Valium, the brand name for the medication diazepam, belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. However, unlike most other benzos, such as Xanax or Librium, Valium has a wide range of uses outside of treating disorders like anxiety and insomnia.
Valium is also regularly used to treat restless leg syndrome, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and, interestingly, benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.
Valium works the same way as other benzodiazepines, binding itself to the GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is an important neurotransmitter that controls the body’s responses to things like fear, stress, and anxiety, inhibiting the nerve impulses responsible for them and calming the body down. Valium increases the levels of GABA signaling in the brain, which is how it produces the feelings of sedation and relaxation in users.
However, despite being an extremely medically useful drug, Valium is still widely acknowledged as having a high potential for abuse and extremely addictive qualities. Even when being used in medication-assisted treatment it is at very low doses and only for a very short period of time, as it does not take long to build up a tolerance and become physically dependent.
One of the biggest dangers in abusing Valium, as well as other benzodiazepines, is that the people misusing it are almost never only abusing Valium but a host of other drugs as well. People will often mix Valium with alcohol and other drugs to enhance its euphoric effects, or to come down from stimulants like cocaine.
In these situations, it is all-too-easy to overdose or suffer an adverse and potentially fatal reaction to mixing these substances. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were over four times as many overdose deathsfrom benzodiazepines in the US in 2015 than there were in 2012.
What are Valium Withdrawal Symptoms?
Valium withdrawal shares many of the common symptoms of other benzodiazepines. Though the symptoms associated with Valium tend to be milder than more potent benzos like Xanax, they can still be serious and very debilitating depending on how long someone has been abusing Valium and how much they’ve been taking. Common symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Seizures (although these are not as common)
- Rebound anxiety
Rebound anxiety can be especially difficult for someone detoxing from Valium to manage. If someone who has been using Valium as a means to combat anxiety stops, their anxiety symptoms return but in the far more intense form of rebound anxiety, which will be exponentially worse than the anxiety they had before using Valium.
These symptoms will also be significantly more severe and last much longer if someone is suffering from benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, which comes from heavy Valium abuse over as short a time as several months. It can also cause even more dangerous symptoms to appear as well, including suicidal thoughts or behavior, delirium, and total psychosis.
What are the Stages of the Valium Withdrawal Timeline?
While there is a widely accepted timeline for the stages of Valium withdrawal, it is important to remember that no one is going to have the same experience detoxing from Valium due to key factors such as:
- How much Valium someone has been taking
- In what form they were taking it in (tablet, snorting, injecting, etc.)
- How long they have been abusing Valium
- Whether they were abusing Valium with alcohol or other drugs (as is frequently the case)
- Whether or not they are on a scheduled tapered detox
However, the factor that plays the most significant role in determining an individual’s Valium withdrawal timeline is, as mentioned before, whether or not they are also dealing with benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Along with more intense and possibly deadly symptoms, benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome also causes these symptoms to last much longer, even months after someone has finished their detox. Otherwise, the typical timeline for Valium withdrawal is as follows:
- One to Three Days: Valium has a much higher half-life than many other benzos, and can take as long as 48 hours to leave the body after the last dose has been taken. Because of this, some people may not start to experience withdrawal symptoms until almost three days after stopping Valium. Early symptoms will most likely be limited to mild anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and irregular heart rate.
- One to Two Weeks: Over the course of the first week through the second is when both physical and psychological symptoms will be at their peak, with full-blown insomnia, rebound anxiety and panic attacks, tremors, muscle pain, and more. This is the point where many people who try to detox without medical assistance are likely to relapse.
- Three to Four Weeks: Because Valium withdrawal takes such a long time, symptoms will still be present at this point, but will have lessened in severity and become much more manageable.
- One Month and Beyond: For many people, the majority of their withdrawal symptoms will have dissipated at this point, although some psychological symptoms such as anxiety or depression may still linger.
However, depending on how long someone had been abusing Valium, and how much they were taking, they may experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS, where withdrawal symptoms can randomly come and go for months on end, long after the Valium has been removed from the body.
Why Should I Detox?
Detoxing from benzodiazepines is nearly always an arduous experience, with withdrawal symptoms that can range from extremely uncomfortable to potentially deadly, and Valium is no exception.
