Diazepam Alcohol Medication

Diazepam (Valium) Detox

Alcohol Detox Medications & Prescriptions

Managing Alcohol Withdrawals with Diazepam

Alcohol withdrawals are a serious and dangerous condition. To provide a safe and effective treatment to those suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, a medication called diazepam – commonly known as Valium – is often used by hospitals, doctors and detox clinics too.

Understanding Alcohol Withdrawals

Alcohol withdrawals occurs when people who have been consuming alcohol excessively suddenly stop or significantly reduce their alcohol intake. Suddenly stopping alcohol can lead to a range of withdrawal symptoms that vary in severity. These symptoms may include insomnia, tremors, anxiety, irritability, hallucinations, seizures, and in severe cases delirium tremens (DTs). The severity of the symptoms often depends on the person’s alcohol consumption patterns and how long they have been drinking.

The neurochemical balance in the brain is disrupted by chronic alcohol use leading to a dependence on alcohol to maintain normal brain function. When alcohol is no longer present in the system, the brain becomes hyperexcitable, resulting in withdrawal symptoms. This hyperexcitability is caused by changes in the activity of neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate.

Introduction to Diazepam (Valium)

Diazepam, also known commonly as Valium, is a medication classed as a benzodiazepine. It’s commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, muscle spasms and seizures.

Diazepam is prescribed for various medical conditions including:

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

For people undergoing alcohol withdrawal, diazepam helps manage the associated symptoms such as tremors, agitation and anxiety. It’s usually prescribed as part of an alcohol detoxification program.

Anxiety Disorders

Diazepam is effective in treating generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. It works by enhancing the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain, which helps to reduce anxiety symptoms.

Muscle Spasms and Stiffness

Diazepam is commonly used to relieve muscle spasms and stiffness caused by conditions such as muscle strains, sprains, back pain or neurological disorders. It acts by relaxing the muscles and reducing muscle tone.

Seizure Disorders

Diazepam is an effective medication for controlling seizures in conditions like epilepsy. It helps prevent or reduce the frequency of seizures by calming excessive electrical activity in the brain.

The Role of Diazepam in Alcohol Detox Treatment

Diazepam is a class of medication that act on the central nervous system by enhancing the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain. By increasing GABA activity, diazepam helps restore the neurochemical balance disrupted by alcohol withdrawal. This leads to a reduction in the severity of withdrawal symptoms and promotes a state of relaxation.

Various benzodiazepines are commonly used to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These medications work by easing specific symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal, including seizures and tremors, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, nausea and vomiting, irritability, chills and sweats, headaches, pain and anxiety and panic too.

Dosage of Diazepam Detox

Dosage and Administration

The exact dosage of diazepam varies depending on the severity of alcohol withdrawals, the client’s age and their response to the medication. It’s important to follow the doctor’s instructions and never exceed the prescribed dose. Diazepam is available in several forms, including tablets, oral concentrate and oral solution. The specific dosage form and strength will determine the appropriate dosing regimen.

Oral Tablets

Diazepam tablets are available in various strengths, including 2 mg, 5 mg and 10 mg. The dosage is typically initiated at the lowest effective dose and gradually increased if necessary. The tablets should be swallowed whole with a glass of water, with or without food.

Oral Concentrate and Solution

For those who have difficulty swallowing tablets, diazepam is also available in oral concentrate and solution forms. These forms allow for more accurate dosing using a special measuring device or spoon. The concentrate or solution can be mixed with a small amount of liquid or soft food for easier administration.

Diazepam should be stored at room temperature, away from moisture, heat and light. Keep it out of reach of children and never share it with others, as misuse can lead to addiction, overdose and death.

Duration Of Treatment

The duration of diazepam treatment for alcohol withdrawal will vary depending on the person’s specific needs, medical history, health conditions and severity of withdrawals. Typically, treatment lasts for a period of a week to ten days, but not uncommon for clients to be administered for 14 days in severe cases. Usually, the dosage is gradually reduced over time, see different regimens below. However, it’s important to note that detoxification alone is not sufficient for long-term recovery.

Following successful withdrawal, people usually engage in ongoing treatment and recovery services. This could be in the form of alcohol therapy and counselling, attending mutual support groups such as AA and SMART recovery, and developing healthy habits to remain abstinent and achieve long-term recovery.

How To Take Diazepam in Alcohol Detox

Diazepam should only be used under the supervision and prescription of a medical professional. While diazepam is prescribed successfully in both inpatient and outpatient settings, the choice of medication and treatment setting depends on various factors such as the severity of alcoholism, the presence of other medical or psychiatric conditions and the person’s response to previous treatments.

Fixed Tapering Dose Regimen (FTDR)

In this approach, usually used in the UK, a fixed dose of diazepam is administered at regular intervals. This method is suitable for those with mild symptoms and is often used in outpatient settings or as part of an outpatient recovery program.

