Taking Valium as prescribed can be helpful for people with certain physical or mental health disorders. However, abusing Valium, or taking it with other addictive substances, especially alcohol, can have serious negative side effects and consequences.
Valium has been classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Most benzodiazepines are in this classification. There is a risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction with this prescription medication.
Valium is the brand name diazepam, which belongs to the benzodiazepine drug class. It is a prescription drug to treat seizures, insomnia, anxiety, panic disorders, and muscle spasms. It is also prescribed for alcohol withdrawal.
Valium lowers overall activity in the brain. It increases the availability of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters. GABA operates in the brain by acting as a volume control knob. The more GABA available, the lower the volume goes.
When a person with anxiety takes Valium, the result is relaxation and calm, which is why Valium is classified as a central nervous system depressant.
Alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant (CNS depressant). However, just because two substances affect the same area of the brain does not mean they are interchangeable or can be taken together. In fact, the opposite is true and some outcomes cause irreversible damage.
Abusing alcohol or Valium separately is dangerous, and many people have suffered the consequences of alcohol abuse and benzodiazepine drug addiction.
Alcohol abuse is one of the most accepted forms of substance abuse in the world. According to recent studies, approximately one of every eight people in America meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol addiction or alcoholism. A person abusing alcohol may hide how much they drink or drink more than they plan to. Additionally, they may often engage in hazardous behaviors while drinking, like drunk driving, binge drinking, or combining alcohol with other drugs.
Abusing alcohol increases risks of developing health issues, including:
- heart disease
- alcohol-related liver disease
- some cancers
- cardiovascular diseases
Alcohol addiction also has an effect on mental health, and alcohol has been connected to the following:
- blacking out
- antisocial behavior
In fact, healthcare and mental health professionals are encouraged to explore the alcohol-induced psychiatric conditions and assess a client’s alcohol use to ensure they are not being misdiagnosed.
Benzodiazepines continue to be one of the most prescribed medications in the world, including diazepam. As with any addictive medications, the more available the drug is, the more often it is abused.
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Valium (diazepam) is the third-most abused benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic across the country, with Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam) taking first and second place.
Some of the physical symptoms associated with Valium addiction include:
- blood in stool or urine
- consistent exhaustion
- daytime sleepiness
Some of the mental health symptoms connected to abusing Valium are:
- sleeping issues
- memory loss
- cognitive impairments
- impaired judgment
Valium addiction can actually end up causing the same issues it was prescribed to treat (insomnia, anxiety, etc). This is one of the reasons that Valium should only be prescribed short-term.
Mixing Valium And Alcohol
When alcohol and Valium mix, it magnifies the effects of both drugs, and can cause respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, coma, or death. Polysubstance abuse that combines alcohol and benzos is dangerous and should be avoided.
Some additional effects of drinking alcohol and mixing it with Valium include:
- loss of consciousness
- slowed heart rate
- drop in blood pressure
- extreme drowsiness
- respiratory depression
- brain damage
Some people may not realize the risks involved with mixing Valium and alcohol, including becoming addicted to or dependent on one or both substances.
There are a number of other prescription drugs and street drugs that have dangerous interactions with Valium.
Risk Of Overdose
According to reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), deaths involving benzodiazepines totaled 11,537 in 2017. The number of alcohol-related deaths came in at 72,558, and alcohol was involved in 2.6 percent of all deaths recorded in America that same year.
Between 21-27 percent of benzodiazepine overdoses involved alcohol as well. And of those that died of a benzodiazepine overdose, about a quarter of those people were drinking alcohol as well.
In 2010, over 110,160 ER visits involved both alcohol and benzos. A 2020 study found that alcohol and benzos contributed to 35.7 percent of opioid overdose deaths in 2017.
Taking multiple CNS depressants is like playing roulette. The wrong combination of factors can cause a fatal overdose.
Symptoms of overdose from polydrug use of Valium and alcohol include:
- weak, slow pulse
- drop in blood pressure
- “nodding out”
- muscle weakness
- clammy, bluish skin
- throaty gurgling while breathing
- loss of balance and coordination
As the effects of alcohol and Valium overdose grow more intense, the person eventually is unable to breathe enough to oxygenate the blood, the heart rate slows and cannot deliver blood to the brain. At minimum, lack of oxygen causes brain damage — in the worst case scenario, death.
Seek assistance from the nearest emergency department if you recognize these symptoms in someone abusing alcohol or benzos.
Treatment For Polysubstance Abuse
Choosing to mix Valium and alcohol can cause accidental fatalities in a number of ways. Helping someone understand the dangers associated with polysubstance abuse may require a substance abuse treatment program.
Polysubstance abuse treatment often offers medical detox as part of the inpatient treatment program. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. It is important to have medical advice and professionals available to navigate the detox process.
Substance abuse and addiction treatment options help people get sober and understand why they turned to substance use to begin with.
Our representatives are waiting to speak to you about polysubstance abuse and how it is affecting you or your loved one. They have information about treatment centers for substance use disorders, and how to best navigate these systems. Connect with one today.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers For Disease Control and Prevention — Drug Overdose Deaths
- JAMA Network — Alcohol or Benzodiazepine Co-involvement With Opioid Overdose Deaths in The United States, 1999-2017
- National Institutes of Health — Alcohol related deaths increasing in the United States
- National Institutes on Drug Abuse — Benzodiazepines and Opioids