What Is Diazepam?
Diazepam is a generic drug with the brand name Valium. It’s prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and is classified as a benzodiazepine. This drug class also includes alprazolam, which is Xanax, clonazepam or Klonopin, and lorazepam which is the brand name Ativan. Along with being used to treat anxiety disorders, diazepam can also be prescribed to treat tremors, seizures, and delirium associated with withdrawal from alcohol.
Benzodiazepines are considered psychoactive substances, meaning they affect the thoughts and behaviors of the person using the drug. There are risks associated with the use of benzos like diazepam, but they remain one of the most commonly prescribed drug classes in the U.S. Diazepam and other benzos are believed to work by stimulating a calming or tranquilizing brain chemical. Common side effects of diazepam and other benzos include drowsiness, dizziness and, in some cases, feelings of depression. For someone with anxiety, the brain tends to be over-active. The brain isn’t able to naturally produce enough tranquilizing signals to calm this activity. One of the primary neurotransmitters responsible for providing a calming effect in the brain is GABA. Diazepam and other benzos are thought to improve the effectiveness of GABA, creating a tranquilized brain effect. Specific disorders diazepam may be prescribed to treat along with alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Epileptic seizures
- Panic attacks
Doctors are advised not to prescribe diazepam or other benzodiazepines as a long-term treatment option, however. These drugs can be habit-forming, and physical dependence is also possible. They are usually safe for short-term use of around two weeks. Any longer than this and someone’s chances of becoming addicted or dependent are significantly higher.
Narcotic is a term that’s frequently used to describe any drug in the U.S., especially ones that are illegal or habit-forming, but this isn’t accurate. Technically, a narcotic is a certain type of drug which includes prescription painkillers like Vicodin. The narcotic drug class is also called opioid. Along with prescription drugs, heroin is a narcotic. There is a lot of concern about the use of narcotics right now because the number of overdose deaths related to these drugs has spiked tremendously in recent years. Drug-related deaths are currently one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
So, is diazepam a narcotic? It’s not a narcotic because it’s instead classified as a benzodiazepine, but diazepam does have things in common with narcotics. First, both narcotics and diazepam have a depressive effect on the central nervous system. This is why people who use these drugs may seem impaired or intoxicated. Both diazepam and narcotics also depress respiration because of their CNS effects. One of the most common side effects of diazepam along with drowsiness is euphoria. When a drug causes a psychoactive effect like euphoria, it means it has the potential to be addictive. The brain is triggered, and its reward pathways want to continue seeking out the substance that created euphoria. Both diazepam and narcotics have this effect, which is why prescribing instructions should closely be followed with both.
Also possible with both narcotics and benzos is physical dependence. Dependence on a certain substance doesn’t mean a person is psychologically addicted. It does mean that if they try to stop using the drug suddenly, they’ll go through withdrawal. While opioid withdrawal can be difficult and uncomfortable, diazepam withdrawal can be deadly. Withdrawal from diazepam and other benzodiazepines can cause seizures and other severe effects. These risks are why it’s important to speak with your doctor before stopping the use of these drugs.
Diazepam shouldn’t be mixed with certain other substances or drug classes. One class of drugs it shouldn’t be combined with are narcotics. Both diazepam and narcotics suppress CNS function and breathing. When they’re combined, this suppression can be extreme to the point that someone loses consciousness or dies. Mixing diazepam with alcohol is also often deadly. The number of overdoses and deaths related to benzos and alcohol combined has gone up significantly in recent years. Alcohol, like narcotics, is also a depressant and combining it with something like diazepam can lead to over sedation.
Finally, diazepam is a legal substance, as with prescription narcotics. According to the DEA’s drug schedule, diazepam has a lower addiction potential than narcotics, but that risk is still there. There have also been efforts in recent years to make prescribing guidelines for diazepam and other benzodiazepines stricter. For example, some states are now requiring doctors and pharmacies to keep detailed prescription records that can be used by law enforcement agencies. There are also guidelines as to how much diazepam can be prescribed at one time. If someone uses diazepam without a valid prescription, it can lead to felony charges. There are both federal guidelines and many states also have even stricter laws in place for the use or sale of prescription drugs. For example, in some states, if someone is caught with a controlled substance without a prescription, their driver’s license may be suspended.
There has been an increase in the number of people addicted to diazepam and other benzodiazepines in recent years, despite the fact that it’s not a narcotic. If you or a loved one is misusing diazepam or other benzos, you can stop. Contact The Recovery Village to learn more about benzo addiction and the treatment options available to improve the likelihood of a successful recovery.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.