Diazepam is the generic name for Valium, a prescription drug doctors prescribe to treat symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Valium may also be prescribed to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal known as “delirium tremens.”
Additionally, the drug can treat muscle spasms from injury, inflammation, or nerve disorders.
Doctors sometimes prescribe Valium along with other medications to treat convulsions or seizures.
Valium belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which work by increasing the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter that moderates the activity of nerve signals in the brain.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved diazepam in 1963 under the brand name Valium for the Roche drug company.
In 1985, the FDA approved generic diazepam, manufactured today by several drug companies.
Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed drugs: According to reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, U.S. doctors issued more than 50 million prescriptions for Valium each year during the 1970s, when it was America’s most popular prescription drug.
Abuse of benzodiazepines, especially in combination with opiate painkillers, has become increasingly common in recent years.
The number of people admitted to treatment programs for abusing this drug combination increased nearly 570 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The ‘Valium High’ and Abuse Potential
Valium and other benzodiazepines have a high potential for abuse.
Because these drugs can increase the effects of prescription painkillers such as opioids, some people abuse benzodiazepines along with opioids for the relaxed, euphoric “high” this combination offers.
Cocaine addicts can use benzodiazepines to relieve uncomfortable side effects, like irritability and agitation.
Abuse of benzodiazepines also includes using them to boost the effects of alcohol and ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
People who abuse benzodiazepines often refer to the drugs by their street names, including “benzos,” “downers,” “nerve pills,” and “tranks.”
Valium can be habit-forming. If you take it for a long time, your body will build up tolerance (a resistance to the drug’s effects).
If you stop taking Valium suddenly after taking it for a long time, you may have withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, irritability, and trouble sleeping.
Valium is intended for short-term use. Because it may be habit-forming, it’s not recommended that people take it for longer than four months.
If you have had problems with drug or alcohol abuse in the past, you may be at higher risk for Valium becoming habit-forming.
Drinking alcohol may make some side effects of Valium more severe.
Valium for Dogs and Cats
Valium is also given to dogs, cats, and other animals to treat anxiety, seizures, or loss of appetite.
Additionally, it may be used as a sedative prior to surgery or other veterinary procedures.
Valium for dogs and cats should only be used under a veterinarian’s guidance.
Pregnancy and Valium
Valium is not safe to use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Taking Valium during pregnancy may lead to birth defects and withdrawal symptoms in newborns.
Because Valium passes into breast milk, you should not breastfeed while on Valium.
Before taking Valium, tell your doctor if you are pregnant, may be pregnant, or are breastfeeding. If you become pregnant while taking Valium, tell your doctor right away.
Children younger than 6 months should not take Valium.
Valium has many side effects. Always tell your doctor if you have allergies to any medications, including other benzodiazepines.
Valium can interact with many medications, so take it with caution if you have certain medical conditions:
- You should not take Valium if you have a condition called myasthenia gravis.
- You should not take Valium if you have acute narrow-angle glaucoma. Tell your doctor about any other eye symptoms.
- You may not be able to take Valium if you have severe lung disease, liver disease, or sleep apnea.
- Other conditions your doctor needs to know about include heart problems, seizures, alcohol or drug abuse, and depression.
- If you are 65 or older, talk with your doctor about other medications that may work instead of Valium.
Diazepam Side Effects
The most common side effects of Valium are drowsiness, fatigue, muscle weakness, and clumsiness (called ataxia).
However, let your doctor know if you have any unusual side effects, including:
- Slurred speech
- Blurred or double vision
- Sleep disturbance
- Muscle spasms
- Dry mouth
- Loss of interest in sex
- Leaking or trouble passing urine
- Changes in appetite
Serious side effects of Valium can also occur. If you have any of these side effects, call your doctor or seek medical help right away:
- Extreme weakness or drowsiness
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
- Worsening depression
- Panic attack
- Hallucinations (seeing things that are not there)
- Delusions (believing things that are not true)
- Inability to pass urine
Many drugs may affect the way Valium works, and Valium may affect other drugs you are taking.
It’s very important to let your doctor know about all drugs you are taking, including illegal or recreational drugs, any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and any herbs or supplements.
Types of drugs that are known to interact with Valium and may cause problems include:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs (drugs used for depression)
- Phenothiazines (drugs used for severe mental illness)
- Drugs used for anxiety, including fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sedatives, muscle relaxants, and drugs used for sleep
- Cough and cold drugs that contain antihistamines
- Narcotic pain medications and barbiturates
- Drugs used to treat heartburn, including cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac)
- Drugs used to treat fungal infections, including ketoconazole (Nizoral)
- Drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease, including levodopa (Larodopa, Sinemet),
- Anti-seizure drugs, including valproic acid (Depakene) and phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Some heart medications, such as digoxin (Lanoxin) and metoprolol(Lopressor, Toprol XL)
Valium may make you feel drowsy and may affect your judgment.
Until you know how Valium will affect you, don’t drive or operate machinery.
Drinking alcohol may make some side effects of Valium more severe, causing problems.