Other medications

What to know about diazepam

Commonly sold under the brand name Valium®, diazepam belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (or “benzos”). Learn more about diazepam here!

By:
Ophelia team
What is diazepam?
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Fact checked by
Dana Drew, NP

While all medicines prescribed by a doctor have their appropriate medical uses, that does not mean that any given prescription is without risks, including physical dependence and addiction. One such drug is diazepam. Doctors commonly prescribe diazepam for a number of conditions, but the drug can still lead to addiction when used improperly. 

What is diazepam?

Commonly sold under the brand name Valium®, diazepam belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (or “benzos”). It is a depressant that reduces function in a person’s central nervous system, and it has long been prescribed to treat a long list of conditions in humans and sometimes pets.

In human medicine, diazepam is used to treat short-term anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and muscle spasms. As a central nervous system depressant, it slows down certain functions that can become overactive in the brain and body, such as those that cause seizures and cerebral palsy. In veterinary medicine, diazepam is also used as a sedative.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classifies diazepam as a Schedule IV drug, meaning it has medical applications but is also known to cause psychological addiction and physical dependence. 

Diazepam may be taken in various forms, such as tablets or a liquid concentrate. Effects usually start within 30 to 60 minutes of use, depending on how the drug is taken. A doctor may prescribe diazepam for short- or long-term use. Due to the risk of withdrawal, patients shouldn’t discontinue use without approval and guidance from a medical professional.

Diazepam’s addiction potential

Due to its addictive potential and possible interactions with other medicines and drugs, diazepam should always be taken exactly as directed by the prescribing physician, and patients should accurately, honestly, and thoroughly report all drugs (prescription, over the counter, and illicit) they take. Failing to do so may lead to severe interactions or side effects. 

In most circumstances, even when prescribed by a medical professional, diazepam should not be taken regularly for longer than a few weeks at a time. Within four to six weeks, patients may develop a tolerance to their usual dose, requiring more of the drug more often to maintain its effects. This can eventually lead to a physical dependence that may turn into a fully realized addiction.

Diazepam withdrawal is uncomfortable and can have dangerous symptoms, including:

  • Heightened anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Seizures

The severity of these symptoms depends on a number of factors, and the symptoms may persist for weeks or months in some cases.

While diazepam addiction on its own is plenty dangerous, it can be even more difficult to navigate when combined with regular opioid use. Both drugs are central nervous system depressants; when taken together, they can drastically reduce critical pulmonary and cardiovascular functions, meaning the likelihood of overdosing while taking both drugs is much higher than normal. Diazepam and opioids are occasionally used in conjunction in a medical context, but this is a serious decision that a medical professional will only make when absolutely necessary. 

What are the side effects of diazepam?

Diazepam has a long list of potential side effects, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Memory loss
  • Excessive tiredness and fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in urination
  • Changes in sex drive

Contact your prescribing clinician or seek medical attention immediately if you experience more severe symptoms, such as slurred speech, slowed breathing and/or heartbeat, or loss of muscle control. 

Signs of diazepam misuse

Because diazepam is a sedative, you should be on the lookout for signs of sedation and slowing when keeping an eye out for diazepam misuse. Common signs of sedation include:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Slow reaction times
  • Being in a constant state of relaxation
  • Poor judgment
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory issues

Larger shifts in temperament and personality may also indicate frequent diazepam use. Hyperactivity, confusion, hallucinations, increased or unusual aggression, agitation, tremors, and seizures indicate heavy use.

How to reduce the risk of diazepam misuse

Despite its legitimate medical applications, diazepam is unfortunately an addictive and habit-forming substance. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of addiction. Many of these methods start at the level of the healthcare provider, who should always screen patients for the risk factors of diazepam misuse. Patients with a history of drug misuse and addiction (whether prescription or illicit) should only be given when absolutely necessary.

The same is true of patients with a history of certain types of mental illness. Patients who have experienced poverty, unemployment, or a stressful work or private life are at a higher risk of addiction and should be carefully supervised to help avoid misuse issues. In cases where these risks exist, it’s a medical professional’s responsibility to explore other treatment options before prescribing addictive substances. 

Individuals who have been prescribed diazepam and wish to lower their risk should ensure they follow their provider’s instructions as closely as possible. Don’t take more diazepam than you’ve been prescribed, don’t take it after you’re advised to stop, and don’t suddenly stop taking it without medical supervision, as this may lead to withdrawal.

What research + comprehensive care can do for you

The factors behind drug misuse and addiction are complicated, but getting help doesn’t have to be. Ophelia makes quality opioid use disorder treatment available online, so patients can access quality care from a dedicated team without a lot of red tape. We’ve created a care model that considers all facets of our patients’ lives, from ensuring OUD treatment medications are available for pickup at local pharmacies to connecting them with resources to address underlying mental health and behavioral concerns.

Our clinicians provide direct care and contribute to a growing body of research on the factors contributing to various types of drug use and the importance of accessibility to positive treatment outcomes.

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