Article Contributed By: Erica Smith, M.A., NCC
Bio: “Can Valium Effectively Manage Anxiety on a Long-Term Basis?” was written by Longleaf Hospital clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling from the American School of Professional Psychology.
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Valium, which is the trademark name for the generic drug, diazepam, is a prescription medication that is designed to treat such ailments as seizures, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, insomnia, muscle spasms, and a number of other medical conditions. Additionally, Valium is commonly used to help alleviate symptoms associated with anxiety.
How Does Valium Work?
Classified as a benzodiazepine, Valium works by affecting the unbalanced chemicals in the brain that control an individual’s startle response and can trigger the onset of anxiety symptoms.
GABA receptors are a type of neurotransmitter located in the brain that produce a calming effect when their activity is increased, ultimately resulting in the alleviation of feelings of nervousness, worry, and apprehension. Valium works by binding to these receptors, which then increases their activity and provides the user with relief from his or her anxiety symptoms.
Who Are the People Using Valium?
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 40 million adults over the age of 18 and 1.8 million children under the age of 18 suffer from an anxiety disorder. With the vast prevalence of this illness, there is an ever-present need for various treatment options to be made available to help these individuals.
When taken under the supervision of a medical professional, Valium can have an extremely positive impact on an individual’s everyday life. It can mean relief from, or prompt the absence of, symptoms such as:
- Racing thoughts
- Memory impairment
- Obtrusive compulsions
- Mood swings
- Pervasive feelings of nervousness and restlessness
It can also help decrease the physical disturbances that anxiety disorders can bring about, including things like increased heart rate, stomach problems, chronic headaches, unsteady breathing, excessive sweating, and muscle tension. Valium is also known to be greatly effective in providing immediate relief from the presentation of panic attacks.
Negative Side Effects of Valium
However, like any prescription medication, Valium poses the potential of creating negative side effects for those who take it. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, these effects can range in severity from mild and somewhat common to severe and requiring medical intervention. Some examples of common side effects that are known to occur may include:
- Dry mouth
- Significant changes in appetite
Valium can also bring about more serious side effects as well that, if they do not subside, should be discussed with the prescribing physician. These effects can include:
- Increased frequency of urination or experiencing difficulty urinating
- Feelings of restlessness
- Blurred vision
- Changes in one’s sex drive
The most severe side effects that can potentially result from taking Valium and, if they do appear, require immediate medical attention, may include:
- Skin rash
- Yellowing of the skin
- Yellowing of the eyes
- Persistent tremor or an inability to sit still
- Irregular heartbeat
- Experiencing difficulty breathing
- Experiencing difficulty swallowing
For Short-Term, As Needed Use
While Valium can be extremely beneficial at relieving the immediate effects of severe anxiety, it is not something that should be used for the prolonged treatment of anxiety disorders. Valium, like other benzodiazepines, is a highly addictive substance and can therefore elicit dependency quickly.
In other words, individuals who begin using Valium on a consistent basis in order to help manage their anxiety symptoms are at a high risk for developing a psychological and physiological dependence on the substance, meaning that their bodies begin to believe that they cannot function without it.
Dependence also results in tolerance, which means that, the longer that a person takes the drug, the more consistently he or she will have to increase the dosage that is taken at any given time because his or her body no longer feels the desired effects. Once this tolerance and dependence develops, people are suddenly facing the challenge of dealing with a substance abuse problem.
So while the anxiety may have subsided, these individuals are now facing an entirely new set of concerns.
The Withdrawal Symptoms of Valium
As is true for treating an addiction to any form of benzodiazepine, professional intervention is often required. When a person suddenly stops using Valium, he or she is at risk for experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms will vary from person to person, but tend to be more severe and more pronounced in those who have been using the drug for a prolonged period of time, or who have been consistently taking a high dosage of the medication. The length of time that this period of withdrawal lasts will also vary depending on the amount and frequency of which the drug is being taken.
Examples of the various things that individuals may experience when withdrawing from Valium can include:
- Muscle cramping
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
- Epileptic seizures
- Numbness in the extremities
Additionally, the sudden ceasing of Valium use will bring about the reappearance of extreme anxiety.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an anxiety disorder, it is imperative that open communication is maintained with the treating mental health professional in order to ensure that all treatment options are explored rather than simply relying on the quick fix of Valium.