Diazepam Addiction & Its Treatment

Diazepam Addiction seems to be a growing problem

Working in a rehab addiction treatment centre, I have become aware recently of more people than at any time in the past 10 years or so seeking help for diazepam addiction. Diazepam (sometimes referred to as Valium though this brand is no longer sold in the UK) is a class C prescribed medication. However, while some of the people needing help for diazepam addiction have been legitimately prescribed it (at least at first), many more have been obtaining it illegally and usually cheaply off the black market. It is frightening how much they are getting and using.

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Diazepam as a prescribed medication

Diazepam can be legitimately prescribed for anxiety, muscle spasms and fits. It can also be used in supervised medical settings to control symptoms of withdrawal from heavy alcohol use. It usually will be only prescribed for up to 4 weeks as it is highly addictive and it is possible to quickly build up a tolerance to its use. The dosage prescribed will vary depending on what it is being prescribed for, but anything from 6mg to 30mg is possible. In extreme cases the dose could be up to 60mg if prescribed for muscle spasms. However, this high dosage would not be prescribed straight away – the dosage would be built up over time. Anyone coming new to the medication would be severely affected by such a high dosage.

Diazepam abuse

However, at our addiction treatment centre, we have in the last 2 years had people presenting themselves for diazepam detox claiming to be on 250mg – 500mg a day. A dosage at that level would easily kill anyone who has not built up a massive tolerance to it. These people are clearly still alive – but needing help sometimes after several years of abusing the drug. The longer it has been used, the harder it is to come off it. Detoxing off long term use of diazepam is harder to do than coming off heroin.

Diazepam detox

If you are looking for diazepam detox and addiction treatment, you may need considerably longer than the conventional ‘28 days in rehab’. The length of your detox will be determined by how much you are using and for how long you have been abusing the drug. You must be honest with the rehab and their doctor about this as only you know the truth – there is no blood or urine test that will give an accurate history and this is key to getting the detox starting dosage correct and to making your detox as comfortable as possible. There is no benefit to you in underestimating what you have been taking, as then the starting dose will be too low; nor is there any great benefit to exaggerating the amount (tempting as it might be) as this will just make your detox longer drawn out and more expensive.

A diazepam detox usually will involve you taking diazepam in reducing amounts over several days (if your use has been very low level over a relatively low period of time it may involve using other medications in the benzodiazepine family, of which diazepam is a ‘member’). Following an agreement about your starting dosage with the doctor, there will be a reduction in the amount administered, usually around every 3 days, the amount to be decided between you and the doctor. It is not uncommon for a very heavy and long term user of diazepam to have to be detoxed over a period around 2 months.

A diazepam detox is not the most comfortable detox to endure either. Although the diminishing dosage will be agreed with you to ensure that any suffering is minimal and that your detox is safe, you will almost certainly feel some diazepam withdrawal effects. The nature of diazepam is such that even people who have only used it for around 2 weeks would be likely to experience withdrawal effects if they stopped using it. Diazepam withdrawal effects are likely to include feeling restless, irritable, experiencing muscle cramps, sweating, headaches, anxiety, tremors, tension, confusion and sleeplessness. You may also feel sick and vomit and some people feel numbness, tingling in their fingers and toes and hypersensitive.  THERE IS ALSO A SERIOUS RISK OF SEIZURES WHICH IS WHY YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO DETOX YOURSELF IF YOU ARE A HEAVY OR LONG TERM USER.  A supervised diazepam detox in a rehab addiction treatment centre will ensure that any risk of dangerous life threatening seizures is minimised.

Some people will experience the remnants of these diazepam withdrawal effects (post acute withdrawal syndrome – PAWS) for weeks, months or even years after stopping taking the drug. The symptoms that may linger include memory loss, irritability and anxiety, low mood, trouble handling stress, sleep problems and cravings.

Counselling for diazepam addiction

 Aside from the residential diazepam detox, diazepam addiction treatment will also include an examination of what was the attraction of using diazepam in the first place. For anyone to get an addiction habit, there will be something behind it. Initially the drug must have done something that made you feel better about yourself and your life: it could have relieved anxiety and stress, lightened your mood, made you feel more confident and optimistic – in fact all the things that alcohol can also do. Addiction treatment will address issues such as low self worth, feeling a sense of under achievement, depression, loneliness, loss (including grief), change and other life events with which all human beings have to cope, but with which many struggle.

Addiction treatment may well include an examination of your life from your earliest memories to present day. It may include getting background information from your family and friends to corroborate and explore your story and addiction further. It should educate you on the dangers of all addictive substances – as a diazepam addict, if you have not yet had any other addictions, it is highly likely you will get some if you do not commit at that point to remain abstinent from all mood altering substances, including alcohol, recreational drugs and certain other prescription medications. You should be given the tools to live your life and cope with your feelings without turning to substances.

Diazepam addiction and other addictions

If you already have another addiction alongside diazepam, the addiction treatment centre should be able to help you with this at the same time. We also have more information on drug addictions in general