colorful round pills, benzodiazepines

Is Valium Addictive? Understanding Valium’s Dependency Potential

Valium (also known as diazepam) is a prescription medication used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms or twitches, and seizures. It is also effective in helping reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. This medication is a benzodiazepine, which is a class of medications that slow down your nervous system. Valium has a strong potential for addiction and abuse.

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What is Valium?

In order to help you better understand Valium, we will discuss its definition and history, medical uses, and mechanism of action.

Valium was originally created to be an anti-anxiety medication.[1] This benzodiazepine was first developed in Switzerland in 1960 at the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-La Roche by researcher Leo Sternbach. Three years later, Valium was approved for use in the United States, and rapidly became a widely-prescribed drug due to its efficacy.

A short time later, Valium was also found to be effective at treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms like insomnia and tremors, as well as muscle spasms caused by neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

Throughout the 1960s, Valium was used as an alternative to barbiturates because it was believed to have a lower risk of addiction. There was an increase in recreational use of Valium because it was so widely prescribed that even people who did not have prescriptions for this drug could still obtain it, which led to more cases of addiction and overdose.

However, Valium’s potential for addiction began to show itself in the 1970s and 1980s. Researchers began noticing that long-term benzodiazepine use could lead to the development of tolerance and/or physical dependence if not taken as directed, resulting in withdrawal once patients stopped taking the drug. As a result, prescribing restrictions and increased oversight of the use of Valium and other benzodiazepines were put into place.

Valium’s popularity decreased in the 1980s due to its potential for addiction when taken long-term or in high doses, as well as the emergence of new drugs like Xanax that doctors grew to prefer over Valium.

Currently, Valium is listed as a Schedule IV drug in the United States, and doctors are advised to be cautious in prescribing Valium and other benzodiazepines. These drugs are still approved by the FDA and used today to treat conditions such as anxiety disorders and muscle spasms. Valium may be used off-label as a treatment for bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the FDA has not approved this medication for these conditions.

As we have discussed, Valium is primarily used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, muscle spasms or twitches, and seizures. It shows potential to be effective in treating bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and PTSD, but it is not FDA-approved to treat these conditions.

Valium’s mechanism of action is as a tranquilizer with amnesic, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant, and sedative properties. It works by binding to receptors in multiple regions of the brain and spine, and the binding increases the inhibitory effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

The Risks of Valium

There are risks associated with taking Valium, including the potential for addiction, misuse, and abuse.

Potential for Addiction

Valium is addictive because of how it affects the brain. It slows down brain activity and has a calming effect that can lead to misuse.

Tolerance and dependence on Valium occur when you need to take increasingly higher doses to feel the effects of the medication, and you may get to a point where you feel like you can’t function properly without taking it. If you take too much, Valium can also cause many of the symptoms that it is intended to relieve, such as anxiety and convulsions.

Misuse and Abuse

Signs of Valium abuse may include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Impaired coordination
  • Shaking (from withdrawal)
  • Slurred speech
  • Uncharacteristic irritability or sadness

The dangers of Valium misuse can range from coma, convulsions, increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. Mixing Valium with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol and opioids increases the sedative effects of each combined substance and can even cause your heart or lungs to stop working.

Long-term use of Valium can lead to brain damage that can affect memory and cognition and cause you to develop mental disorders that you did not have before you started Valium, such as anxiety and depression, because your brain becomes reliant on the medication to control stress.

Valium vs. Other Benzodiazepines

You may be wondering how Valium compares to other benzodiazepines. In this section, we will go over comparing addiction potential, common benzodiazepines, and why Valium stands out.

Addiction potential varies based on the type of benzodiazepine you take. Three types of benzodiazepines are differentiated based on how long their effects last. The three types of benzodiazepines are long-acting, intermediate-acting, and short-acting. Short-acting benzodiazepines take effect quickly and may be the preferred option for drug abuse.

Alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan) are among the most widely abused benzodiazepines.

