Valium is the trade name of the drug diazepam. It belongs to the benzodiazepine class of medications, which act as nervous system depressants. Valium can be administered intravenously, intramuscularly or orally. Oral tablets are available in 2 mg, 5 mg and 10 mg strengths. Valium effects include sedation, decreased anxiety and relief of muscle spasms, among others. Common uses of Valium include treatment of anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal and muscle spasticity.
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Alleviation of Anxiety
As a central nervous system depressant, Valium slows nerve signaling in the brain and spinal cord. This results in a calming effect, which can be useful for short-term symptom control in people with an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias. Use of Valium with these disorders is typically only one aspect of the overall treatment plan, which may include individual and/or group therapy and other medication, such as an antidepressant. Valium is rarely appropriate for relief of situational anxiety that occurs occasionally in everyday life.
In addition to its calming effects, 10 mg of Valium often causes drowsiness, known medically as sedation. This effect is particularly likely in people who do not take Valium on a regular basis and may induce sleep. The sedating effects of Valium can be helpful in situations associated with extreme agitation, or before a medical or dental procedure. Sedation associated with Valium use can interfere with your ability to work and perform everyday activities, such as driving. Talk with your doctor if you experience sedation that interferes with your daily activities. A lower dose of the medication may be more appropriate for you.
Seizure and Alcohol Withdrawal Relief
Owing to its depressant effects on the brain, Valium is sometimes used to interrupt or prevent seizures. In people with epilepsy, intravenous Valium may be used to stop a prolonged seizure. Oral Valium is typically not used to prevent epileptic seizures because another benzodiazepine drug called clonazepam (Klonopin) is more effective for that purpose. However, short-term Valium treatment is often used to prevent seizures and other symptoms -- such as agitation and tremors -- associated with alcohol withdrawal.
Valium is sometimes prescribed as a muscle relaxant for people with frequent or ongoing muscle spasms. Valium's inhibition of central nervous system nerves leads to muscle relaxation in people with conditions such as cerebral palsy and paraplegia (paralysis of the lower half of the body). Valium is one of several options for treatment of muscle spasms associated with these conditions, and may be used in combination with other medications or therapies.
Like any drug, Valium can cause unwanted side effects in addition to its beneficial effects. Adverse side effects that can occur with Valium include:
- Confusion or mental slowness
- Dizziness or a spinning sensation
- Nausea, constipation or other digestive system upset
- Blurred or double vision
- Clumsiness, which can lead to falls or accidents
Although uncommon, some people experience a paradoxical reaction to Valium, meaning the effects are opposite of those expected. Common symptoms with this type of reaction include agitation, anxiety, insomnia, irritability and possibly hallucinations. Paradoxical reactions to Valium occur most often in children and seniors. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience a paradoxical reaction.
Warnings and Precautions
Other nervous system depressants -- particularly alcohol and opiate pain relievers -- compound the effects of Valium and can lead to dangerous decreases in your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure if taken together. Therefore, it's important to avoid drinking alcohol when taking Valium. Talk with your doctor before taking Valium along with an opiate pain reliever. Take Valium only as prescribed and do not change your dose or stop taking the medication unless your doctor advises you to do so. In most situations, doctors prescribe Valium only for short-term use to prevent the development of drug dependence. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns about the effects of Valium on your body.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.