Valium (Diazepam) is a drug that is prescribed to help people cope with severe anxiety. This is not a drug that is prescribed for simple stress and typical anxiety – most people that are on it have severe cases of anxiety and/or panic attacks. This drug has also been used to help treat “delirium tremens” or shakes associated with alcohol withdrawal. In other cases, Valium is used to help with muscle spasms, inflammation, nerve disorders, and seizures.
This drug is in the benzodiazepine class of drugs, which work on the GABA receptors in the brain. It is GABA that is involved in slowing down nerve signals throughout the brain. Essentially this drug increases the amount of GABA activity, which slows down the nervous system and provides relief from severe anxiety and panic. Although many people have been put on Valium and other benzodiazepines to help treat their condition, many individuals do not like being on them for the long term.
Long term treatment with benzodiazepines can result in memory loss and various studies have found that these drugs can actually lead to the development of dementia. The fact that they are linked to developing permanent diseases like dementia lead many individuals to withdraw. Additionally, it is very easy to develop a tolerance and become dependent on this drug for everyday functioning.
Factors that influence Valium withdrawal
The withdrawal from Valium is influenced by various factors including: time span, dosage, whether you quit cold turkey or tapered, your individual physiology, and whether you have developed a tolerance or dependency on this drug. It is a combination of these factors that causes individuals to have different experiences during withdrawal.
1. Time Span
How long have you been taking Valium? Was it for a few months to help with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal? Or have you been taking it for years as a means to cope with anxiety? Generally the longer you have been taking a benzodiazepine drug, the greater your level of tolerance will be and the more dependent you will become on the drug for everyday functioning.
2. Dosage + Frequency + Subtype
Dosage: How much Valium are you taking? The greater the dose that you have been taking, the more difficult and lengthy your withdrawal process is likely to be. Higher doses of Valium are associated with greater tolerance and dependency.
Frequency: How often do you take Valium? In the event that you are taking a high dose very often, it is important to recognize the fact that your withdrawal will likely be pretty severe compared to someone who takes a low dose on an “as-needed” basis.
Subtype: It is important to understand the subtype of the Valium that you are taking. Individuals that take the “extended-release” type of the drug are more accustomed to having the drug in their system for long periods of time. People that take the regular tablets on an “as needed” basis are thought to have an easier time during withdrawal. This is because people who take tablets “as needed” tend to have drug-free periods of treatment.
3. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering
It is never recommended to quit a powerful psychiatric medication cold turkey. Benzodiazepines are considered some of the most difficult drugs to withdraw from. Many people attempt withdrawal and discover that the withdrawal symptoms are so severe that they cannot function. It is always recommended to work with your doctor and conduct a very gradual taper. There have been cases of people trying to quit and
4. Addiction / Tolerance / Dependency
Due to the potency of this drug, it has potential for abuse. A lot of people turn to Valium for recreational use as a means to relax. After using it for an extended period of time, they become addicted and don’t know how to function without it. In the same regard, people who are using it to treat anxiety disorders and/or that become dependent on this drug to manage symptoms, tend to have a difficult time coping with the withdrawal.
Using this drug consistently can lead to a quick “tolerance” – meaning you need to take more of the drug for the desired effect. If you are addicted, have a high tolerance, and/or are dependent on Valium, this can lead to a very difficult withdrawal.
5. Individual Factors
Many individual factors will play a role in determining how well the withdrawal process goes. If you are in a stressful environment without any sort of social support, guidance, etc. – the process may be tougher. Additionally, if you are a person who is very sensitive to withdrawal from medications, you are likely going to have a very difficult time coping with the experience coming off of Valium. Other individual factors that are thought to play a subtle role include: sleep, diet, exercise, and socialization.
Valium Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Below are some of the common withdrawal symptoms that you may experience when you stop taking Valium. Keep in mind that your reaction may be different than someone else’s. In other words, you may experience a couple symptoms, nothing much, or more symptoms than are even included below.
- Anxiety: Due to the fact that Valium helps people manage anxiety while on the drug, coming off of it can lead to significant spikes in anxiety. This is because the GABA system is no longer receiving the same level of activation that it received while you took Valium.
- Concentration problems: It is very common to have problem with cognitive function when you stop taking a benzodiazepine. Your thinking may feel slowed and you may notice that you can’t concentrate on anything. Keep in mind that your focus should improve the longer you are off the drug.
- Depersonalization: Many people feel depersonalized when they withdraw from benzodiazepines. This involves feeling unlike your natural self or feeling as if you are a zombie. Usually depersonalization is caused by changes in brain activity, neurotransmitters, and stress.