Common benzodiazepines include:

  • Ativan, Lorazepam Intensol, or Loreev XR (lorazepam)
  • Dalmane (flurazepam)
  • Doral (quazepam)
  • Halcion (triazolam)
  • Klonopin or Klonopin Wafer (clonazepam)
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Nayzilam (midazolam)
  • Niravam, Xanax, or Xanax XR (alprazolam)
  • Prosom (estazolam)
  • Remimazolam (Byfavo)
  • Restoril (temazepam)
  • Serax (oxazepam)
  • Tranxene SD or Tranxene T-Tab (clorazepate)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Versed (midazolam)

Valium stands out because of its high potency and short-lasting effects.

Who is at Risk?

Next, we will go over who is at risk for Valium addiction, including vulnerable populations, psychological factors, and co-occurring disorders.

You should not take Valium if you have had or currently have any of the following medical conditions:

  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Severe breathing issues
  • Depression, mood disorders, or suicidal ideation
  • Diazepam allergy
  • Kidney disease
  • Myasthenia gravis (a muscle weakness disorder)
  • Narrow-angle glaucoma
  • Pregnant or may become pregnant
  • Seizures (unless prescribed for seizure treatment)
  • Severe liver disease
  • Sleep apnea (breathing stops during sleep)
  • Untreated or uncontrolled open-angle glaucoma

Behavioral and psychological signs of Valium abuse can include:

  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Amnesia or memory issues
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Hostility
  • Hyperactivity
  • Reckless/risky behavior
  • Loss of libido
  • Thoughts of self-harm

You are at a higher risk of developing Valium addiction if you have a co-occurring disorder such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Poly-substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stimulant abuse

Recognizing Addiction

If you or a loved one uses Valium, it is important to recognize addiction, including signs and symptoms and the diagnostic process.

Signs and Symptoms

Valium addiction can cause both physical and behavioral changes.

Physical indicators of Valium addiction include:

  • Coma, seizures
  • Danger of fatal overdose if consumed with alcohol or other drugs
  • Dry mouth
  • Pounding heart

Behavioral changes that can occur as a result of Valium addiction include:

  • Delusions of well-being
  • Getting prescriptions from different doctors
  • Losing a job or uncharacteristically getting a bad review
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Problems with the law, such as drugged driving
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Traveling long distances to fill prescriptions

The Diagnostic Process

Suppose you are taking more Valium than your doctor has directed you to, or you experience symptoms of Valium addiction or misuse. In that case, you will likely be diagnosed with Valium addiction, but there is hope for recovery.

The Impact of Valium Addiction

The impact of Valium addiction has physical health effects, mental health implications, and social consequences.

As we have mentioned, abusing Valium can cause the symptoms it is used to treat, including seizures and tremors. It can also cause persistent drowsiness and sleep problems.

Abusing Valium affects your mental health and may worsen existing mental illness. It can also cause brain damage and new disorders.

The social consequences of Valium addiction may involve:

  • Loss of contact with people in your life who are concerned about your Valium use.
  • Not having enough money or skipping social events because of your Valium use.
  • Experiencing strained relationships with family and friends.

The social isolation that often comes with Valium addiction may lead to increased Valium use as a way to cope.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for Valium addiction include:

Detoxing from Valium leads to withdrawal as the drug leaves your body and your body adjusts to functioning without Valium.

There are two stages of Valium withdrawal. The acute stage takes place in the first one to four days after the last time you use Valium. Because Valium has a half-life of up to 48 hours, you may not experience withdrawal symptoms until you have been off of Valium for a day or two.

How soon you start to have withdrawal symptoms depends on how much and how often you took Valium, how long you abused Valium, whether or not you also used alcohol or other drugs, your metabolism, and your emotional and psychological health.

Symptoms during the acute withdrawal stage may include:

  • Confusion
  • Cramps
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Rebound anxiety
  • Seizures (seek immediate medical attention)
  • Stomach pain
  • Tremors (most likely in your hands)
  • Vomiting

The general withdrawal stage begins four or five days after your last dose of Valium and lasts 10 to 14 days.

