Barbiturates were once the go-to medication for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia through the first half of the 20th century. However, their side effects caused them to lose popularity in the 1960s. Barbiturates were known to cause life-threatening overdoses when overused. In fact, several notable deaths involved barbiturate overdoses including, Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, and Brian Epstein. The drug’s danger caused it to fall out of common use as an insomnia recipe right around the time benzodiazepines were gaining popularity.
Valium is a benzodiazepine medication that is used to treat medical and mental health problems such as anxiety, sleep disorders, seizures, and muscle spasms. It’s one of the most common prescription medications in the United States, partly because it’s useful in the treatment of some of the most common disorders in America: anxiety and sleep disorders. Valium is in a broad class of drugs called central nervous system depressants, which work by suppressing excitability in the nervous system. Other depressants include alcohol and barbiturates.
Diazepam, which would eventually be sold under the name Valium in the U.S., was the second benzodiazepine to be synthesized. The drug was approved for use in 1960, and it quickly grew in popularity. Because of their effectiveness and perceived safety, benzos became the most commonly prescribed drug in the 1970s. Benzodiazepines are safer than barbiturates in terms of their fatal overdose risk, but they come with some of the same adverse effects such as dependence, addiction, and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines like Valium have a particularly high addiction liability. If you take the medications for longer than you’re directed or if you take them in high doses, you can become chemically dependent on the drug. If you run out or try to stop using them “cold turkey,” you can experience potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Learn more about Valium addiction, the signs and symptoms, and how substance use disorders can be treated.
Valium addiction is a serious substance use disorder, that can come on quickly. Benzodiazepines can cause dependence after a few weeks of regular use, which is why it’s so important to follow your prescription instructions closely and notify your doctor if you feel you are becoming dependent. Even though addiction can happen quickly, it usually comes after some common warning signs. Catching a substance use disorder in its early stages can help you get the treatment you need sooner, allowing you to avoid some of the most dangerous consequences of addiction.
One of the first signs that you may be developing a substance use disorder involving Valium is a growing tolerance. Tolerance is your brain’s way of adapting to a chemical that’s been introduced to your body. It may attempt to balance brain chemistry, despite the drugs in your nervous system, and it may even produce more excitatory chemicals which make the drug seem less effective.
From your perspective, your regular dose may feel like it’s becoming less effective. If you feel like you need to increase the dose for the drug to be effective, speak to your doctor first. You may be able to switch medications or try another treatment. If you do increase the dose on your own, you risk developing a chemical dependence.
Chemical dependence occurs when your brain has integrated the Valium into your brain chemistry and has begun using it to achieve its normal chemical balance. If you stop using the drug, your brain chemistry will suddenly become imbalanced, leading to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can cause a wide variety of symptoms including:
Unlike other addictive drugs, central nervous system depressants can cause potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms such as seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). If you would like to stop using Valium, or if you start to feel withdrawal symptoms, speak to a medical professional or talk to an addiction specialist about safe detox.
Addiction, also called a severe substance use disorder, is marked by compulsive drug use, even despite the serious consequences that can result, such as health problems, job loss, and strained relationships. If you have experienced significant problems as a result of Valium use, but you still can’t seem to quit, you may be addicted. However, addiction is still treatable with the right help.
Valium addiction may require addiction treatment that starts with medical detox. Detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment and involves 24-7 medically managed care. Medical detox is designed to help people with high-level medical needs as they start treatment. Because Valium withdrawal symptoms have the potential to lead to dangerous medical complications, medical detox is the safest way to start treatment. Insurance companies are also more likely to offer coverage for depressants like benzodiazepines and alcohol than they are for other drugs.
In detox, you will be treated by medical professionals to make sure you are safe at all times. You may be treated with medications to help wean you off the drug, avoiding potentially serious medical complications. Medical detox typically lasts for a week to 10 days.
If you have developed a severe substance use disorder, medical detox might not be enough to lead you to lasting recovery. The full continuum of care may be appropriate to help you avoid relapse.
When you enter an addiction treatment program, medical professionals and clinicians will help to evaluate your needs and recommended levels of care that can best serve you wherever you are on this continuum. Clinicians will often use a set of factors called the ASAM Criteria that are designed to help determine the level of care you need.
If you still have high-level medical or psychological needs after detox, you may need to go through an inpatient treatment program. Inpatient programs involve 24-hour medical or clinical monitoring, which can be ideal for people who need high-level care. Residential treatment also falls under this category. In residential treatment, while you aren’t checked in as a patient, but you do have 24-hour access to treatment services.
Once you can live independently, you may move through intensive outpatient treatment (IOP). In IOP, you will live on your own, but you will attend treatment and therapies for more than nine hours each week. Partial hospitalization also falls under this category and can involve as many as 12 hours of treatment each day.
Once you progress through IOP, you may advance to outpatient treatment, which involves fewer than nine hours of treatment each week. Outpatient is the lowest level of care, but it’s an ideal step for people to take between higher levels of care and independent life after treatment.
ASAM. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
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Sample, I. (2005, October 03). Obituary: Leo Sternbach. from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/oct/03/health.guardianobituaries