What is Valium?

Valium, also known by its generic name diazepam, is a benzodiazepine (a type of sedative-hypnotic medication) commonly prescribed for pre-procedural sedation, as well as to help manage anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms, and certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.1 It works by increasing the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA to calm the nervous system and alleviate overactivity in the brain.2

valium and alcohol

Valium is intended for short-term use; its effectiveness for periods longer than 4 months has not been demonstrated.1,17 Long-term use can also contribute to developing tolerance, which means your body adapts to the presence of the drug causing you to need more of it to experience previous effects. In other words, you won’t feel as drowsy or relaxed with your usual dose over time.

Physical dependence is also commonly seen with benzodiazepines like Valium and may be more likely to develop with long-term use. As dependence develops, you may come to need the drug to function and feel normal. With significant levels of physical dependence, if you abruptly stop using Valium, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Valium withdrawal can be challenging to manage, especially if you are not gradually tapering off it under medical supervision.1

Some common effects of Valium use include:1,2,17

  • Sleepiness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Problems with coordination.

Additional, and sometimes more serious effects, may include:2

  • Shakiness.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.
  • Trouble urinating.
  • Loss of control of your body.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Uncontrollable shaking.
  • Slowed breathing and heart rate.

Some of these effects may be worsened, and even prove life-threatening if you combine Valium with alcohol, street drugs, or opioids, including prescription medications like codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, or methadone.2

Free and low-cost alcoholism treatment is available.

How is Valium Abused?

Benzodiazepines like Valium are some of the most commonly used drugs in the United States.3 Valium has a high potential for abuse and addiction, in part because it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream where it then enters the brain to exert its desired effects.4 This reinforces continued use and, in some cases, misuse—in other words, you want to keep using it because it feels good.4

Benzodiazepine use is quite prevalent. Past estimates have indicated that more than 5% of the adult population in the U.S. have been prescribed benzodiazepines. More than 30 million adults have reported any type of benzodiazepine use, with misuse or abuse reported in more than 17% of these users.5,6 Prescription use of benzodiazepines is most prevalent in people aged 50-64 while nonmedical misuse or abuse of benzodiazepines most commonly occurs in those between the ages of 18-25.5

In addition to serious side effects, tolerance, dependence, and addiction may be more likely to develop as a result of benzodiazepine abuse. While misuse may entail the use of a benzodiazepine without a prescription or taking them in higher-than-recommended or more frequent doses, these drugs are also commonly abused in combination with alcohol and opioids—a practice that increases the likelihood of medical emergencies and overdose deaths.2,6

While opioid overdose continues to be a significant cause of drug-related deaths in the US, resulting in an estimated 115 fatalities every day, 23% of people who died of an opioid overdose in 2015 also had benzodiazepines in their system at the time of death.7

Mixing Valium with Alcohol

Mixing Valium and alcohol may have serious and potentially lethal side effects, including respiratory depression, vertigo, confusion, extreme drowsiness, respiratory depression, and unresponsive loss of consciousness.2 Despite these risks, around 1 in 5 people who abuse alcohol also abuse benzodiazepines.6

Drinking alcohol while using Valium can synergize the intoxication of both, which means that they amplify each other’s effects—to potentially dangerous extremes. Taking these substances together can result in profound central nervous system depression and overdose.8 If you overdose, you may experience dangerous and life-threatening effects, such as: 2,6

  • Marked somnolence/excessive drowsiness.
  • Confusion/disorientation.
  • Memory loss.
  • Slowed heartbeat.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Respiratory depression (meaning slow and shallow breaths that prevent your body from adequate oxygen exchange). When prolonged, this can result in brain damage and death.

What is Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism?

Alcohol abuse is a term used to describe problem drinking such as consuming alcohol more frequently or in quantities that are higher than you intended (such as in binge drinking). Although isolated, episodic binge drinking might not constitute an addiction to alcohol, it is a risky behavior that can lead to more serious health issues in the future, including the development of alcoholism, or an alcohol use disorder.

alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious, chronic brain disorder that involves compulsive alcohol use, being unable to control your use, and experiencing a negative emotional state when you are not drinking.9 Around 15 million people are thought to suffer from alcoholism, which is clinically diagnosed as alcohol use disorder, or AUD.9

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. To receive this diagnosis, you must meet at least 2 of the 11 diagnostic criteria over the course of a 12-month period. The more criteria you meet, the more severe your condition, making more crucial the need for changes in your life.

 There isn’t one specific cause of AUD. People may develop addictions for a number of reasons. Some of the risk factors can include:10

  • Genetic factors; alcoholism and other substance use disorders have a demonstrated heritable component. Although you’re not destined to develop alcoholism just because it runs in your family, it could make it more likely that you will.
  • Psychological factors including impulsiveness, low self-esteem, or a need for approval.
  • Difficulty managing stress or emotional problems, which can lead to self-medicating.
  • Social and environmental factors, such as peer pressure, poverty, physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, and easy access to alcohol.

