If you, or someone you know, suffer from panic attacks, muscle spasms, restless leg syndrome, or IBS, you are probably familiar with Valium. Valium is a benzodiazepine, a class of drugs used to treat a variety of mental and physical conditions. In fact, according to JAMA Psychiatry, about 5.2 percent of adults in the US ages 18-80 years used benzodiazepines in 2008.
Valium works by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (also known as GABA) in the brain. Increased GABA levels cause a sedative, relaxing effect, which can help to calm anxious minds and stop overactive muscles. However, if the drug is overused or used without a doctor’s prescription, it can cause potentially harmful effects on the individual taking it.
How Do People Use Valium?
Side Effects of Medical Use
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Valium as a Schedule IV substance. This means that, while its potential for abuse is lower than drugs with a higher schedule (such as heroin, cocaine, or ecstasy), it does still retain the possibility of abuse and addiction.
Side effects of Valium use can be dangerous, even when the drug is taken under a doctor’s care. Some of these effects include:
- Persistent drowsiness
- Memory loss
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Blood in urine or stool
- Depression and anxiety
Another risk that comes with Valium use – both prescribed and illicit – is metabolite buildup. When Valium’s active ingredient, diazepam, metabolizes in the body, the liver produces the chemicals oxazepam, temazepam, and desmethyldiazepam. These chemicals increase Valium’s half-life, and if an individual is not careful, these slow-acting effects can lead to oversedation and overdose. In fact, The Ocshner Journal warns that “clinicians must consider potential side effects related to active metabolite buildup.”
Side Effects of Illicit Use
When someone uses Valium without a prescription, they run an increased risk of side effects that range from the common (listed above) to the rare and very dangerous. Without a doctor’s guidance, individuals can easily overdose on Valium or cause severe damage to themselves or others.
A study published in Anesthesiology found that intravenous Valium use was correlated to hypoventilation, or abnormally slow breathing. Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy reports that Valium use in expectant mothers could increase the risk of fetal hypoxemia. Other clinical reports show that individuals using Valium or any other benzodiazepine to excess have been known to suffer from amnesia, where they may do things without memory of the event later. The risks of this behavior are incalculable, as the person may not be fully in control during this time.
Ultimately, Valium is a drug that can be effective and helpful if it is used under the right circumstances. To prevent adverse effects, addiction, or overdose, it is important that people only take Valium under a doctor’s care and adhere to the prescription requirements.