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Valium Side Effects, Withdrawal and FAQs

Valium, a benzodiazepine, is used in the short-term treatment of mild to moderate anxiety, and is used in alcohol detox and to prevent seizures.
It also is used to relieve secondary injury-related muscle spasms, and is used as presurgical sedation. Valium has a calming effect with a risk for dependence.

Valium (diazepam), falls within a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, used in the short-term to treat anxiety, and is helpful during alcohol withdrawal, as well as for the prevention of seizures. It also is used to relieve secondary injury-related muscle spasms, and for pre-surgical sedation. Valium has a calming effect but comes with a risk for dependence.

Benzodiazepine drugs are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the US and worldwide. Knowing as much as possible about drugs before starting or stopping them can be life-saving, and can help you navigate through health challenges more safely.

According to recent studies, published in 2017, benzodiazepine prescriptions increased by more than threefold between 1996 and 2013, and in that same time frame, benzodiazepine-related overdoses quadrupled. Valium and other similar tranquilizers have a growing street presence as a drug of abuse, in addition to their clinical or medical use.

Learning drug information about the effects of Valium and other types of benzodiazepines will prove to be invaluable by knowing how to use them in the safest ways possible.

What is Valium (Diazepam) Used For?

Valium is a sedative that is used for:

  • Sedation prior to surgery
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Relaxant for muscle spasms
  • Mild to moderate anxiety
  • Prevention of seizures

Valium is intended for short-term use only. After as little as a week or two, a person may develop dependence and could experience withdrawals when stopping the drug. Combining benzodiazepines with other central nervous system depressants can be fatal. Always seek medical guidance before combining medications.

A gentle taper off the drug is recommended to avoid problems with cessation.

Valium (Diazepam) Alternative Names and Slang

Diazepam is the generic name for the active drug in Valium. Other trade names exist, including Diastat Acudial, Diastat, and Diazepam Intensol.

Valium has developed a significant street presence, possibly due to, at least in part, Valium’s cheap cost, profound calming effects, and its use in easing withdrawals from other addictive drugs such as opiates.

Slang names for drugs are useful when people want to hide what they are actually talking about for social, legal, or other reasons.

Some slang or substitute names that refer to Valium sold illicitly are:

  • V’s
  • Yellow V’s (5 mg.)
  • Blue V’s (10 mg.)
  • Benzos
  • Downers
  • Tranks
  • Sleep away
  • Howards (in reference to Howard Hughes who used Valium)
  • Foofoo
  • Dead flowers

Adverse Effects of Valium

Valium is used to treat anxiety and as a muscle-relaxant, sleep-aid, and can be used in various settings, for example, during alcohol withdrawal to prevent seizures or pre-surgery to relax the patient. Valium is a fast-acting tranquilizer that produces a calming sensation, slows the heart beat and breathing, and allows the muscles to relax.

Other Valium side effects include:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Thoughts of harming yourself
  • Negative self-talk
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Birth defects if taken during pregnancy
  • Unconsciousness, coma
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart beat
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Vertigo
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mental fog, confusion
  • Amnesia, memory loss, anterograde amnesia, inability to recall events after taking the drug
  • Ataxia, loss of muscle control, i.e., stumbling, cannot speak, resembles drunken state
  • Drooling
  • Skin rash
  • Itching
  • Loss of libido
  • Dry mouth
  • Slurring of speech
  • Weakness in muscles

These are not all the side effects. If any symptoms arise that seem unusual or are of concern, contact your prescribing physician without delay to report the side effects.

Valium (Diazepam) Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawals from benzodiazepines can occur within one to four days after stopping. Dependence can develop after short-term use; hence, the minimum dose and minimum duration of use is recommended.

Some signs of withdrawal may include:

  • Seizures
  • Depressed mood
  • Insomnia
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Tremors, shaking, especially in the hands
  • Cramps, particularly stomach cramps
  • Rebound anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Tachycardia
  • High blood pressure

These symptoms may appear as soon as within a day of the last dose. However, they may not appear for some days after stopping, and can quickly develop into harsh symptoms requiring medical attention or hospitalization.

Abrupt cessation of benzodiazepines is not recommended but a gentle taper off can ease the withdrawals significantly.

Discontinuing/Quitting Valium (Diazepam)

Do not attempt a “cold turkey” approach to coming off Valium.

Medical assistance should be arranged to monitor symptoms while gradually reducing the dosage.  Sometimes, a bridge medication might be added if the withdrawals become too severe to be tolerated.

Valium (Diazepam) Drug Information and FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about diazepam and benzodiazepines in general. The information provided includes the mechanics of action, overdose symptoms, and other relevant topics.

How Does Valium (Diazepam) Work?

Valium is a benzodiazepine drug, whose sedative, muscle-relaxant, calming, anticonvulsive and amnestic (impaired memory, causing amnesia or retrograde amnesia) effects are thought to be caused through the drug’s activation of a natural chemical called GABA.

How it works is not 100 percent known, but how the central nervous system (CNS) reacts to the drug is significant.

The human nervous system is an amazing relay network comprised of senders and receivers of certain kinds of impulses, messages, directions, etc. Messages or impulses can be stimulating or dampening. One type of dampening agent is called GABA, which stands for gaba-amino-butyric-acid. GABA is a natural chemical that inhibits, slows, stops or dampens the excitatory or stimulating messages along the nerve pathways. It could be described as a regulator. It performs this function via GABA receptors. GABA is often called a nerve-calming agent.

It is thought that Valium causes the GABA receptor to bind more strongly to GABA. Because the central nervous system contains billions of nerve cells, this process can affect all parts of the body. GABA can relax muscles, reduce tension, ease anxiety, and can also slow the heart beat and breathing, among other things.

