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Valium (Diazepam) Withdrawal

As prescriptions for benzodiazepines have increased, so have overdoses for these prescription medications. 

Overdoses related to benzos increased sevenfold between 1999 and 2015, from 1,135 deaths to 8,791 deaths.

Valium, the brand name for diazepam, is one of the most common benzos.

While Valium may be helpful in the short term for anxiety-related problems, addiction is common, and withdrawal from it can be difficult.

What Are the Valium Withdrawal Symptoms? 

Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” such as Valium, are tranquilizers and they are often prescribed for conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, seizures, and as an anesthetic given before surgery. Valium can become addictive because of its powerful relaxation effects. If someone builds up a tolerance to it, or becomes addicted, and then stops taking it suddenly, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. Valium withdrawal can be uncomfortable.

Valium withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Stomach cramps or pain
  • Muscle cramps or pain
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Tension
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

What Are the Stages in the Valium Withdrawal Timeline?

Research has shown that the stages of Valium withdrawal symptoms generally fall into three groups. Certain symptoms are experienced throughout the withdrawal process. The ongoing symptoms are: 

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms (myoclonus)

The second group of symptoms usually occurs within the first 10 days. This may include symptoms such as: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Cognitive disturbances
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat

The third group of symptoms occurs within the third and fourth weeks of withdrawal from Valium. These symptoms are related to sense perception:

  • The sensation of “pins and needles”
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Abdominal pain

How Dangerous is Valium?

Valium is a prescription benzodiazepine that can be extremely dangerous in high doses and when it’s mixed with other substances. As a central nervous system depressant, Valium slows down excitability in your brain and body to achieve its effects. That’s what makes it an effective anti-anxiety and sleep disorder medication.

However, in high doses, it can start to suppress important functions of the nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system is what controls the things you don’t have to think about like your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

When you take a safe dose of a depressant, your autonomic nervous system shouldn’t be significantly affected. However, in high doses, of the medication, it can start to suppress even your autonomic nervous system functions.

During a Valium overdose, your heart rate and breathing might slow down to a dangerous degree. Respiratory depression can become deadly if breathing stops or slows to the point of causing brain damage, hypoxia, or coma. Most depressant overdoses end in heart failure or respiratory depression.

On its own, it’s unlikely for you to experience a fatal overdose on Valium unless you take a very high dose of the drug. However, recreational use of Valium and other benzos can sometimes cause dangerous overdose symptoms.

Valium overdoses are more likely if you mix the drug with other benzos, barbiturates, sleep aids, opioids, or alcohol. Mixing those substances can cause an overdose with relatively low doses of each respective drug. If you are prescribed an opioid or another depressant while you’re taking Valium, double-check that you are taking safe doses with your doctor.

As a depressant, Valium can also be dangerous during withdrawal. If you have developed a chemical dependence on the drug and you quit cold turkey, you might experience some dangerous and even deadly withdrawal symptoms. Abruptly quitting Valium can cause dangerous symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens.

If you go through withdrawal by yourself, these symptoms can be life-threatening. But with medical treatment, severe symptoms can be avoided and treated.

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Why Should I Detox?

Detoxing from Valium can cause agitation, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs). Because of the severity of the symptoms, Valium detox can cause, withdrawing on your own or going “cold turkey” can be dangerous. 

It’s much safer to go through a medical detox process as part of a professional treatment program. Going through an addiction treatment program also gives you a better chance at lasting recovery because of the structured medical and emotional support provided.

In medical detox, you will have access to 24-hour medically managed care from medical professionals that are specialized in withdrawal. 

When you first enter addiction treatment, you will go through an intake process that’s designed to access your needs. If you are likely to go through acute withdrawal from a depressant like Valium, you will probably be placed in a medical detox program. 

Detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment, and it can address more than just withdrawal. If you have other medical needs or complications, that are related or unrelated to addiction, they can be treated in detox. 

What is the Next Treatment Step?

While treatment for Valium addiction is available in different formats and levels of intensity, following a full continuum of treatment provides the most comprehensive approach. 

It begins with the highest and most intense level of care during the detox phase and then progresses through less intense levels of treatment. 

Going through the full continuum of treatment will position you better to be successful in your recovery. 

Stages of treatment usually include detox/inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and alumni or aftercare.

Detox

During the first stage of withdrawal treatment, the goal is medical stabilization through detox. You will receive a complete medical assessment to determine your level of addiction and any additional medical needs you may have. This will include a medical exam and urine or blood tests to screen for drugs. 

Your physician may also require additional testing, such as additional blood tests, including a CBC (complete blood count), chest X-ray, ECG (electrocardiogram), and testing for other diseases.

Once the doctor has your test results, he or she will design a detox plan for you. Then, under the care of your medical team, you will begin the detox process. Your medical team will include doctors, nurses, and support staff. 

Your medical treatment may include the administration of other drugs to help manage the physical symptoms of Valium withdrawal. In addition to medical care, your treatment plan will also include emotional support as you begin addiction therapy.

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This is because many people also experience anxiety, depression, and other emotional and psychological challenges as they detox.  

Partial Hospitalization

After completing the detox phase of treatment, the next stage is to continue treatment in a partial hospitalization program. During this phase, you’ll live at a transitional living facility while undergoing a supportive, rigorous, and structured treatment program. 

Treatment sessions are held five days a week for six hours each day and include individual, group, and family therapy programs to address your emotional and mental health needs. 

Your goal during partial hospitalization will be to learn positive life skills, coping mechanisms, and techniques to help prevent relapse so that you will be better prepared for long-term recovery. This training will help you begin the process of transitioning back to your life outside the treatment center.  

Intensive Outpatient

The stages of the full continuum of treatment are designed to slowly move you back to life outside the rehab facility while helping you build the skills and resources you need to cope and avoid relapsing. After you have completed the inpatient program, you will move into the intensive outpatient program (IOP) stage. 

Sometimes, this stage is used as standalone addiction therapy. However, it is also a vital part of the full continuum of treatment. At this stage, your therapy sessions won’t be as frequent, and the program will be more flexible. 

You will still attend intensive therapy sessions, and continue with medication management if required. This stage of treatment will help you continue to be accountable for your recovery. It will also include periodic weekly drug testing. The main focus of IOP is to help you continue to build coping skills and prevent relapse. 

Alumni

Once you have completed the treatment program, you will have the opportunity to join other treatment center alumni during weekly support groups and social events. These opportunities to meet other program graduates can help you develop new friendships and build social support with others who understand the recovery process. This support network can be a vital resource to help you grow and stay focused on your recovery as you continue to adjust to life after the treatment program and take on new responsibilities.  

Sources

Higuera, V. (2017, August 02). Respiratory Depression: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/respiratory-depression

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

Mellor, C.S. and Jain, V.K. (1982, December 1) Diazepam Withdrawal Syndrome: Its Prolonged and Changing Nature. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Thompson, Dennis (2018, December 27) Evidence Shows Abuse of Xanax, Valium on the Rise. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com

(2017, March 30) Diazepam, Oral Tablet. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, July 31). Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm

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