Most people in the United States are aware of the existence of Valium as well as the stories of addiction surrounding this potent drug. Images of Valium addicts existing in a nearly constant stupor and needing to combine the drug with alcohol or other prescriptions in order to achieve the pleasurable effects are also common in our society. Indeed, the statistics and facts on Valium addiction tell a long story of a serious public health epidemic: the drug has been available since the mid-1960s, and in 1978 more than two billion tablets were sold; as of five years ago some 60 million prescriptions for Valium were written; more than 20,000 emergency room visits each year are the result of Valium addiction and overdose; and it’s estimated that nearly two million people in this country alone are addicted to or seriously abusing the drug.
Sometimes called Vs, Yellow Vs, Blue Vs, Benzos or Tranks, Valium falls under the benzodiazepine classification of drugs, and is commonly prescribed to relieve anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures as well as to ease the uncomfortable symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. However, Valium—compared to Xanax, Ativan, Halcion or Librium, which are all similar medications— is much longer acting, lasting anywhere from 20-70 hours depending on the dosage taken and the length of time the individual has been using the drug.
Valium works by affecting hyperactive brain functions and depressing the central nervous system to relieve stress and create a long-lasting feeling of calmness and serenity. Under the care of physician, Valium is taken in pill form between one and four times a day. Typically, the onset of action for Valium is under 15 minutes with the peak onset occurring within one hour, making it a particularly fast-acting chemical compared to other drugs in the same class. And because it remains in the body for much longer than shorter-acting “Benzos” (like Ativan or Halcion), it’s an ideal drug for people who will be taking it on a regular basis and therefore want to take fewer doses per day.
Unfortunately, because of the very nature of Valium—fast onset, long-acting and very effective in relieving stress and anxiety quickly—the chances for becoming addicted to the drug are extremely high. Additionally, because the people taking it do so to cope with the pressures of daily life, these are also the people most likely to abuse the drug. And taking the drug for a long period of time—more than four months, for instance—vastly increases the likelihood of becoming addiction.
Over time, it becomes harder and harder for the Valium abuser’s brain to function normally without the drug, yet the addict may still have the perception that they don’t have a problem. The most common sign of Valium addiction is needing increasingly larger doses to feel the drug’s effects or mixing it with other depressants such as alcohol and opioids. And when this situation occurs the chances of an overdose rise dramatically: typical signs of an overdose are bluish lips; double vision; extreme drowsiness; trouble breathing; general weakness and uncoordinated movements. If any of these symptoms occur the individual should seek emergency medical care immediately as these conditions can easily lead to seizures, respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, coma and in some cases death.