Sedatives like Valium can be used in treating various conditions; i.e. mild to moderate anxiety or as a muscle-relaxant. For instance, Valium can help a patient seeking relief from spasmodic or painful skeletal muscle contractions either caused from pathology such as cerebral palsy, trauma, or injury, etc.

Valium can help with sleeplessness because of its calming effect. Before surgery, the drug is useful in keeping patients calm, and counteracts against any situational anxiety that might be experienced when waiting for a surgical procedure.

When an alcoholic stops drinking, inducing withdrawals, it can overstimulate the heart and other parts of the body. In addition, the risk for seizure, cardiac arrest, and coma can be life-threatening. Valium or other calming agents can keep the heart beat slowed during alcohol withdrawal, and help keep the muscles, emotions, heartbeat, etc. calm to prevent overstimulation. After some days of abstinence from alcohol, diazepam is gently weaned off, rather than abruptly stopped, to avoid the harmful withdrawal effects from the drug.

Another important use for Valium is in the prevention of seizures or convulsions caused by poisoning. Certain types of poisoning can cause painful muscle spasms which diazepam can effectively relax. Sometimes a child with fever is at risk of a convulsion or seizure, which Valium could avert. In patients with epilepsy, Valium can help to prevent repeating seizure episodes, especially useful if the patient loses consciousness between seizures. It is thought that the increased GABA activity calms such excessive nerve or electrical activity, to prevent convulsion, seizure or muscle spasm.

Healthline.com reports that diazepam may remain active for quite a long time after taking a dose, and feelings of drowsiness and sedation may continue into the following day. 

What’s the Difference between Valium and Xanax?

Valium and Xanax share many characteristics. They are both in the benzodiazepine class, and their tranquilizing effects are used short-term for the relief of anxiety. Valium is used as a muscle-relaxant, sedative, before surgical procedures, in alcohol cessation, as a seizure preventative, or for chronic sleep disorders.

Xanax has an approximate half-life of between 9 and 16 hours, and is primarily prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders.

Valium has a substantially longer half-life than Xanax, estimated at approximately 20 to 50 hours. It is not uncommon for people to switch to Valium as an alternative to Xanax.

Can You Overdose on Valium?

Yes, although many cases of Valium overdose occur when two or more CNS depressants are taken concurrently. Drinking alcohol while on Valium, or using opiates at the same time would be an example. Using histamines can also interact with Valium, increasing its depressant effects. A person may inadvertently overdose when taking a prescription of opiates for back pain, and a prescription of benzodiazepines for sleep. With a single drink of alcohol, overdose risk in increased.

Symptoms of overdose may include slowed breathing and heartbeat, blue-tinged lips, weakness, uncontrolled body movements, double vision, and confusion.

This combination of depressant agents should be avoided if at all possible, as doing so can slow the heart and breathing, risking coma or even death.

How Addictive is Valium?

Addiction to Valium can occur very quickly, which is why the drug should not be prescribed, in most cases, for more than a few weeks and never more than four months. Someone using Valium may not realize they are becoming addicted, but when they stop the drug, the consequences can be severe withdrawal symptoms.

Tolerance or dependence to benzodiazepine drugs develops over a matter of weeks, resulting in withdrawal symptoms which can be deadly. Never abruptly stop taking a benzodiazepine such as Valium, but gradually wean off the drug so the body can more easily adapt to the change. Seek medical assistance and guidance to navigate benzodiazepine withdrawal safely.

Is Valium a Controlled Substance?

Yes, Valium is a controlled substance. In the US, it is a Class IV scheduled drug. All benzodiazepines fall into this class of drugs, due to their risk of dependence as well as their common use in medical settings.

How Long Does Valium Stay in Your System?

Estimating half-life is a complex process with many factors involved. Age, health, genetics can all play a part in how long it takes an individual to clear or metabolize the drug. Half-life is the time to clear half the drug from the body.

Diazepam accumulates in the body when repeated doses are administered. This may prolong the half-life elimination.

The half-life of Valium Is estimated at between 20 to 48 hours in adults and significantly shorter, 18 hours, in young children ages three to eight years. It should be noted that women who are pregnant and taking Valium will invariably pass the drug, through the blood brain barrier and placental barrier, to the fetus.

According to an FDA document, Valium in premature infants has been detected for much longer periods, up to 81 days, possibly because of a lack of fully developed neuropathways to clear the drug. In adults with liver damage or cirrhosis, the half-life could extend well beyond the average. 

Treatment for Valium (Diazepam) Abuse and Addiction?

Benzodiazepines have been linked to thousands of overdose deaths, and yet remain one of the most common and frequently prescribed drugs to alleviate anxiety.

At the Alternative to Meds Center, this gives us two major areas of concern:

  • Safely tapering off Valium
  • Finding bonafide methods of alleviating anxiety (or other symptoms) that do not include prescription drugs that may only mask symptoms temporarily

We specialize in both of these areas. It is not enough to simply help someone safely stop taking a drug on which they have become physically dependent. This is extremely important, to be sure, yet it is only part of the journey.

The symptoms that one thought Valium would solve, and did not, can be addressed in holistic ways to attain sustainable, non-harmful therapeutic relief. Such holistic therapy does not create more chaos or cause addiction.

You can find relief. We can help. Contact us for more information about our holistic programs that can help in achieving sustainable and natural mental health.


This content has been reviewed, and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.

Dr. Michael Loes is board certified in Internal Medicine , Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally he is a well published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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