Valium is not safe for recreational use. Yet, when it was first introduced to the U.S., it was pitched as a safer alternative to barbiturate medications. Valium was seen as less addictive and toxic and hailed for its calming effects in patients with anxiety.
As a result, Valium would become one of the best-selling medications in U.S. history. In fact, between 1968 and 1982, it was the country’s highest selling medication. More than two billion tablets were sold in 1978.
This benzodiazepine is still prescribed to treat a wider variety of ailments and conditions, including muscle spasms and symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal. In fact, now more than ever, people are using it to treat pain, according to a 2019 Reuters report.
Yet, a dark narrative of addiction has helped to drive Valium’s enduring popularity. While opioids and lately, methamphetamines, have dominated national headlines regarding drug addiction, benzodiazepines like Valium have triggered its own phenomenon of dependency and abuse.
A belief exists that benzos like Valium are a safer alternative than opioids in the treatment of pain — a notion that is untrue.
Benzodiazepines have side effects that are similar to opioids, including respiratory depression. Someone who decides to abuse Valium recreationally is opening themselves up to a number of harmful effects, including life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. When Valium is abused with alcohol, the risk of death is heightened considerably.
What Is Valium?
Valium is a prescription brand name for diazepam, a drug in the central nervous system (CNS) depressant class of substances. Diazepam is in a category of depressants called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines treat anxiety, sleep disorders, seizure disorders, and panic disorders. Valium achieves sedating and psychologically relaxing effects by interacting with a natural chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), the primary neurotransmitter that inhibits CNS activity. GABA is an important chemical in regulating sleep and your rest-and-digest response. Diazepam can bind to GABA receptors and make GABA more potent when it activates that receptor. When Valium or another benzodiazepine enters the body, it slows down the CNS, which produces a calming, sedative effect.
Physicians prescribe Valium to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, depression, schizophrenia, and alcohol withdrawal. Patients who are about to undergo surgical procedures are also prescribed Valium for relaxation purposes.
The Story of Valium
When chemist Leo H. Sternbach developed diazepam from a class of chemical compounds called benzodiazepines for the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche, little did he know that what was created became a pharmacological marvel.
It took some persistence on Sternbach’s part before discovering the potential of diazepam, which would soon be marketed as Valium.
“Thinking the molecule he was studying lacked promise, [Sternbach] had put it on the shelf. Then one day…he decided to take another crack at it. Lo and behold, after testing the compound on lab animals, Valium was born,” recalled this 2003 NBC News report.
He even tested the drug on himself.
Eventually, Valium was introduced to the U.S. in 1963.
The tranquilizer medication was wildly successful. The revenue it generated helped make Roche one of the world’s leading drug manufacturers. Valium would become a cultural icon as one of the world’s most talked about medications.
In the 1960s and 70s, it would saturate public consciousness. Valium became the subject of popular songs like “Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones. Its use was depicted in popular films like Woody Allen’s 1977 feature “Annie Hall.”
“Valium was a transforming drug, a breakthrough in every respect,” former Roche Chief Executive Officer George Abercrombie told NBC News.
“It was clearly the Lipitor of its time for a sustained period of time,” he said, referring to the anti-cholesterol drug.
Prescribed Dosages for Valium
Valium can be taken orally, injected into a muscle or vein, or inserted into the rectum. According to RxList, the recommended dosages in tablet form, depending on the ailment, are:
- For Anxiety disorders (anxiety symptom relief): Patients should take 2 mg to 10 mg, two to four times daily. Dose amounts depend on the severity of symptoms.
- Muscle spasms relief: Patients should take 2 mg to 10 mg, three or four times every day
- Seizure relief: It is recommended that patients take 2 mg to 10 mg, two to four times daily
- For geriatric patients or for debilitating diseases: Patients should take between 2 mg to 2.5 mg, one or two times daily initially/ They can gradually increase the dosage as needed and tolerated.
- Acute alcohol withdrawal symptom relief: It is recommended that you take 10 mg, 3 or 4 times within the first 24 hours. You should reduce to 5 mg, three or four times every day as needed
Recreational doses of Valium are between 20 to 30 mg or more. When users ingest large amounts of the drug, they put themselves at risk of addiction.
Why Is Valium Used Recreationally?
For the most part, the drug is used as a recreational drug to achieve a euphoric Valium high. As a central nervous system depressant, it can work in the brain similarly to alcohol. Valium can cause a relaxing sense of euphoria. You may feel mentally and physically relaxed as the drug eases anxiety and relaxes your muscles.
Valium may also be mixed with other substances to achieve unique effects. Many recreational drugs are mixed with alcohol, either by accident or intentionally. When Valium is mixed with alcohol, opioids, or other depressant medications, it may become more potent. However, mixing can also lead to dangerous side effects like respiratory depression faster.
Valium may be mixed with certain drugs to counteract specific side effects. For instance, stimulants like cocaine can cause anxiety, paranoia, and even panic attacks. Cocaine users trying to avoid these uncomfortable symptoms may seek out Valium. However, masking the effects of cocaine can encourage you to take more, which can be dangerous.
