Valium and Alcohol

Author: NP Addiction Clinic
Published: August 9, 2022

Using more than one drug at a time, or polysubstance use, is common. It is generally done to enhance the effects or decrease the negative effects of one or both substances. Both Valium and alcohol are central nervous system depressants which means that taking them together increases the sedative effects of each.

Polysubstance abuse can be dangerous and even fatal. With alcohol abuse and Valium abuse, there is a higher chance of addiction and overdose than taking them separately. In 2019, nearly half of drug overdose deaths involved multiple drugs. If you or a loved one are using two substances or more, you should seek help as soon as possible. The sooner you get substance abuse treatment, the easier it is.

Valium Abuse

Valium is a benzodiazepine which are prescription medications used to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and muscle spasms. Valium works by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that reduces neuronal excitation and has calming and sedative effects.

Valium is a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning it has a low potential for abuse compared with Schedule III substances which are defined as having a potential to lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence. They were largely developed to replace the use of barbiturates for anxiety and insomnia since barbiturates were found to be extremely addictive. However, they are still significant drugs of abuse and when used for prolonged periods of time, hold a high risk of causing physical dependence.

Since Valium is an addictive substance, it should not be prescribed for longer than four weeks. However, in reality, they are widely prescribed. SAMHSA reported that over two million Americans misused tranquilizers in 2015. The exact number of people who abuse benzodiazepines is unknown.

Signs of Abusing Prescription Drugs

  • Taking more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed
  • Taking someone else's prescription
  • Buying prescription drugs on the street
  • Using a method of taking them that was not prescribed such as snorting or injecting

Symptoms of Valium Use

  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Muscular weakness
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Emotional blunting
  • Confusion
  • Depression

Anxiety and depression often co-occur. However, Valium does not have antidepressant properties. Since it depresses the nervous system, it can be dangerous when prescribed to people who have co-occurring disorders of anxiety and depression because it can exacerbate depression and suicidal behavior.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that is generally a socially acceptable substance to take. Ethanol is the active alcohol that is found in legal alcohol drinks. Like Valium, it works by increasing the activity of GABA in the brain. Alcohol also increases dopamine and endogenous opioids in the brain's reward pathways, causing effects of happiness, decreased anxiety, and increased sociability.

Alcohol is one of the most used and abused drugs in the United States. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 138.3 million Americans over the age of eleven drink alcohol, 66.7 million had binge drunk in the previous month, and 15.7 million people met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Although drinking alcohol is socially acceptable in the United States, it can be dangerous, increasing crime rates and health risks among those who use it.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use

  • Relaxation or drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Lower inhibitions
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of consciousness or gaps in memory

Addiction

Addiction is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a chronic brain disease that is very difficult to control. It leads to behavioral changes where those suffering compulsively seek out the substance to which they are addicted. There are risk factors that increase your chances of developing an addiction, and these include:

  • Mental health disorders
  • Genetic factors - up to half of your risk of addiction is based on genetics
  • Environmental factors - exposure to drugs
  • Family history of addiction
  • Previous personal substance use disorder
  • Childhood neglect or abuse

Dangers of Mixing Valium and Alcohol

People often mix Valium and alcohol to enhance the effects of Valium since both are central nervous system depressants. There is evidence that people with alcohol use disorders experience increased psychoactive effects from benzodiazepines so this might also be a reason for mixing them. However, mixing these substances can have negative consequences.

Effects of Combining Valium and Alcohol

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Depression
  • Brain damage

Increased Risk of Overdose

Taking Valium and alcohol together increases your risk of overdose compared to taking them alone. Both substances decrease breathing and heart rate which can lead to respiratory depression and death. Even when people survive an overdose, they may experience brain damage due to the lack of oxygen caused by respiratory depression. According to MMWR, over twenty-seven percent of visits to the emergency department related to benzodiazepine abuse also involve alcohol. Alcohol is also involved in over twenty-one percent of benzodiazepine overdoses.

Cognitive Effects

Both alcohol and Valium reduce cognition, so taking them together can lead to increased impaired judgment. Both substances also inhibit response time and motor coordination. These effects combined can be dangerous. Impaired judgment can lead you to make risky decisions such as you might cross a road dangerously, get into a fight, or try to drive. Since your response time and coordination are impaired, any of these actions carry increased risk. In 2016, over forty-three percent of drivers who died in traffic accidents tested positive for drugs, and over half of these drivers had taken more than one drug.

Effects on Health

Mixing alcohol and Valium increases the chances of serious health risks. Acute conditions include heart attack, stroke, psychosis, suicidal ideations, and seizures. Long-term conditions include cardiovascular and gastrointestinal issues, liver and kidney damage, and neurological issues.

Effects on the Treatment Process

When it comes to the treatment of substance abuse disorders, this is more complicated if you abuse multiple substances. There is an increased risk of unpredictable effects which can be hard to diagnose. Even once the condition is diagnosed, it can be difficult to treat due to complicated symptoms.

Depressant Overdose

Recognizing signs of overdose can be essential in getting someone life-saving help. Common signs to look out for include:

  • Slow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blueish lips and fingernails

If you see someone experiencing an overdose, you should call 911 immediately.

Withdrawal

If you have developed a dependency on a substance, your body and brain think that they cannot function normally without it. When you stop taking the substance, you experience withdrawal symptoms which can be very unpleasant. It is common that people relapse at this point due to the discomfort and cravings they experience. Since Valium and alcohol have similar neurological effects, withdrawal symptoms are also similar.

Due to how difficult this process is, it is generally recommended to undergo a medically supervised detox. Detoxing is when you stop taking a substance so that the toxins can leave your body. As mentioned, benzodiazepines can be used to help with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are then reduced until you are clean of both. This is more complicated if you have a dependency on benzodiazepines since you will also experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Supervised detox is especially recommended in these complicated cases. You will have twenty-four-hour support so that your mental and physical condition can be monitored and any necessary support can be given.

Shared Withdrawal Symptoms of Valium and Alcohol

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Muscle pain and aches
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts

When withdrawing from alcohol dependence, you may also experience a dangerous condition called delirium tremens. One in ten people will experience seizures during alcohol withdrawal. If these go untreated, one in ten people will develop delirium tremens. Symptoms include severe disorientation, breathing problems, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and uncontrollable restless behavior.

Acute withdrawal symptoms usually last for one week but can last longer depending on how heavily you were using. Following this, you may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms which include anxiety, depression, and drug cravings. These last from a few weeks to many months and also depend upon your substance use.

Addiction Treatment

At NP Addiction Clinic, we focus on long-term recovery by providing compassionate and comprehensive care. Addiction is different for everyone and we understand that your treatment needs are also unique to you. Polysubstance abuse is particularly complicated to treat so we offer specialized treatment to accommodate for this.

We offer state-of-the-art addiction treatment facilities with support including:

  • medical detox
  • individual and group therapy including behavioral therapies
  • family therapy
  • education
  • art, music, and recreational therapy
  • transitional support and alumni activities
  • trauma-focused therapy
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings

We understand that seeking addiction treatment is very difficult and are here to support you through this difficult time. If you are ready to seek support at substance addiction treatment services or would like more information, please visit our website to find out more or call us at (772) 281-5433.

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