may become erratic or behave in a hostile manner. As Valium is a mildly potent benzodiazepine, when individuals begin to feel the “crash” after a large dose of the drug, they will often take more to avoid any unpleasant side effects. Doing so can be particularly dangerous because it causes tolerance to develop more quickly.
Long-Term Side Effects Of Valium Abuse
Benzodiazepines are eliminated slowly from the body, so chronic use over an extended period can result in significant accumulation of the drug in fatty tissues throughout the body. Because of this, some long-term symptoms of Valium abuse won’t appear for days.
Long-term symptoms of Valium abuse may include:
- impaired thinking, memory, and judgment
- slurred speech
- muscle weakness
- lack of coordination
Valium Tolerance, Dependence And Withdrawal
Each time an individual uses Valium, their body becomes more used to it and begins to build up a tolerance to its effects. Tolerance to specific benzodiazepines, including Valium, usually occurs in individuals who have used them regularly for more than six continuous months. Tolerance development may take less time in individuals who abuse significantly larger doses of Valium.
After tolerance to the effects of Valium begins, individuals will become dependent on the substance, and the brain will need it to function normally. Once a dependence is established, individuals who stop taking the medication all of a sudden will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawing from Valium can be dangerous if the individual decreases their dose too quickly. Possible symptoms of Valium withdrawal include unpleasant mental and physical states, as well as return or “rebound” symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. Perhaps the worst potential outcome of Valium withdrawal is the development of seizures and psychosis.
Side Effects Of Valium Abuse On Memory
Since its release in 1963, Valium has been one of the more popular anti-anxiety drugs in the U.S. However, individuals who abuse the drug in large doses can experience more intensified psychological effects.
There are three broad memory classes: sensory, short-term and long-term. While sensory and short-term memory seems to remain unaffected by benzodiazepine use, long-term memory can be affected by Valium use.
Long-term memory can be broken into two subtypes: explicit (intentional, conscious memories) and implicit (unconscious, unintentional memories.) Excessive misuse of medications such as Valium can inhibit a person’s ability to form explicit memories or personally experienced events.
Implicit memory is also influenced by Valium abuse, but not in the same manner as explicit memory. Various studies on how benzodiazepine use impacts memory have noted a “different time course” of benzo-induced impairments in implicit and explicit memory.
Impairment with implicit (unconscious) memory tends to be more apparent when the drug is at its highest concentration in the body and does not last as long as impairment to explicit memory.
The Dangers Of Combining Valium With Other Substances
When other substances are taken in addition to Valium, it can affect the rate at which the effects of the medication are felt and, in some cases, cause severe adverse reactions. Anyone taking oral contraceptives, antifungals, or antibiotics may slow down the effects of Valium, while individuals taking other antiseizure medications may speed up Valiums effects.
If Valium is combined with another depressant, such as alcohol or opioids, severe reactions can occur. Under the influence of both medications, panic attacks may become much more severe, so much so that individuals may experience a cardiac event, such as irregular heartbeat and potential heart attack.
In addition to these effects, respiratory function is also negatively impacted, although this phenomenon is dose-dependent. Often, respiratory function becomes severely depressed when Valium is taken with opioids, and this can potentially cause a person to stop breathing.
Treatment For Valium Abuse And Addiction
Finding an individualized treatment program for Valium abuse and addiction can be essential in addressing these issues. Individuals will first be required to complete detoxification, where Valium is eliminated from the body. This is especially important as Valium withdrawal can result in potentially life-threatening symptoms.
Afterward, they are usually recommended to continue treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on the severity of their addiction. In most cases, a brief inpatient program is necessary to address the underlying anxiety issues for which the individual began taking the medication in the first place.
Inpatient programs can provide medication-assisted treatment. Flumazenil is often used to help ease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms from Valium. In combination with behavioral therapies or other evidence-based treatment types, such as adventure or animal therapy, individuals will be able to develop coping mechanisms and skills that they can apply to life after treatment.