Valium Abuse: Effects, Signs & Symptoms
Valium is the prescription anti-anxiety drug known as diazepam. Over the short-term it is useful in helping people manage anxiety, but long-term use can lead to a Valium addiction. Addiction experts call this a sedative use disorder1, because Valium belongs to a class of drugs that depress the central nervous system and trigger sedation and relaxation.
Abusing Valium can be dangerous, not just because of addiction—you also put yourself at risk of an overdose, which can be fatal, especially if you combine Valium with other depressants, like alcohol or opioids. Know the signs of addiction to Valium and what you can do to get treatment for yourself or someone you care about who may be struggling. Help is available and treatments can be effective.
Symptoms and Side Effects of Valium Addiction
Valium is commonly prescribed for managing short-term anxiety and for insomnia, but it is also a schedule IV controlled substance because of the potential for abuse and dependence.2 Although less addictive than some prescription drugs that are often misused, benzodiazepines like Valium cause substance use disorders, especially when used for a long period of time.
If you are worried about someone else’s use of Valium and that it may be problematic, watch for the signs of intoxication. Seeing regular or frequent misuse should be a red flag, and while it may not indicate an addiction it may mean this person needs some support in stopping use. Symptoms of Valium misuse include3:
- Drowsiness and sedation
- Impaired coordination
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating and remembering things
- Mood swings, irritability
- Lowered inhibitions
- Slowed breathing and heart rate
- Random eye movements
- Unusual falls or other accidents
If you have been misusing Valium and feel like you may be developing and addition to it, take a look at the criteria for a sedative use disorder.3 Even if you only have a few of these, it may indicate you have at least a mild use disorder:
- Your use of Valium has increased and gotten to the point at which you can’t use less, even if you try to stop or cut back.
- When you’re not using Valium, you crave it.
- You have shifted a lot of your time away from responsibilities and activities you used to enjoy and now spend much of it getting, using or recovering from Valium.
- People who care about you have noticed your use of drugs and this is interfering with your relationships, for instance causing more fights or taking time away from being with friends and loved ones.
- Your drive to use Valium is strong enough that you continue to use it even in situations that put you at risk, such as using in unsafe locations or before driving.
- Use of Valium is causing health problems, but this doesn’t stop you.
- Tolerance is beginning to develop, meaning you need more of the drug now than you used to in order to get the desired effect.
- When you stop using Valium you experience withdrawal symptoms.
Overdose is a serious danger associated with misuse of Valium. Studies have found that the number of fatal overdoses in the U.S. that involve a benzodiazepine has been rising since the late 1990s.4 One reason for the increase may be that use of opioids has also been rising. It is important to understand that if you misuse Valium you could risk overdosing, but the risk increases significantly if you mix it with an opioid, alcohol or another benzodiazepine. An overdose may cause loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, slow and shallow breathing, or seizures.
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1American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Table of Contents.
2United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Scheduling.
3Mayo Clinic. Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder).
4American Journal of Public Health. Increasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996 – 2013. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303061