Diazepam is a common prescription drug and an effective and useful medicine. However, extended use comes with a serious risk of physical dependence and severe withdrawal symptoms, which, if untreated, can be fatal.
This blog offers information about how diazepam works, what withdrawal is like, and how you can safely leave diazepam behind.
What Is Diazepam (Valium)?
Diazepam (sold under the brand Valium) is a prescription drug that doctors use to treat anxiety disorders. Diazepam is a type of benzodiazepine, a group of central nervous system depressants that work by slowing down the brain.
What Is Valium Dependence?
When you repeatedly take Valium, your body gets used to the presence of the substance and begins to adjust its own functions in response. Your tolerance can quickly increase, meaning you have to take higher and higher doses to experience the same effects. Over time, you become dependent on Valium just to feel normal.
If you stop taking Valium, you experience withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts. Although benzodiazepines are some of the most common prescription medications, benzodiazepine withdrawal is among the most dangerous of any drug. Severe Valium withdrawal can lead to seizures which, if untreated, can be fatal.
How Quickly Can Valium Dependence Develop?
You can develop a physical dependence on Valium incredibly quickly – sometimes in as little as three weeks. Because of this, scientists recommend that Valium prescriptions are limited to 1-2 weeks. Unfortunately, in practice, many doctors administer much longer prescriptions.
What Are Valium Withdrawal Symptoms?
Everyone’s experience of withdrawal is different. The type, severity, and timeline of Valium withdrawal symptoms depend on many factors, including:
- how long you have been taking Valium
- your dosage
- your metabolism
- your mental and physical health
- use of other drugs
Some people only experience mild, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Valium withdrawal involves both physical symptoms and psychological symptoms. Mild withdrawal symptoms may include:
- muscular pain
- heart palpitations
- hand tremors
- sleep disturbances
- mood swings
- panic attacks
- difficulty in concentration
- changes in perception
Other people experience more serious withdrawal symptoms, including:
- potentially life-threatening seizures
Because of the potential severity of withdrawal symptoms, you should never try to quit Valium by yourself. It’s essential to seek the support of medical professionals to guide you through the process safely.
What Is Medical Detox?
Medical detox is when you withdraw from a substance under the supervision of medical professionals. During medical detox, licensed medics, psychologists, and other support staff are on hand to ensure you complete the withdrawal process safely and as comfortably as possible. They will provide you with an individualized detox plan – usually involving tapering off drug use or drug substitution – and help you manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
While medical detox can be inpatient or outpatient, the potential severity of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome means that for Valium detox, inpatient is usually the better option. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) recommends 24-hour medical supervision for benzo detox.
What Is the Timeline of Valium Withdrawal?
The Valium withdrawal timeline varies from person to person. In general, there are three patterns of withdrawal symptoms:
- rebound symptoms
- acute withdrawal syndrome
- protracted withdrawal syndrome
The “Rebound Effect”
Scientists often describe initial withdrawal symptoms – experienced in the first 1-4 days of withdrawal – as rebound symptoms.
When you develop a dependence on Valium, your body becomes tolerant to its calming effects. This can cause a state of latent “hyperexcitability” that manifests as soon as you stop taking Valium. You may experience an intensification of the same symptoms you used Valium to manage, such as anxiety and insomnia.
Acute Withdrawal Phase
Acute withdrawal symptoms usually last around 10-14 days and may involve some or many of the withdrawal symptoms listed above. About 40% of people who use benzodiazepines for more than six months experience more harmful withdrawal symptoms during this time.
Protracted Withdrawal Phase
The protracted withdrawal phase describes any symptoms that remain after acute withdrawal. Protracted withdrawal symptoms may also be called post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS).
While PAWS can persist for several weeks or months after withdrawal, they are usually relatively mild, often resembling symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders. PAWS may involve:
- impaired problem solving and memory
- low mood
- anxiety and/or panic
- sensitivity to stress
Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish PAWS from the reappearance of mood disorder symptoms that benzodiazepines were used to treat. Nevertheless, the distinction is important as the latter symptoms can last indefinitely.
Managing Valium Withdrawal
The standard method for managing Valium withdrawal is by gradually reducing the dosage. This helps your body to slowly re-adapt to functioning without the substance, avoiding the most serious withdrawal symptoms.
However, while tapering off dosage can be very effective, it doesn’t always suit individuals who are dependent on high doses of Valium. Some people drop out of treatment before the end of the programme or fail to follow their withdrawal plan.
In light of this, scientists are exploring using additional medications to manage withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- β-adrenoceptor blockers
One medication with exciting potential is flumazenil, an FDA-cleared treatment for the reversal of benzodiazepine overdose. Flumazenil inhibits the activity of benzodiazepines and prevents them from binding to benzodiazepine receptors. Research suggests that flumazenil can significantly reduce acute withdrawal symptoms in benzodiazepine users.
Valium Addiction Treatment
If you’ve developed an addiction to Valium, there is a way out. Professional addiction treatment can help you overcome the underlying causes of drug abuse and maintain long-term sobriety.
The first stage is seeking help. While this may be scary, it opens the door to a range of evidence-based treatment options that are proven to support addiction recovery. Because of the dangers of Valium withdrawal, it’s essential that you have professional medical support from day one of the process.
Addiction treatment programmes typically combine a variety of treatment options to suit your unique needs. Holistic approaches treat the needs of the entire person – not just addictive behaviours – to promote meaningful and long-lasting recovery. Treatment options may include:
- cognitive-behavioral therapy
- group therapy
- support groups
- couples therapy
- yoga and mindfulness
- dual diagnosis of any co-occurring mental disorders
Recovery is a long process that requires continued dedication and ongoing support. While treatment programmes vary in length, they aim to equip you with the necessary skills to manage any challenges you meet and prevent relapse. Treatment centres also tend to offer aftercare programmes so you can continue to access support in early recovery.
The Revoke Programme
The Revoke Programme offers intensive addiction recovery programmes on an outpatient basis. We help clients fit recovery around their daily schedules so that even the busiest individuals can access treatment. We understand how addiction can be a barrier to achieving many goals in life – we’re here to help you break them down.
With The Revoke Programme, our evidence-based programmes equip you with strategies and skills that promote meaningful, real-time change. You can practice what you’ve learnt in therapy between sessions and return to your therapist with meaningful feedback. By allowing you to stay connected with your life throughout treatment, you avoid having to make the difficult transition from a controlled environment back to your everyday routine once treatment has ended.
We’re here to help you rediscover your best self. Contact us today to arrange a consultation.