Is It Safe to Quit Using Valium & Alcohol Cold Turkey?

It is not advisable to quit using Valium and alcohol cold turkey, especially if you have been consistently or chronically abusing the combination and/or have developed significant physiological dependence. Dependence can increase your risk of withdrawal symptoms, which can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and, in some cases, life-threatening. Some of the alcohol and/or benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms you may experience include:11

  • Headache.
  • Insomnia.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Sweating.
  • Muscle tremors, pains, or aches.
  • Anxiety.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Agitation.
  • Confusion.
  • Delirium.
  • Delusions.
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Grand mal seizures, which can be life-threatening.
  • Delirium tremens (rare).

Due to the risk of serious and potentially fatal complications, may be safest to manage withdrawal at a medical detox facility, where you will receive medical supervision as the substances are gradually cleared from your body. Physicians may prescribe medications to help you stay as comfortable as possible and provide monitoring and care to treat any side effects or complications that may occur. 

Treatment for Polysubstance Addictions

Addiction treatment offers a multifaceted approach to treating substance abuse. It provides professional behavioral health interventions, monitoring, and supervision as you go through the recovery process. Although it does not constitute comprehensive treatment alone, the first phase is often detox which, with the help of your treatment team, helps you to more safely and comfortably rid your body of the toxins from drugs and/or alcohol before continuing with additional rehabilitation work.

Substance abuse treatment is designed to address the psychological, social, and behavioral issues associated with addiction to promote lasting changes needed for recovery.12 Treatment for polysubstance addictions, such as those that involve both alcohol and benzodiazepines, may involve a combination of therapeutic modalities such as behavioral therapy, medication, relapse prevention skills education, and support group attendance to address the problem as a whole.13

Additionally, behavioral therapies may be administered in individual, family and group settings and are an important foundation of many addiction treatment approaches.13 Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to address unhealthy behaviors and thoughts by replacing them with more functional, healthy thoughts and behaviors.14 Likewise, motivational interviewing is another therapy used to treat addiction and is aimed at helping individuals increase the desire to change and help them engage in treatment.14

Research has also found contingency management to be an effective motivational approach for benzodiazepine addiction. It is based on the concept of providing rewards or incentives for positive behaviors and meeting specific behavioral goals.15

Becoming clean and sober is just one of the benefits of addiction treatment. Addiction treatment can help you regain your health and take control of your life. By participating in a formal treatment program, you will learn improved life and coping skills that can help you avoid relapse, develop improved relationships, and be more productive in your family, at work, and in society.16

Get Help Now

If you’re ready to seek treatment for you or a loved one, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help. As parent company to Alcohol.org, we offer a network of nationwide treatment facilities focused on providing hope and recovery for those in need.

Fill out the form below to see if your insurance covers treatment within an AAC facility or call our admissions navigators at 1-888-685-5770 today to learn more about your options. Our hotline is available 24/7 and is 100% confidential.

Sources

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[1]. NHS. (2019). Diazepam.

[2]. MedlinePlus. (2019). Diazepam.

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2018). Increasing use, and misuse, of benzodiazepines. ScienceDaily.

[4]. Juergens, S. (1991). Alprazolam and diazepam: addiction potentialJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 8(1-2), 43‐51.

[5]. Maust, D., Lewei, A. & Blow, F. (2018). Benzodiazepine use and misuse among adults in the United States. Psychiatric Services, 70 (2), 97-106.

[6]. Schmitz A. (2016). Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A reviewThe Mental Health Clinician6(3), 120–126.

[7]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Benzodiazepines and opioids.

[8]. Jones, C., Paulozzi, L. & Mack. K. (2014). Alcohol involvement in opioid pain reliever and benzodiazepine drug abuse–Related emergency department visits and drug-related deaths — United States, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 63(40), 881-885.

[9]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). Alcohol use disorder.

[10]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). What is drug addiction?

[11]. Brett, J., & Murnion, B. (2015). Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependenceAustralian Prescriber38(5), 152–155.

[12]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition):  Types of treatment programs.

[13]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Effective Treatment.

[14]. Soyka, M. (2017). Treatment of benzodiazepine dependence. New England Journal of Medicine, 376 (12), 1147-57.

[15]. Carroll, K. M., & Onken, L. S. (2005). Behavioral therapies for drug abuseThe American Journal of Psychiatry162(8), 1452–1460.

[16]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Treatment approaches for drug addiction.

[17]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Food & Drug Administration. (2016). Labelling-Medication Guide: Valium.