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Can You Overdose on Valium (Diazepam)?

Female psychiatrist comforting male patient

You can overdose on Valium and doing so can result in some unpleasant side effects, and, in rare cases, it can even be fatal. Even if you are taking it as prescribed medication and following the correct dose, there are certain things you can do to keep yourself safe from an accidental overdose (such as avoiding alcohol).

If you’re worried about yourself, or a loved one, experiencing a Valium overdose, this article will explain what signs and symptoms to look out for and outline the risk factors for an overdose. It will also guide you through what to do in the event of an overdose and how a Valium overdose is treated.

Valium Overdose Summary

  • Valium is a type of benzodiazepine which helps your central nervous system to relax.
  • It is prescribed for issues including anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures.
  • It is a psychoactive drug and overuse or abuse can result in substance abuse and a Valium addiction (also known as a diazepam addiction)
  • Because Valium sedates the central nervous system the main sign of a Valium overdose is depressed respiration and cardiac functioning.
  • Other signs of a Valium overdose include a coma-like sleep, confusion, fatigue, slurred speech, uncoordinated behaviour and blurry vision.
  • The main risk factors for a Valium overdose are substance abuse issues such as combining it with other drugs or alcohol, consuming it at a higher dose or taking it more often, or for longer, than has been prescribed.
  • Valium overdoses can be fatal or cause brain damage, muscle damage or pneumonia.
  • If you suspect someone has overdosed on Valium call 999 and stay with them until medical help arrives.
  • Treatment for a Valium overdose could include IV fluids, activated charcoal, laxatives and breathing support.

Signs, Risks & Symptoms of a Valium Overdose 

Taking Valium to get high or combining it with other drugs or alcohol can cause an overdose. Becoming aware of these signs can help flag up when yourself or a loved one might be experiencing a Valium overdose.

The main sign of a Valium overdose is depressed respiration and cardiac functioning. This can commonly result in a deep sleep or coma-like state in which the person is hard to wake-up. Alongside these, there are other signs to look out for too including:

Physical Symptoms of a Valium Overdose

  •         Difficulty breathing
  •         Fatigue or lethargy
  •         Uncoordinated action, dizziness and inability to stay upright
  •         Unable to stay alert
  •         Blue tinge to skin, lips or nails
  •         Vision issues including double or blurred vision
  •         Stomach pain
  •         Hallucination
  •         Tremors
  •         Unresponsive

Psychological Symptoms of a Valium Overdose

  •         Confusion
  •         Depression
  •         Excitability

Someone experiencing an overdose could have just a few of these signs, so if you notice any of them in yourself or someone else, the safest thing to do is seek urgent medical care.

Risk Factors for Valium Overdose

When used as prescribed for a short duration, benzodiazepines like Valium are usually safe. That said, you’re at an increased risk for overdose if you have any substance abuse issues and:

  • Combine Valium with alcohol or drugs
  • Take Valium alongside other nervous system depressants like Xanax
  • Consume a high dose of Valium
  • Take it more often, or for a longer period, than has been prescribed

You are also at a higher risk of an overdose if you have a diazepam addiction and have attempted to stop using Valium, then resumed taking it at the same dose as before. This is because your tolerance to the drug will have decreased during the period you stopped taking it, so when you start taking it again at the same amount your body will not be used to it.

It is also worth noting that some of the symptoms of an overdose could be confused with withdrawal symptoms from Valium. A psychoactive drug that can be both physically and psychologically addictive, withdrawing from Valium is challenging. Withdrawal symptoms can range from headaches, muscle spasms and memory issues right up to psychosis and seizures.

Which withdrawal symptoms you experience will depend on several factors, including the severity of the addiction and your tolerance level. While they are unpleasant, withdrawal symptoms usually peak around 2 weeks after detoxing. The withdrawal process has usually lost its intensity by week 3 or 4 and becomes much more manageable thereafter.  

