Valium Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, Symptoms & Treatment
By The Recovery Village
Editor Melissa Carmona
Last Updated: November 27, 2023
Valium is one of the most common benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” in the United States. As a controlled substance, Valium carries a risk of abuse, dependence and addiction. If you take Valium, this can make stopping the drug difficult due to the risk of withdrawal symptoms.
What is Valium?
Valium is the brand name for the generic benzo diazepam. Street names include V, Vals, Vallies, Candy, French Blues and Blues. Like other benzos, Valium is a Schedule IV controlled substance. However, Valium stands apart from other benzos in that it is considered one of the longer-acting benzos available.
Increase in Valium Prescriptions & Overdoses
Benzo prescribing has waxed and waned over the past several years. Initially, through 2015, there was an upsurge in benzo prescriptions. Sadly, this coincided with a 54% increase in adolescent benzo overdoses, including Valium, between 2000 and 2015. Benzo-related hospital visits in New Jersey alone accounted for almost 1,500 hospital visits in 2017 alone. After that high, experts began to observe a small decrease in benzo prescriptions. Unfortunately, COVID-19 reversed that trend. Between February 16 and March 15, 2020, anti-anxiety prescriptions like benzos increased by more than 34%.
The newest wave of the benzo epidemic may be far from over. Some experts see a 3.4% annual growth rate for Valium prescriptions through 2026 due to increasing cases of insomnia, anxiety and alcohol dependence. Illicit distribution is not uncommon, with one New Jersey doctor indicted in early 2020 for distributing Valium and other controlled substances without a medical rationale.
Valium Interactions & Drug Comparisons
Like all drugs, Valium interacts with other substances. These include drugs that can worsen diazepam’s side effects, such as:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, also known as MAOIs
- Sleep medications
- Seizure medications
- Stomach-acid reducing agents like cimetidine and omeprazole
Valium affects your body longer than other popular benzos due to its long half-life. The half-life of a drug is how long it takes for half to be cleared from your body. Generally, it takes five half-lives to fully remove a drug from your system. Diazepam’s half-life is about 48 hours and its active breakdown product N-desmethyldiazepam has a half-life of around 100 hours. This means it can take about ten days for diazepam itself to completely leave your body, and it can take about 20 days for its breakdown product to do so. This contrasts with other common benzos:
- Xanax has a half-life of around 11.2 hours, meaning it is out of your system in about two days.
- Ativan has a half-life of around 12 hours and has an active breakdown product that is out of your system in about 18 hours. This means that both Ativan and its breakdown products are out of your system within four days.
- Klonopin has a half-life of 30 to 40 hours, meaning it is out of your system in around eight days.
Valium Side Effects
The most common short-term side effects of Valium are:
- Muscle weakness
- Movement difficulties
Side effects can worsen if Valium is taken with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or opioids. In addition, Valium has not been studied in people who have taken the drug for longer than four months, meaning that long-term side effects are unclear.
Signs of Valium Abuse
When a person becomes reliant on Valium, people around them may notice signs, such as changes in their behavior. Some symptoms include:
- Social withdrawal
- An excessive amount of time spent with new friends
- Unusual mood swings
- Changes in a person’s sleep habits
- Missed appointments or deadlines
- Problems at work or school
- Reckless behavior
- Legal troubles
Health care workers can sometimes be the first ones to notice signs of benzo abuse. Drug-seeking behaviors are common among people struggling with controlled substances like Valium and can include:
- An unusual knowledge about Valium and specifically requesting the drug
- Lack of a regular doctor or missing followup appointments
- Requesting new Valium prescriptions before they are due
- Requesting that the pharmacy fill their Valium earlier than it is due
- Claiming the pharmacy did not give them as much Valium as the quantity on the label states
- Stating that they lost or that someone stole their Valium
- Doctor-shopping to get Valium prescriptions
- Forging Valium prescriptions
- Going to urgent care or the emergency room specifically to get Valium
Valium overdose signs are similar to those of other benzos. Signs of an overdose include:
- Severe drowsiness
- Extreme lack of physical coordination
- Slow reflexes
- Slowed breathing
- Extreme sedation
A Valium overdose can be deadly and requires immediate medical attention. The opioid reversal agent naloxone does not work on benzo overdoses.
