Valium, diazepam, is a long-acting benzodiazepine, that is often used, against recommendation, to treat anxiety disorders such as panic disorder. Benzodiazepines commonly referred to as “nerve pills” have been widely used since the 1960’s for alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, however are now known to be extremely dangerous and addictive and therefore are recommended only for certain refractory cases. Their withdrawals alone can result in seizures and even death and therefore individuals taking benzodiazepines usually need to be slowly weaned in order to prevent deadly withdrawals. Valium was the fourth most-prescribed benzodiazepine in the US, as 15 million prescriptions were written, as per the Drug Enforcement Administration and large amounts of this drug are sold illegally on the streets, in order to turn an even greater profit. Valium and other benzodiazepines, specifically short-acting agents, can be helpful in certain short-term situations such as to relieve anxiety before an invasive medical or dental procedure, to relieve acute symptoms of anxiety and fear after a traumatic event and to help treat insomnia; however it is important to practice caution when using these medications and they have a very high addiction potential. Some effects from Valium abuse include the following:
- Impaired ability to perform typically enjoyable physical activities.
- Mood swings and episodes of depression.
- Memory loss and poor concentration.
- Aggression and violence.
- Respiratory problems and reduced blood pressure.
- Fatigue and grogginess.
- Low motivation.
- Physical and psychological dependence accompanied by severe withdrawal symptoms when suspending usage.
Panic attacks mimic life-threatening situations where the individual feels they are dying. They will often present with chest pain and shortness of breath that typically peaks within 10 minutes. Panic disorder is diagnosed when individuals experience recurrent panic attacks followed by at least one-month duration of having a fear of an oncoming panic attack. Studies have shown that approximately 2%-6% of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with panic disorder in their lifetime and nearly half of panic disorders diagnosed in adults in a 12-month period are considered severe. Panic disorder often coexists with mood disorders, and mood symptoms potentially follow the onset of panic attacks. Lifetime prevalence rates of major depression in panic disorder may be as high as 50-60%. The following symptoms are seen in panic disorder:
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain
- Feeling dizzy
- Chills or heat sensations
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Being detached from oneself
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
Treatment for panic disorder
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recommends treating patients with panic disorder when symptoms cause dysfunction or significant distress in aspects of an individual’s life as their such as work, family life, social obligation, and leisure activities. Benzodiazepines such as Valium are not a first-line recommended treatment approach for individuals with panic disorder and are only recommended for individuals who have panic disorder that has not been successfully treated with any other psychotherapy or pharmacological treatment. The first-line treatment for panic disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy with or without medication. Medications that are recommended include antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction
Benzodiazepine addiction, like alcohol, is usually treated with a slow taper of benzodiazepines to prevent seizures. Depending on the severity of the addiction and if there are co-occurring mental health conditions present, the duration and level of care may vary from inpatient hospitalization to outpatient therapy. Psychotherapy is needed in order to address the underlying behaviors leading to the addiction and to teach individual’s self-care and how to control their triggers and cravings.