By: Zinnia Healing Editorial Staff | Edited By: Rebecca Hill
Valium Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment Options
Valium is a prescription drug prescribed to treat symptoms ranging from anxiety to muscle spasms. This drug is the brand-name version of diazepam, an FDA-approved benzodiazepine medication.
This fast-acting, long-lasting benzodiazepine was first patented in 1963. Since then, it’s been used to treat a spectrum of conditions and medical symptoms. However, when misused, it carries a potential of abuse, and in some instances, the consequences can be fatal. In 2019, 16% of overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines.
When taking Valium for extended periods, you can develop Valium dependence. Once you discontinue use, Valium withdrawal symptoms can develop. These symptoms are uncomfortable, painful, and can be dangerous. To ensure safe and successful Valium detoxification, it’s essential to seek professional clinical care.
Whether you or your loved one need support to overcome Valium withdrawal, this guide covers everything you need to know.
What Are the Symptoms of Valium Withdrawal?
Valium withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on several factors, including the severity of your dependence, the length of time you’ve been using, and your preferred route of administration.
For example, data shows that 40% of people taking benzodiazepines for longer than six months experience moderate-to-severe withdrawal symptoms.
Valium abuse and dependence are particularly high in addiction-prone individuals. However, dependence also occurs among chronic users who took therapeutic doses. Once dependence develops and a user seeks treatment, withdrawal symptoms will follow. The severity of these symptoms correlates with the longevity of Valium use.
Some of the most common Valium withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Muscle cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Extreme anxiety
In more severe cases, when users have taken excessive doses over an extended period, the following symptoms can occur:
- Epileptic seizures
- Hypersensitivity to light
The above Valium withdrawal symptoms showcase similarities with alcohol and barbiturate withdrawal symptoms.
Rebound anxiety is another symptom of concern when you abruptly stop using Valium. This syndrome is when symptoms that led to the initial treatment of Valium recur stronger. The same is true for sleep disturbances.
Physiological dependence on Valium can make individuals experience heightened symptoms once Valium withdrawal kicks in. However, instead of just experiencing anxiety or sleep disturbance, they now experience other symptoms, as described above.
In these cases, a gradual reduction in Valium is often recommended. This approach is known as tapering.
The Valium withdrawal symptoms you will experience may differ from someone else based on the drugs you use. For example, if you often combine opioids and Valium, this can complicate the withdrawal process. There is even greater urgency to seek professional clinical care if you can relate to this scenario.
Combining benzodiazepines and opioids is particularly dangerous because these drugs sedate users and suppress breathing. This symptom is often the cause of overdose fatality.
What Causes Valium Withdrawal?
To experience withdrawal symptoms, you must first develop tolerance and dependence. Valium is a Schedule IV controlled substance with the potential for abuse — those who are addiction-prone or who have been taking Valium long-term face the risk of tolerance and dependence. To better understand how this happens, you must first understand Valium’s mechanism of action.
Benzodiazepines, including Valium, facilitate effects through the activity of GABA sites. GABA is a brain chemical that produces a calming effect, resulting in central nervous system depression.
Since Valium allows users to reduce stress, it is commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and sleep disorders. However, it is not meant to be a long-term solution. The longer you take Valium, the greater your risk of addiction.
As you continue using Valium, that is when you develop a tolerance. You need to take more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. As a result, physical and psychological dependence may develop.
In most cases, individuals misusing Valium have a history of drug abuse — but not always. Many individuals are prescribed medications, including benzodiazepines and opioids, and become addicted, even when taking doses as prescribed. Addiction is an incredibly complex disease with many variables, including environmental, social, and genetic factors.
In 2017 alone, 12.6 million diazepam were dispensed in the United States. Although most of these doses are taken as prescribed, a significant number of people abuse their prescription or sell their medication. There’s also the possibility that someone else steals pills from the individual to whom they are prescribed.
Most often, benzodiazepines with a rapid onset are abused to produce a euphoric effect. It is also not uncommon for users to take Valium with methadone to increase the effect. Cocaine addicts will also often take Valium to relieve the side effects of a cocaine binge.
When these drugs are combined, this makes Valium withdrawal more complex. Also, the doses taken are usually more than the recommended therapeutic dose, resulting in Valium withdrawal symptoms and withdrawal symptoms associated with the other substance(s) of abuse.
How Long Does Valium Withdrawal Take?
Valium is taken orally as tablets containing 2 mg, 5 mg, or 10 mg diazepam when prescribed. Once administered, over 90% of diazepam is absorbed. Peak plasma concentrations occur within 1 to 1.5 hours, with a range of 0.25 to 2.5 hours.
The elimination period is followed by a prolonged terminal elimination phase, based on a half-life of up to 48 hours. However, the elimination half-life from the active metabolite is over 100 hours. However, research shows that following multiple doses, Valium accumulates, prolonging the half-life.
Your Valium withdrawal experience will depend on many factors, including how long you have been using Valium and if you have been combining doses with other substances of abuse.