Symptoms during the general withdrawal stage will be significantly milder than acute withdrawal symptoms and may include:

  • Continuing episodes of anxiety
  • Depression
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Feeling dissatisfied
  • Increased cravings for Valium
  • Lightheadedness
  • Mild fever
  • Mild headaches
  • Periods of nausea
  • Potential chills
  • Rebound anxiety

You can undergo inpatient or outpatient treatment for Valium addiction.

An outpatient program allows you to continue living at home and working or going to school while you attend treatment sessions. Outpatient treatment usually costs less than inpatient treatment, but the therapy and support provided by outpatient treatment are less intensive than what inpatient treatment programs offer.

An inpatient treatment program requires you to live at a treatment facility and provides intensive, structured therapy sessions and 24/7 care and support from professionals. People who choose inpatient treatment have higher success rates than those who participate in outpatient rehabilitation.

Behavioral therapies can also help you recover from Valium addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help you change negative thoughts and behavior patterns. CBT can be a useful component of addiction recovery because it can help you identify and change negative thought patterns that influence your drug use and teach you coping skills to handle cravings and situations that increase your relapse risk.[2] CBT can also treat co-occurring mental health issues like anxiety and depression. You can have one-on-one CBT or take part in group sessions.

Adventure therapy involves doing outdoor activities like horseback riding and rock climbing that can help you develop new coping skills and hobbies, improve your overall well-being, and manage personal obstacles. Adventure therapy gives you the benefits of emotional and psychological support while also getting more exercise.

Group therapy connects you with other people who have substance abuse issues and offers support and encouragement from peers who know firsthand what you are dealing with in trying to quit Valium. A trained therapist leads group therapy sessions focusing on challenges, successes, emotional support, and coping skills.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for Valium addiction involves taking medicine to reduce your withdrawal symptoms and treat other health conditions you have, if applicable. Medications that may be given as part of MAT include Suboxone and Vivitrol.

2 long, beige pills in hand

Recovery and Relapse Prevention

This section will discuss recovery and relapse prevention strategies like setting realistic goals, support systems, and lifestyle changes. We will also go over relapse triggers and coping strategies.

Setting Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals is important because having unrealistic goals can mean setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

Support Systems

Support systems are integral in Valium addiction recovery and relapse prevention. A support system encourages you to stay sober and distracts from cravings and emotional issues like depression. Your support system may include family, friends, coworkers, doctors, and others who support and encourage you to stay off of Valium.

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy, positive lifestyle changes can help you get your life back on track during and after the process of overcoming being addicted to Valium.

You can try making changes like eating a healthy diet, exercising more often, and getting sufficient amount and quality of sleep.

Relapse Triggers and Coping Strategies

Another important part of recovery and relapse prevention is knowing your relapse triggers and having coping strategies to get you through difficult times.

Triggers are different for everyone, but some common ones are continuing to interact with Valium users, experiencing extreme emotions, and having too much dysfunction or isolation in your living situation. Others include childhood trauma and social settings where there is substance use.

Examples of coping strategies are regularly participating in a 12-step program and having a sponsor, maintaining a list of your triggers, and making a list of the pros of staying sober and the cons of going back to using Valium. You can also ask family and friends to help you by doing things like keeping abusable substances away from you and distracting or removing you from social situations that may lead to a relapse.


Valium (diazepam) is a sedative medication that is a member of the benzodiazepine class of medications. It is used to treat alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. It was one of the most-prescribed medications in the United States, but it has the potential to be very addictive and has fallen out of favor for this reason.

It is important to be aware of the potential for Valium addiction, risk factors, and signs and symptoms you may notice if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.
Valium addiction can be dangerous and even fatal, but there is hope if you or a loved one are dealing with Valium addiction. Treatment options include inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs, medication-assisted treatment, and therapy.

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