Valium, a brand name for diazepam, is a prescription medication commonly used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, sleep disorders, panic attacks and seizures.
Although effective in treating several medical conditions, dependence and addiction can occur if Valium is misused or used over extended periods. When someone who has developed a physical dependence on the drug stops using Valium abruptly, withdrawal symptoms can be severe. With the proper treatment to deal with Valium withdrawals, including a suitable Valium detox program, full recovery from Valium addiction can be achieved.
What Causes Valium Withdrawal?
Valium exerts its calming effects by modifying the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, causing the drowsy and soothing feelings that make the drug useful for anxiety and sleep disorders. GABA is a neurotransmitter, a chemical used to signal between brain cells. Benzodiazepines such as Valium bind to GABA receptors and make the receptors more sensitive to activation. When activated, GABA receptors decrease emotional activity, resulting in drowsiness and calm feelings. These effects make Valium use enjoyable but also contribute to abuse or addiction. With repeated use or high doses of Valium, physical dependence can also occur. Dependence develops when the body adapts to repeated exposure to the drug and only functions correctly when Valium is present. When the Valium is removed, severe physical reactions can occur. How long it takes to become physically dependent on Valium varies from person to person. Valium withdrawal can occur whenever Valium use is significantly decreased or stopped abruptly.
Diagnosing Valium Withdrawal
A healthcare professional can diagnose Valium withdrawal through a variety of questions, exams and tests. Proper diagnosis is critical to ensure the appropriate medical support is provided to the patient. Diagnosing Valium withdrawal can include:
- Physical examination
- Questions about medical history and drug use
- Blood or urine tests to screen for Valium use
- Blood chemistries and liver function tests such as CHEM-20
- CBC (complete blood count, which measures the number of different cells in the blood)
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
Valium Withdrawal Symptoms
Prolonged Valium use, whether with or without a prescription, leads to physical dependence. Withdrawal occurs when a person who has developed a physical dependence on Valium stops using it. Withdrawal symptoms may occur after only two to four weeks of Valium use. Valium withdrawal symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening if a person does not taper off the drug slowly. Many people require medical detox to stop taking Valium. Valium withdrawal includes both physical and psychological symptoms.
Valium withdrawal side effect symptoms include:
- Involuntary muscle movements
- Abdominal pain
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Severe cravings
- Light sensitivity
- Sensitivity to loud sounds
In addition to physical symptoms, there may be several psychological symptoms of Valium withdrawal. Common psychological symptoms of Valium withdrawal include:
- Cognitive problems
- Abnormal body sensations
Valium Withdrawal Timeline
The Valium withdrawal timeline and Valium detox times varies from person to person, depending on physical factors, the dosage and the length of Valium use. Valium is considered a long-acting benzodiazepine, so withdrawal does not begin immediately. Valium withdrawal typically occurs two to seven days after the last dose and continues for two to eight weeks or longer. The half-life of Valium, which is the time it takes for half of the drug to leave the body, is 24 to 48 hours, although this timeframe increases with repeated Valium use.
One study found that the intensity of Valium withdrawal symptoms is initially high before falling during the first two weeks. Symptoms then rise again in the third week before finally declining. In some people, withdrawal symptoms may last significantly longer. A recent study found that the average length of withdrawal symptoms in a group of people dependent on benzodiazepines was 14 months. Some studies demonstrated two withdrawal phases; an acute withdrawal phase lasts 5 to 28 days, while a protracted withdrawal phase lasts for up to 12 months or longer.
Factors Affecting Withdrawal Duration
The duration of Valium withdrawal and the severity of Valium taper withdrawal symptoms vary between individuals. Several factors impact how long Valium withdrawals last, including:
- Age: Younger people generally clear Valium faster than older people due to organ efficiency.
- Size: Weight, height and body fat percentage impact how quickly Valium is processed and eliminated from the body.
- Genetics: Several genetic factors impact how long Valium stays in the body.
- Metabolism: The speed at which a person’s body metabolizes drugs impacts Valium’s clearance and the duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms.
- Frequency and duration of use: Higher dosages or prolonged use is associated with more severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Use of other substances: Use of other drugs or alcohol can worsen withdrawal symptoms.
- Co-occurring mental health conditions: Conditions such as depression or anxiety may impact the psychological symptoms of Valium withdrawal.
- Social support: Individuals with more support from loved ones and a professional detox program are likely to experience fewer withdrawal symptoms.
Valium Detox for Treatment of Withdrawal
Individuals who use Valium may wonder how to detox from Valium. Valium detox treatment is the first stage in recovery, and often the most challenging. Valium withdrawal can be difficult and dangerous to go through without the assistance of a professional treatment facility. Valium detox schedules include medical supervision, counseling and professional support groups. Valium detox treatment can occur in different stages.