What Happens in a Valium Overdose?

Valium sedates the central nervous system. Amongst other uses, it is used by people suffering with anxiety as it reduces activity in the brain.

 The brain is very clever and will respond to Valium by learning to tolerate it, which means the Valium no longer works as well. This leads to people taking a larger dose to experience the same release. Unfortunately, at very high doses the brain can become compromised and basic functions such as breathing become too challenging.

 Valium has a relatively long half-life, which means it stays in the person’s body for a long time. This means that a person may feel the Valium has worn off and that it is safer to consume alcohol or other drugs, when in reality there is still Valium in their system. It’s easy to see how accidental overdoses happen.

 What Does a Valium Overdose Feel Like?

 Overdosing on a benzodiazepine like Valium is usually characterised by central nervous system depression, varying from drowsiness to a coma. Oftentimes people who are overdosing on Valium remain awake, but they may complain of lethargy. They may also experience hallucinations or blurry vision.

 You might notice that they have difficulty holding themselves up and stumble as they walk. They may slur their words and seem depressed or even agitated. If they do fall asleep, they may call into a coma-like state that is difficult to rouse them from. This is especially common when Valium has been mixed with another substance.

 Health Risks and Side Effects of Valium Overdose

 A Valium overdose can be fatal, though this is more common when the overdose is caused by combining Valium with drugs or alcohol. Those who have consumed a large dose of the drug through IV are also more likely to suffer side effects than those who have taken pills.

 Either way, most people do recover from an overdose but may have to experience or live with several side effects including:

  • Brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen
  • Muscle damage from lying on a hard surface over a long period
  • Pneumonia

What to Do if You Think You’re Having (Or Witnessing) A Valium Overdose?

It can be very distressing to witness or experience a Valium overdose. The best way to handle it is to stay as calm as possible.

If you suspect either yourself or a loved one is experiencing a Valium overdose you need to call 999 as it is a medical emergency. Before you call them try and make sure you know:

  • The person’s age and condition
  • What they have taken
  • When it was taken
  • How much was taken
  • Whether or not it was a benzodiazepine prescription

If you don’t have all of those details don’t worry, the main thing is to call for help. While you are waiting for help to arrive, stay with the person and check in on them regularly.

If they are conscious and become anxious, try and keep them calm by providing them with reassurance (tell them that help is on the way and remind them that most people make a full recovery).

If they start to fit, ensure the area they are in is as safe as it can be and clear the space of anything they could hurt themselves on.

If they become unconscious, put them in the recovery position and keep an eye on their breathing.

If they stop breathing, start CPR. Call emergency services for guidance.

How Are Valium Overdoses Typically Treated?

The treatment provided for the overdose will depend on various factors including how much Valium has been taken and if it has been mixed with other drugs or alcohol.  To start with, the paramedic or healthcare provider will measure and monitor vital signs, like their temperature, pulse, breathing rate and blood pressure.

Various tests can be carried out to work out the next best course of action, these may include:

  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan
  • ECG

From here, they will be able to decide which treatments would work best. This could include IV fluids, activated charcoal, laxatives or breathing support.

In the event that Valium has been taken alongside an opioid, paramedics may give a drug like Naloxone to reverse the effects. Occasionally they may use flumazenil, however, research has found this drug can lead to seizures so is not used in many cases.

Afterwards, given the serious nature of an overdose, addiction treatment will need to be considered too. There are several options available, but a Valium detox will be required at the very least. Which addiction treatments are used alongside this will depend on the individual and several other factors.

There are various options, but a medical detox at one of the UK’s treatment centres for addiction is a great place to start. The withdrawal process can be unpleasant and challenging, so undertaking it in a safe, clinical setting with medical help at hand is always best if possible.  