- Depression: Although it is common to experience increases in depression while taking Valium, some people experience even stronger depression when they stop taking this drug. The depression when you come off of this drug may be more associated with elevations in anxiety.
- Dizziness: A common withdrawal symptom from any drug is that of dizziness. Your brain is attempting to readjust to functioning without the GABA stimulation that Valium had provided. If you withdraw too quickly, the dizziness may be more extreme than necessary.
- Fatigue: It is common to feel tired, lethargic, or fatigued when you stop taking this drug. Your energy levels may feel lower than average for awhile until normal neurotransmission is established. Don’t be surprised if your energy levels are low for a few weeks during withdrawal.
- Headaches: Another very common symptom that people endure when quitting Valium is headaches. These may range in severity from being mild headaches to feeling as though you have a migraine.
- Hypersensitivity: During withdrawal you may be hypersensitive to sights and sounds. In other words, loud noises may drive you crazy and sights may seem too bright. This has to do more with brain activity than it does with your eyes and ears.
- Insomnia: Many people take this drug to help them relax so that they can fall asleep at night. When they stop taking it, they experience a high degree of insomnia. This insomnia is a result of insufficient GABA activity.
- Irritability: Since being on Valium helps people calm down and manage aggression, coming off of it can lead to major increases in irritability. You may feel irritable for weeks, and it may be difficult to manage because you no longer have the calming effect of the drug.
- Memory problems: It is well documented that taking a benzodiazepine drug can lead to permanent memory impairment. Although this is more common in people that take the drug daily at higher doses, it can happen to anyone. Do not be surprised if your memory is affected for awhile after stopping the drug.
- Mood swings: You may notice that you are subject to mood swings when you withdraw. This is usually a result of feeling increases in anxiety and not being able to properly manage it. You may feel as if you have no control over what is happening in your brain and it may be frustrating.
- Nausea: It is common to feel nauseated during withdrawal. The nausea will likely not be too severe if you take the time to gradually “taper” off of this medication. However, withdrawing too quickly could lead to nausea to the point of vomiting.
- Obsessive thoughts: If you were taking Valium to help with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or obsessive thinking, those obsessive thoughts are going to come back strong when you quit taking it. Any drug that you take to treat OCD may actually result in increased OCD when you stop it.
- Panic attacks: This is a medication given to people to help with severe panic. It is highly effective at treating panic attacks, but when the person stops taking it, they may notice an increase in panic. It is the disruption in GABA as a result of taking this drug that leads a person to panic.
- Seizures: Withdrawing too quickly from a higher dose of Valium can lead to seizures. For this reason, it is highly important that you conduct a gradual taper. Never quit cold turkey or you will run this risk.
- Sleeping changes: You will likely notice changes in your sleeping patterns when you stop taking this drug. You may sleep excessively or you may not be able to sleep at all. Everyone is affected differently when they stop taking this drug.
- Suicidal thoughts: Some people experience such a deep depression during withdrawal that it drives them to think about suicide. Suicidal thoughts can make life a living hell and can make even a few days seem like years. If you are feeling suicidal, recognize that it’s part of the withdrawal, but do not hesitate to seek out further help to manage them.
- Sweating: Many people experience profuse sweating throughout the day and/or during sleep. Night sweats are extremely common, and are one of your body’s natural ways of detoxifying itself from the drug.
- Weakness: It is common to experience muscle weakness or overall weakness throughout the body during the first few days of withdrawal. Your normal strength will return once you have been off of the drug for a decent amount of time.
Valium Withdrawal Duration: How Long Does It Last?
There is really no set timeline for Valium withdrawal. For some people the symptoms may last for a few weeks and then completely subside. For other individuals, the post-acute withdrawal symptoms may persist for months after their last dose of this drug. There is really no telling how you may be affected by withdrawal unless you go through with it.
Keep in mind that someone who is on a higher dose of this drug is likely going to have a much longer withdrawal (considering the taper) than someone who takes a smaller dose. It will take your body and brain awhile to reset themselves back to homeostasis (e.g. pre-Valium functioning). In general it is recommended to engage in mentally and physically healthy activities when coming off of the drug to help speed up recovery.
Healthy things that you can do for yourself include: getting plenty of sleep, staying as busy as possible, relaxation exercises, light exercise, and eating good foods. By giving your body and brain healthy stimulation, you will be setting yourself up for success. If you need further help and support during withdrawal, be sure to check out some forums and/or consider going to see a therapist so that you can talk about what you are experiencing.