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What is Diazepam?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Diazepam is a prescription medication primarily given to patients with anxiety disorders, though it can also be effective at treating seizures, muscle spasms, and symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal. It is classified as a benzodiazepine and works by increasing the activity of a nervous system, regulating chemicals in the brain. The drug is familiarly identified by its principle brand name, Valium®, though generic forms are also available. Diazepam can be habit forming and is dangerous in large doses, so doctors are careful when prescribing the medication.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that is released in the brain to stabilize electrical and chemical activity of the central nervous system (CNS). People who have anxiety disorders, tremors, seizures, and other abnormal CNS symptoms often have too little GABA in circulation. Diazepam is a GABA enhancer; it promotes the release of more GABA and prevents it from being reabsorbed quickly. With increased GABA levels, CNS activity returns to normal.

Diazepam usually comes in extended-release capsules or liquid form. Occasionally, a hospitalized patient may receive an intravenous dose of the drug. Dosing amounts depend on the age and condition of a patient, but most adults are instructed to take 10 milligrams of diazepam two to four times a day. The most common side effects are drowsiness and dizziness, though a person may also experience mental confusion, vision changes, nausea, and loss of appetite. Allergic reactions, seizures, and heart palpitations are rare but possible, and should be assessed in the emergency room as soon as possible.

A doctor usually reviews a patient's medical history and current regimen of medications carefully before prescribing diazepam. The physician checks for possible adverse drug interactions and starts a patient on a low dose to monitor side effects. Patients are instructed to abstain from alcohol when taking the medication to prevent severe health complications. In addition, a patient may be told to avoid operating automobiles, working around machinery, or engaging in other potentially hazardous activities due to the sedative properties of the drug.

Diazepam has the potential to become addictive. A person can become physically and psychologically dependent on the drug, believing that he or she needs to increase dosing amounts and frequencies to achieve the desired effects. Doctors typically meet with patients regularly to make sure they do not show signs of addiction. Diazepam is also a popular yet very dangerous recreational drug. The medication can lead to severe side effects or even death when it is taken by a person who does not have a prescription.

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Discussion Comments
By Alchemy — On Jun 06, 2010

Diazepam addiction is a serious risk. What makes diazepam addiction so scary is the fact that the withdrawals can kill you. The only other addiction where the withdrawals are known to kill is alcohol addiction. The effects of diazepam on the brain are very similar to alcohol. This is probably why diazepam is given to severe alcoholics during detox. I had a friend die of a prescription drug overdose. Diazepam was a cheap substitute for him when opiates were unavailable. Addiction is one of the hardest things to watch someone struggle through. He left behind an unborn daughter and his fiancée; all only a semester away from earning his college degree.

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