It should be noted, however, that benzos are often involved in opioid overdoses. Many opioid overdoses involve multiple substances, and more than 30% of opioid overdoses involve benzos. For this reason, the FDA has mandated a Black Box Warning on all benzos to educate people on the risks of mixing benzos and opioids.
If your body is used to Valium, quitting the drug cold turkey can lead to uncomfortable and potentially dangerous side effects. In September 2020, the FDA strengthened its Black Box Warning about the potential for abuse, dependence and withdrawal symptoms in all benzos, including Valium.
Valium withdrawal symptoms can begin anywhere from 2 to 7 days after the last dose and can last for eight weeks or longer. Withdrawal symptoms can be unpredictable and may fluctuate. Common benzo withdrawal symptoms include:
- Agitation or irritability
- Concentration problems
- Poor memory
- Muscle tension or aches
A seizure is another worrisome withdrawal symptom that can occur in some people. As a result, if you’re trying to quit Valium, you should do so under medical supervision. In a medical detox setting, you can ease off Valium slowly and comfortably, while minimizing withdrawal symptoms.
Some Valium withdrawal symptoms are dangerous, so you should not detox by yourself. Generally, a doctor can design a taper schedule for you to slowly reduce your Valium dose over time until your body is used to being without the drug. Taper schedules can vary widely depending on the person, the starting dose of Valium, and how long you have been taking Valium.
Helping people ease off benzos like Valium is a skill requiring proper training, so it can be helpful to find a doctor who specializes in addiction. A specialized detox facility like The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper is staffed by experts in Valium addiction management who can help wean you off Valium at your own pace in a comfortable setting.
Valium Treatment Options
The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers several different addiction treatment strategies to help you wean and stay off Valium. Our facility has multiple treatment programs to support you. Each program is custom-tailored to you by our addiction specialists. Our treatment levels include:
- Medical Detox: In medical detox, you are admitted to our inpatient facility, where our team of Valium experts help ease you off Valium under medical supervision. A customized taper schedule may be set up for you to help your body rid itself of Valium while minimizing withdrawal symptoms.
- Residential Rehab: After your body is cleansed of Valium in medical detox, the hard work of rehab begins. In residential or inpatient rehab, you live at our treatment facility while your body and mind begin to heal. Intensive therapy is offered in both one-on-one and group settings, helping you explore why you became addicted to Valium and how to navigate life without the drug.
- Outpatient Rehab: After residential rehab, or in place of it in the case of less-severe addictions, outpatient rehab can begin. In outpatient rehab, you live at home and have therapy at The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper to support you as you begin your Valium-free life. Teletherapy may also be available.
- Aftercare: Aftercare is a lifelong recovery process that follows rehab. The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper’s aftercare program generally consists of support groups and relapse prevention plans to support you in your recovery.
- Co-occurring Disorders: Mental health struggles are common in those who are addicted to substances like Valium. Our specialists are trained to treat not only your Valium addiction but also any underlying mental health problem that contributed to your addiction.
Related Topic: Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab
What is Valium used for?
Valium is FDA-approved for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, muscle spasms and seizure.
How often can you take Valium?
Valium should only be taken as prescribed. Different people may be told to take Valium at different intervals based on their age, drug tolerance or other drugs they may be taking. Generally, Valium is taken at least once daily as needed.
How long does Valium stay in your system?
Valium is one of the longer-acting benzos and can stay in your system longer than other drugs in the same class. Diazepam can be detected in urine for up to 7 days after the last dose. It can stay present in saliva for up to 2 days. The drug can also show up in hair tests, with a 1.5-inch hair sample able to show any diazepam use in the past 90 days.
Is Valium addictive?
Yes. As a Schedule IV controlled substance, Valium carries a risk of abuse, dependence and addiction.
Can Valium kill you?
A Valium overdose can be deadly, especially if you take other central nervous system depressants like opioids or alcohol. The FDA has issued a Black Box Warning about the overdose risks of Valium.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.