- Medical Detox
Inpatient medical detox is recommended for Valium withdrawal, as it provides full support from trained medical staff, ensures the patients’ safety and increases the chance of successful recovery. Inpatient medical detox can occur at a hospital, detox center or rehab facility. During medical detox, a medical team evaluates the patient to determine what treatment plan will work best for them. This evaluation process can include a physical exam, medical tests, a thorough interview and mental health screening.
The patient then undergoes medical Valium withdrawal. During this stage, medical staff closely monitors the patient 24/7 to administer medications or other supportive therapies to ease the withdrawal symptoms. The safest way to manage Valium withdrawal is to give gradually decreasing amounts according to a Valium detox protocol. Tapering progressively down the dose limits withdrawal symptoms and prevents seizures. If a person who is undergoing detox experiences breathing problems, a drug called flumazenil may be used to reverse the respiratory depression.
- Outpatient Detox
Medical detox can also occur on an outpatient basis at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or clinic. Rather than undergoing detox while living in a professional treatment facility, patients can undergo the Valium withdrawal process before returning to their normal lives. Regular clinic visits and ongoing therapy and support groups are recommended after outpatient detox to prevent relapse.
- Detoxing at Home
Some people may wonder how to detox from Valium at home. However, without the support and continuous monitoring available at a professional detox center, detoxing at home can be more dangerous and less effective. Withdrawal symptoms will be more severe without gradual tapering procedures performed at professional centers.
Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey
Cold turkey detox from Valium is not advised as it can cause severe Valium detox symptoms such as seizures. During medical detox, medical professionals gradually decrease the dose of Valium so the body can slowly adjust to functioning without Valium present. This strategy eases withdrawal symptoms and increases the likelihood of successful recovery.
Can You Die from Valium Withdrawal?
In most cases, Valium withdrawal is not life-threatening. However, in rare instances, death from benzodiazepine withdrawal has been linked to grand mal seizures or suicide due to withdrawal-induced hallucinations. Thus, supervised medical detox is always recommended for Valium withdrawal to ensure safety.
Finding a Detox Center
Finding the right detox center for Valium detox can be a challenging task but is essential as it impacts the success of the detox process and long-term recovery. It is critical to find a detox center that:
- Meets individual treatment needs
- Is located close to home
- Includes supportive care such as individual therapy, support groups, exercise and wellness programs
- Is accredited and licensed
- Utilizes evidence-based practices for recovery treatment
- Included care for co-occurring disorders such as mental health conditions
- Involves loved ones in the recovery process
- Provides follow-up and aftercare to support long-term recovery
- Includes well trained, experienced staff
How Long Does Detox Take?
Valium detox time varies from person to person, but detox can last for weeks or months.
Professional medical staff trained in detox procedures will tailor a detox program to each person depending on their prior Valium use and medical history. Someone who has used high doses of Valium for an extended period may need a longer detox process, as medical staff slowly taper off the dosage to limit withdrawal symptoms. A recommended Valium tapering schedule involves decreasing the dose by 50% the first two to four weeks, maintaining that dose for up to two months then reducing the dose by 25% every two weeks until usage is stopped. It is important to remember that Valium detox is an individual experience, so each person should not compare their detox experience to others’ experiences.
Benefits of Professional Detox
Valium detox can be challenging and dangerous to accomplish without the assistance of a professional treatment facility. Attempting home detox can result in severe withdrawal side effects such as seizures and an increased risk of relapse into Valium use. A licensed substance abuse medical detox center has an experienced medical staff to supervise and manage a safe, successful detox process. Professional detox centers also manage co-occurring medical and substance use conditions, offer counseling and support groups and tailor a detox program to meet each person’s individual needs.
Key Points: Understanding Valium Withdrawal & Detox
Keep the following key points in mind when considering Valium withdrawal and detox:
- When an individual who has developed physical dependence stops using Valium abruptly, severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures may occur
- Valium withdrawal includes both physical and psychological symptoms
- Professional medical detox is recommended for Valium withdrawals, as it provides full support from trained medical staff
- Tapering is recommended for Valium detox and involves slowly decreasing the dose to prevent severe side effects
- Valium detox can take weeks or months, depending on the individual
- With the proper treatment to deal with Valium withdrawal, including an appropriate Valium detox program, full recovery can be achieved
If you or a loved one lives with Valium addiction, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative who can guide you through the initial steps of getting addiction treatment. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Prescription CNS Depressants.” March 2018. Accessed July 15, 2019.
Pittman, Catherine. “The Overlooked Risks of Benzodiazepine Use: Forgotten Dangers of a Commonly Prescribed Medication.” 9th Annual Drug Abuse Symposium, October 30, 2018. Accessed July 17, 2019.
National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. “Effective Treatments for PTSD: Helping Patients Taper from Benzodiazepines.” January 2015. Accessed July 17, 2019.
World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed July 17, 2019.
Hood, Sean; et al. “Benzodiazepine dependence and its treatment with low dose flumazenil.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, February, 2014. Accessed July 17, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.