Since Valium was first introduced in the United States in 1963, few drugs have revolutionized pharmacology and left a cultural imprint as immense as this benzodiazepine. Rock legends The Rolling Stones immortalized Valium in its song, “Mother’s Little Helper.” It also appeared in the movies of Woody Allen and the plays of Neil Simon. By 1974, doctors had written 59.3 million Valium prescriptions. In 1978 alone, Americans consumed 2.3 billion Valium pills.
In an era before the introduction of benzodiazepines, prescription drugs were used for serious ailments. People turned to Valium to feel better and to help them manage the changes of life.
In essence, Valium, as The New York Times puts it, was “one of the first psychoactive drugs to be used on a large scale on people who were basically fine.”
Valium has since been surpassed by tranquilizer medications such as Xanax, yet it remains widely used in the treatment of anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms, and even insomnia. Valium is also prescribed to people who are undergoing alcohol withdrawal in a professional treatment setting.
Yet, paradoxically, this drug treatment medication remains a substance of abuse, particularly in combination with stimulants and alcohol. Valium is habit-forming, and users can develop a tolerance and dependence on the drug when they take larger than intended doses or take it longer than the prescribed period.
Generally, whether Valium is used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms or seizures, they are supposed to take between 2 to 10 milligrams (mg) up to four times a day. When they exceed those dosage limits and take it more often than necessary, that’s when Valium use becomes too much.
When people take Valium or other benzodiazepines in this fashion, they put themselves at risk for incurring painful and uncomfortable side effects and withdrawal symptoms that affect both the physical and psychological realms. When used in combination with other substances, too much can mean death.
Research chemist Leo H. Sternbach developed diazepam from a class of chemical compounds known as benzodiazepines for Hoffmann-La Roche at the company’s New Jersey facility. This was after he and his team synthesized Librium, another benzo that was introduced in 1960. Diazepam would be brought to market in the U.S. as Valium in 1963.
Benzodiazepines like Valium are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. They work by boosting the amount of a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is the primary neurotransmitter charged with inhibiting the CNS. In other words, when someone takes Valium or another benzodiazepine, it produces a mental and physical calm, the result of CNS sedation.
Over the years, Valium has successfully treated anxiety, muscle spasms, depression, schizophrenia, and alcohol withdrawal. It has also proven effective in relaxing patients who are about to undergo medical procedures.
In a New York Times obituary of Sternbach, who died in 2005, a psychiatrist and professor hailed Valium as “…one of the major milestones of recent psychopharmacology” and that it “…began a transition from drugs that were heavy-handed to drugs that are now much more precise and selective in their activity.”
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Prescribed Dosages for Valium
Valium can be taken by mouth, injected into a muscle or vein, or inserted into the rectum. The tablet is round, flat, and perforated with a V. The oral forms are available as white 2 mg (milligrams) tablets, 5 mg yellow tablets, and 10 mg blue tablets.
According to RxList.com, the recommended Valium dosages in tablet form for adults, depending on the ailment treated, are as follows:
When Valium Use Becomes Too Much
When use exceeds the aforementioned dosage recommendations, that’s when Valium use becomes too much and problematic. When Valium use gets excessive, a user opens themselves to a litany of effects and symptoms, setting them on a course toward tolerance, dependence, and finally, addiction.
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Valium is intended only for short-term use. When larger doses of it are taken, or if it is taken longer than prescribed, the medication produces a mild euphoria and sedation.
Valium is highly addictive. It can make someone quickly develop a tolerance in which they will take larger doses to produce the sensation that a smaller, previous dose once yielded.
That tolerance can bloom into dependence, which is marked by the presence of withdrawal symptoms once use stops. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines dependence as the stage where the body cannot function normally without the presence of Valium.
The following withdrawal symptoms can result from Valium:
In addition, Valium can produce these side effects:
In addition, Valium can produce these side effects:
The drug is also capable of producing severe effects that require medical attention. Those include:
Taking Valium with Other Substances
People who take stimulants like cocaine will add a benzo like Valium to the mix to “chill out” the effects of a cocaine comedown. Others may take Valium with other CNS depressants like alcohol to experience profound sedation, which can be deadly.
In fact, when users participate in polysubstance abuse, that is, they combine Valium use with other substances, they make themselves susceptible to overdose. When Valium is mixed with alcohol, the effects are especially deleterious.
The following symptoms can be signs of a diazepam overdose with alcohol:
This is how you know that your problem of taking too much Valium has advanced into addiction: you display compulsive, drug-seeking behaviors in which you fixate on obtaining the medication. In essence, it becomes the central focus of your life.
The following behavioral signs are hallmarks of a substance addiction:
If you suspect that you or a loved one has lost control of their Valium use, professional treatment can help free you from the physical and psychological grips of this drug. If Valium use occurs with other substances, then intensive professional treatment services are absolutely essential and life-saving.
A professional program will provide you or a loved one access to a full range of services that are specialized, comprehensive, and evidence-backed. The first step is known as acute treatment, where Valium and other substances are removed from your body. Those aforementioned withdrawal symptoms are safely and comfortably alleviated under a medically supervised process where you will be monitored around-the-clock.
The therapy approaches and activities you can expect at these stages of care include:
After treatment, you will also be pointed to additional resources that connect you to recovery communities for additional support, which can help you remain sober.
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Bakalar, N. (2005, February 22). A Host of Anxiety Drugs, Begat by Valium. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/22/health/psychology/a-host-of-anxiety-drugs-begat-by-valium.html
Diazepam: MedlinePlus Drug Information. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682047.html
Henig, R. M. (2012, September 29). Valium and the New Normal. Retrieved from from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/sunday-review/valium-and-the-new-normal.html
Liapko, G. (2019, January 07). Valium Withdrawal: Side Effects, Recommendations, and Timelines. Retrieved from from https://delphihealthgroup.com/valium/withdrawal-and-timelines/
Pearce, J. (2005, October 01). Leo Sternbach, 97, Valium Creator, Dies. Retrieved from from https://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/01/health/leo-sternbach-97-valium-creator-dies.html
Valium (Diazepam Tablets): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. (n.d.). Retrieved from from https://www.rxlist.com/valium-drug.htm#dosage