Mixing Valium With Other Drugs

Benzodiazepines like Valium taken alone rarely cause fatal overdose symptoms, but when Valium is combined with another sedative or opioid, the risk of overdose death is much higher. Sedative drugs often combined with Valium include alcohol, oxycodone and heroin. Unfortunately, here, and particularly in America, there is an ongoing opioid crisis. This means that the majority of deaths associated with benzodiazepines also involve opioid consumption.

 So why do people choose to mix Valium? Generally speaking, it is to enhance the sedation effect. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to take this too far and the result can be impaired cognition and motor control, suppressed breathing, overdose and potentially death.

Valium Overdose Statistics

Around 1.5 million people in the UK could have a Valium addiction: Benzodiazepine abuse is quite common. A poll for BBC Panorama found that 3% of 2,000 adults asked said they had been taking a benzodiazepine on prescription for over four months. Based on the 2001 adult population, that works out at around 1.5 million people. A different research paper found 1,300 patients were taking benzodiazepine for longer than six months. When extrapolated out to the UK population, it also works out at roughly 1.5 million people.

 A record number of deaths: Deaths involving prescription drugs like Valium are at the highest level for a decade. According to the latest ONS report there has been increasing numbers of deaths involving benzodiazepines in 2020, a rise of 19.3% when compared with 2019, jumping from 399 to 476 deaths. This amounts to a 55% increase in 10 years.

 New drug trends play a role: The same report found that new trends in taking certain drugs, such as gabapentinoids and benzodiazepines, alongside heroin or morphine, could increase the risk of an overdose.

Valium is the main culprit for benzodiazepine deaths: Research carried out by the NHS and  Turning Point found that deaths linked to Valium (now known as diazepam) rose 63%, the highest amongst all benzodiazepine drugs in the last decade, going from 186 to 304.

 Prescriptions for benzodiazepines are falling: What is concerning is that the rise in deaths is happening at the same time prescriptions for benzodiazepines in England have fallen from 11.3m in 2010 to 8.6m in 2020, in response to concerns about the high risk of dependency.

 Higher prescription rates in deprived communities: Research at University of Warwick has found an association between higher volumes of benzodiazepine prescribing and GP practices seeing patients in deprived areas.

 Children in the UK are being prescribed record levels of anti-anxiety drugs, including Valium: According to figures released in a House of Lords written question, the number of under 18s prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which include Valium, had risen to 122,181 in 2021/22 from 96,756 in 2019/20 and 77,696 in 2017/18.

Valium Addiction & Abuse

Valium works by helping your central nervous system relax. As such, it is prescribed for health issues such as anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures and alcohol withdrawal.

As a psychoactive drug, it can be both physically and psychologically addictive. Short-term side effects of using it can include slurred speech and lethargy and long-term use can lead to issues such as nightmares, anxiety and memory issues.

One of the main warning signs of addiction can include experiencing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If you experience a Valium overdose, that is another clear indicator that you need help to beat this addiction.

Experiencing an overdose is, in many cases, the wake-up call to get help. The good news is, that there are several Valium addiction treatments, including support groups, counselling and therapy, outpatient treatment and residential rehab at various treatment centres. Usually, a Valium addiction will benefit from being treated with a gradual dose reduction first. Psychological therapies can be offered either alongside or after the initial Valium detox addiction treatment, once the worst of the withdrawal symptoms have subsided.

Valium Overdose FAQs

How much Valium can you take in a day?

It depends what you are taking it for. For anxiety, for example, NICE states that adults should take 2 mg 3 times a day. If necessary, this may be increased to 15–30 mg daily in divided doses.

What does Valium do to you?

Valium boosts the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which in turns slows down the central nervous system and makes you feel more relaxed.

How long does diazepam last?

The effects of Valium (the relaxed, pleasant state) can last up to 6 hours. But because it is a long-acting benzodiazepine, the drug stays in your system for much longer.

Is diazepam a Valium?

Diazepam and Valium are the same drug. Diazepam is simply the generic name for the drug, Valium is a brand name for it.

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