Sometimes, Valium may be taken as a form of self-medication. People struggling with anxiety disorders or other issues that Valium can be used to treat may get the drug from friends or from an illicit source. Using a drug without a prescription can be dangerous, even if you’re using it for its intended purposes.
How Much Valium Is Bad for You?
When you’re taking Valium, the safest dose is the one prescribed to you. Safe and effective doses vary from person to person based on several factors, including one’s size, weight, age, and sex. Typical dose ranges are printed on the label, but you can also ask your doctor or pharmacist about the dose that is most effective for your needs.
But what Valium dose is dangerous?
The upper range for adults is 10 mg (milligrams), taken in several doses throughout the day. However, people tolerant to benzodiazepines or who don’t see results with typical doses may be prescribed more. Frequent recreational diazepam users may use 30 mg or more. It’s rare for recreational users to experience a deadly overdose on Valium alone. However, it is possible to experience life-threatening overdoses in doses that would be low for some users.
When users exceed 10 milligrams, some may experience uncomfortable side effects, such as heavy sedation, drowsiness, impaired motor functions, and other Valium effects sometimes associated with drunkenness or sedation. Older adults may experience dangerous symptoms at lower doses because you can lose the ability to process Valium as you age.
When Valium Addiction Is Present
Addiction is established when someone displays compulsive behaviors around seeking their drug of choice. Valium addiction is no different. A person who demonstrates these behaviors will continue to abuse a substance even if it comes at a personal cost, like a legal situation or a health problem.
Does this sound familiar? Are you or a loved one ensnared by an addiction to Valium?
The following is a list of physical signs that may signal a looming substance abuse issue. Someone in the throes of Valium addiction can show some of these signs:
- Thinking about Valium all or most of the time
- Increasing doses of Valium to get the same effects
- Showing noticeable changes in appearance or hygiene
- Having changed their eating habits
- Displaying loss of coordination
- Exhibiting slow movements and speech
- Showing a loss of interest in daily activities, hobbies, interests
- Isolating themselves from family members, friends, colleagues
- Displaying a high tolerance, dependence on Valium
- Having strong cravings for Valium (diazepam)
- Displaying lowered inhibitions
- Seeking out increased, steady amounts of Valium by “doctor shopping”
- Displaying frequent sleepiness
The Dangers Of Valium Withdrawal
Valium use comes with a multitude of common, infrequent, and rare side effects. They vary by nature and severity. People who abuse the drug for recreational purposes are subject to many dangerous effects, including withdrawal symptoms.
To experience withdrawal, someone would have to become dependent on a drug. For Valium users, this means they misuse it to such a degree — either for a longer than a prescribed period or in excessive doses — that they only feel normal when the drug is in their body.
Once the Valium leaves the body, they experience disturbances or withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms typically manifest a couple of days after last use.
The physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal are absolutely harrowing and life-threatening. If you suspect that you or a loved one is in withdrawal, here are the symptoms to look out for:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Memory problems
- Muscle aches and pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Panic attacks
Why A Valium “Cold Turkey” Detox Is A Bad Idea
Because Valium is a benzo, withdrawal symptoms do not simply diminish in a linear time frame as with other substances. With benzodiazepines, the withdrawal symptoms wax and wane in severity. Plus, the psychological symptoms can linger for months.
The seizures associated with benzo withdrawal are life-threatening. You become prone to these seizures if you attempt to stop Valium use abruptly on your own.
The best way to detox from medication as dangerous as Valium is to undergo a medically-supervised process where you are tapered off the drug and administered FDA-approved medications to treat withdrawal symptoms.
This is exactly the kind of process that occurs in a professional treatment program.
What Professional Treatment Can Offer You
A reputable, professional treatment center can provide the comprehensive, nuanced, and evidence-based services that can help someone climb out of the hole of substance abuse.
For people with Valium addiction, that process begins with acute treatment, a medically-supervised detox process where the Valium and other substances are removed from the body.
Again, you will be administered approved medications to address withdrawal symptoms. You will also be medically monitored around the clock by a staff of doctors, nurses, and other practitioners to ensure a safe detox process.
For people with severe Valium addiction or abuse the drug with alcohol or other substances, the most comprehensive level of services are required, the kind provided through clinical stabilization services.
Clinical stabilization is individualized therapy meant to address the mind, body, and soul — not just the physical implications of the addiction itself.
In this way, clinical stabilization uncovers the profound psychological and emotional distress that comes with substance abuse and addiction.
The therapy approaches and activities offered through clinical stabilization include:
- Nutritional assessments
- Emotional regulation
- Medical education
- Motivational enhancement
- Relapse prevention
- The 12-steps of recovery
- Wellness skills
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills
- Genetic testing
- Family-focused therapy
- Trauma-informed sessions
For Milder Cases
If your pattern of Valium abuse is considered mild, you would be recommended for an outpatient program, where you can still receive evidence-based therapy and care that gets to the root of your addiction but on a part-time basis.
The services available through outpatient include:
- Individual and Group Therapy
- Educational Programs
- Ongoing Support
- Family Counseling
Once treatment is completed, you can get connected to the recovery community for ongoing support and inspiration as you fully transition back into your normal life — healed and transformed.