Most individuals experience short-lived “rebound” insomnia and anxiety. These symptoms typically begin 1-4 days following discontinuation.
Others experience the second phase of Valium withdrawal symptoms, which can last 10-14 days.
The third phase represents the return of anxiety symptoms which persist until another treatment option is offered. For this very reason, it’s recommended you seek the support of substance abuse and mental health experts.
A tapering strategy, as discussed below, will typically occur over two weeks or longer. This is because Valium is a long-acting drug.
Within the first week, you may not experience any significant withdrawal symptoms. Your temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure may elevate.
It is the second week of withdrawal when your symptoms peak. Although symptoms of anxiety and agitation are problematic, symptoms like hallucinations and seizures require professional intervention.
It can be as long as four weeks until your symptoms have significantly improved or subsided. To increase comfort and safety levels, a tapering strategy is optimal.
The most severe symptoms are generally associated with high doses and short-acting benzodiazepines. A dependence on alcohol or other sedatives can also increase the risk of more severe dependence. In this case, an individualized Valium withdrawal treatment plan will be necessary. Withdrawing from alcohol can be highly dangerous, even life-threatening.
Be aware that some symptoms can linger for weeks or even months. Research shows that an estimated 25% of people using benzodiazepines for extended periods will experience withdrawal symptoms for twelve months or longer.
These symptoms are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms or PAWS. These are some of the symptoms described above, such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Other PAWS may include poor concentration and loss of sex drive.
To address these lingering symptoms, targeted therapy options are required. When you seek supportive counseling and gain access to beneficial resources, you can significantly improve your quality of life during this time. The more support you gain throughout this stage, the more likely you’ll remain sober. The key is gaining access to the tools you need to make that happen.
How to Safely Manage Valium Detox
To develop the best possible detox plan for your unique symptoms, all symptoms of abuse need to be taken into consideration. As discussed, the combination of opioids and Valium is very dangerous. When taken together, you increase the risk of respiratory depression, sedation, coma, and death.
The same is true concerning alcohol. Both of these substances are central nervous system depressants.
One of the most concerning potential medical complications of Valium withdrawal (and alcohol withdrawal) is seizures. If you experience seizures, irreversible brain damage can result. Spikes in blood pressure or heart rate can also be dangerous for certain individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.
A safe Valium withdrawal process will require ongoing support in a safe, clinical environment. Most often, a tapering strategy will be offered. Clinicians will follow appropriate tapering recommendations. For example, when helping patients taper from benzodiazepines, several recommendations are outlined by the National Center for PTSD.
Here are some examples:
- Among those who have been taking large doses, it’s important first to consider any medical risk. If the individual was taking multiple benzodiazepines, continue administering long half-life drugs, such as Valium. Then, reduce the initial dose by 25-30%, reducing 5-10% daily to weekly.
- For someone who was taking therapeutic doses, reduce by approximately 25% weekly and anticipate rebound insomnia/anxiety. Provide reassurance and alternative treatment options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Including concurrent CBT has been shown to improve this process significantly.
- A flexible, individualized tapering schedule will be required for more complex cases.
Of course, this is just an example and is not intended as specific guidance. Each case is unique. You will require a different Valium withdrawal and overall treatment plan than someone else seeking assistance for Valium addiction.
You may also be prescribed other medications to ensure the most effective outcome depending on your medical history. For example, some individuals may receive anti-depressants while others will take melatonin. If there is a risk of seizures, anticonvulsant medications may be prescribed.
Once your body is rid of Valium and other substances, you may experience the third phase of symptoms, as discussed above. These symptoms may be why you began taking Valium to begin with. For example, symptoms of anxiety may become overwhelming. At this point, you will work with your professional care team to create an individualized treatment plan.
You’ll want to seek a substance abuse and mental health facility that specializes in holistic treatment. Your dependence on Valium is only part of the greater picture. To achieve long-term sobriety as you work towards a happy, healthy future, you must address all aspects of your dual-diagnosis condition.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
The Valium withdrawal process can be daunting and overwhelming. Perhaps you had tried to overcome your dependence on Valium before but struggled with rebound anxiety — or the symptoms were simply too uncomfortable to continue. Regardless of your past experiences, know that professional substance abuse and mental health experts can guide you through this process.
By gaining access to the latest evidence-based, holistic treatment options, you will be given the best opportunity to take back control. For example, if you began taking Valium to treat symptoms of anxiety but now suffer from an anxiety disorder and a Valium addiction, there are alternative treatment options that will help you establish a healthy, fulfilling future.
If you began using Valium in conjunction with substances of abuse and require specialized care, there is no better time than today to take that first step. Every day you mix substances of abuse is another day you place your life at risk. It is only once individuals become sober they realize how poor their quality of life truly was. This type of lifestyle no longer needs to be your norm.
Take the next step and seek ongoing support for your Valium addiction and any underlying mental health conditions that contribute to that addiction. A professional treatment facility like Zinnia Healing will not see these conditions are two separate entities. They are connected and need to be treated accordingly. However, this process is a marathon, not a sprint — and it all starts with the Valium withdrawal process.