Attempting to detox on your own makes for a far more painful withdrawal than necessary, and also leaves you vulnerable to the symptoms that can be fatal without professional medical intervention, such as suicidal behavior, delirium, and, as with all benzodiazepine drugs, Grand mal seizures.
Undergoing detoxification at a professional medical detox center means that you are constantly monitored by doctors who are experienced in dealing with the complications that can arise during the different stages of withdrawal.
Another benefit of a controlled medical detox is that, while you might make the mistake of quitting “cold turkey” on your own, which makes the possibility of deadly seizures significantly more likely, a doctor will instead put you on a tapering schedule.
What tapering means is that instead of stopping the use of Valium all at once and triggering a potentially devastating shock to your body, Valium doses are slowly tapered down on a strict schedule until it is safe for you to stop taking it completely.
What Is The Next Treatment Step?
While recovery cannot begin until someone has flushed their system of Valium through detoxification, it is important to remember that detox is just that: the beginning.
If detox isn’t followed by some form of aftercare treatment or rehabilitation program, then relapse is all but inevitable, and usually won’t take long. While this is true of all drugs and alcohol, it is especially true for Valium and its often protracted symptoms of anxiety, depression and drug cravings.
Rehabilitation treatment can mean many different things depending on what works best for a given individual and how severe their dependency was, including support groups, cognitive behavior therapy, and more. Some may need to step outside their regular life and get treatment at a residential facility, while others may find outpatient therapy sufficient for their needs.
No matter what kind of rehabilitation treatment program you decide works best for you, what matters most is choosing one and committing to playing an active role in your recovery.
The first step in getting help for your Valium addiction is going to a medical detox facility where you’ll undergo an assessment by the medical team. Upon the completion of your assessment, you’ll be given an individual, personalized detox plan and medications designed to ease your detox process.
At the facility, you’ll be under 24/7 surveillance by the medical team who will track your progress throughout the detox process and make sure that you’re as comfortable and safe as possible. The medical team will monitor and distribute your detox medications and work with you as you undergo the Valium withdrawal process.
While at detox you’ll also have access to a robust clinical team made up of therapists, case managers, and support staff. Since not all Valium withdrawal symptoms are physical, they will be able to provide you emotional and mental support throughout your stay at the facility.
The primary focus of detox is to get you physically stabilized and completely through the dangerous aspect of the Valium withdrawal process safely. However, there are some groups and therapy sessions orchestrated at the detox level of care to begin working through the mental aspect of addiction.
After completing a full detox and stabilizing physically, the next level of care will be inpatient. It is always recommended that you complete the full continuum of care in order to better fortify your recovery. Simply detoxing yourself does not guarantee your sobriety since addiction impacts both body and mind.
At an inpatient treatment facility, you’ll be required to live onsite throughout the duration of your stay. At this level of care, the emphasis is put on the therapeutic portion of treatment. You’ll undergo full-time therapy which employs various therapy methods designed to get to the root of your addiction and address any other emotional issues that may influence your life.
While at the inpatient facility, you’ll have an array of amenities available to you depending on the treatment center. Overall, the goal of this level of treatment is to provide you with healthy coping mechanisms and life skills that you can take with you and implement in your daily life after treatment ends.
You’ll be sequestered away from the public so as to better focus on your recovery, free of stressors and distractions from the outside world. By doing all of the therapeutic heavy lifting in a safe, recovery-oriented environment, you can better focus on the task at hand which is working through your addiction disorder.
The next step in the full continuum of care is stepping down into an intensive outpatient program, or IOP. IOP still operates with a fairly intense therapeutic curriculum, but rather than living on site, you’ll need to find alternative housing. Many recovering people choose a sober living facility or halfway house for even further structure, but you can choose to return home as well.
You’ll attend therapy on a part-time basis, but it usually encompasses multiple several hour-long sessions per week. This allows you to begin to amass more personal freedom and responsibilities while still having a fair amount of clinical support and intervention to help you transition. You’ll also be subjected to weekly drug testing, which can help keep you accountable to your sobriety.
The final stage in the continuum of care is routine outpatient. In the outpatient level, the number of hours spent in therapy drops even lower, as you prepare to rejoin society at large without clinical intervention.
This will, once again, allow you to gradually grow accustomed to life on your own outside of treatment, where the majority of the responsibility for your recovery falls on you alone. However, by maintaining attendance to your outpatient program, it still allows you to have clinical contact and assistance if you should need it and keeps you accountable via drug testing.