A typical tapering schedule for Diazepam may involve:

Day 1&2: Higher dosage to manage initial withdrawal symptoms
Days 2-4: Gradual reduction of dosage by a predetermined amount
Days 5-7: Further reduction of dosage based on individual response and symptom management

Symptom Triggered Regimen (STR)

The symptom-triggered regimen involves administering diazepam based on the person’s self-reported level of withdrawal symptoms. Higher levels of symptoms result in higher dosage. This approach normally requires direct medical supervision, usually in a hospital or detox clinic, making it more suitable for people with mild to severe symptoms and is mostly used in an inpatient or residential recovery setting. It’s not too different from the tapering off method, except people uses get a high dose in the first few days depending on the symptoms they show, then start tapering off once the withdrawal symptoms start to ease and the person begins to feel better.

Benefits of Using Diazepam as an Alcohol Detox Medication

Diazepam offer several benefits when used for alcohol withdrawal:

Tailored Treatment

Diazepam treatment can be personalised to suit each person’s specific needs to a more effective and tailored therapy.

Symptom Management

Diazepam effectively eases the most severe and dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including seizures and pain, allowing people to undergo withdrawal with greater comfort and safety.

Fewer Side Effects

In comparison to alternative medications, diazepam is known to have fewer and less severe side effects, making it a good choice for many people and medical professionals.

Transition to Long-Term Recovery

By mitigating the worst symptoms of withdrawal, diazepam enables people to successfully progress towards long-term recovery, where they can receive further treatment and support for their alcohol dependence.

It’s worth nothing that diazepam carries certain risks and potential side effects, including the risk of addiction. This medication should only be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Side Effects of Valium Detox

While Diazepam is generally well-tolerated, it can cause certain side effects and pose some risks. It’s a good idea to be aware of these potential complications and seek medical attention if necessary.

Common side effects of benzodiazepines such as diazepam include: drowsiness, sedation, confusion, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, memory loss, changes in appetite, difficulty maintaining balance, weight gain, tiredness and sexual dysfunction.

Less common but more severe side effects can occur, such as addiction, withdrawal symptoms, jaundice, seizures, suicide ideation, changes in heart rate, fainting, movement disorders, respiratory issues and potential interactions with other medications. It’s wise to discuss these potential side effects with the doctor before starting diazepam treatment for alcohol withdrawal.

Allergic Reactions

Some people may experience allergic reactions to Diazepam, characterised by symptoms such as hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat. If you develop any signs of an allergic reaction, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

Breathing Problems and Sedation

Diazepam might slow down the respiratory system, especially when combined with alcohol or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Please monitor your breathing and seek medical help if you experience slow or shallow breathing, blue-coloured lips or difficulty waking up.

Changes in Mood and Behaviour

In some extremely rare cases, Diazepam causes changes in mood and behaviour, including worsening depression, anxiety, panic attacks or suicidal thoughts. Be vigilant for any sudden and severe changes in your mental state and seek medical help if necessary.

If you experience any of these symptoms, please seek medical help immediately.

Precautions and Considerations When Taking Diazepam

Before taking diazepam, discuss your medical history and any current medications with your doctor. Certain conditions and medications may interact with diazepam, leading to potential complications or reduced effectiveness. While taking Diazepam for alcohol withdrawal detox, it’s worth sticking to certain safety measures to ensure the effectiveness and safety of the treatment.

Interactions with Other Medications

Diazepam may interact with certain medications, including opioids, alcohol, and other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These interactions can increase the risk of sedation, respiratory depression and other serious side effects. Inform your doctor about all the medications, supplements and herbal products you are currently taking to avoid potential interactions.

CNS Depressants and Opioids

Combining Diazepam with other CNS depressants, such as sedatives, tranquillisers or opioids can result in excessive sedation, respiratory depression and even overdose. It’s highly important that people inform the doctor about all medications you are taking, including recreational drugs, to avoid potentially dangerous interactions.

Over-the-counter Medications, Vitamins, and Herbal Products

Even over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal products can interact with Diazepam and alter its effects. Disclose all the medications and supplements you are currently taking to your healthcare provider to ensure safe and effective treatment.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Diazepam may harm an unborn baby and should not be used during pregnancy unless specifically prescribed by your doctor. If you become pregnant while taking diazepam, inform your healthcare provider immediately. It’s also not recommended to breastfeed while using diazepam, as it can pass into breast milk and harm the nursing infant.

Avoid Alcohol and Grapefruit

During Diazepam treatment, clients must avoid consuming alcohol. Combining Diazepam with alcohol can result in increased sedation, respiratory depression and potential overdose. Interestingly, grapefruit and grapefruit juice should also be avoided, as they can interact with Diazepam and alter its metabolism, potentially leading to increased side effects.

Driving and Operating Machinery

Diazepam can cause drowsiness, dizziness and impaired coordination. Assess the individual response to the medication before engaging in activities that require mental alertness, such as driving or operating machinery. If you experience significant drowsiness or dizziness, it’s advisable to avoid these activities until you are no longer under the influence of the medication.

Is Diazepam Addictive?

Diazepam belongs to a class of medications that can potentially cause addiction and dependence. It’s essential to take Diazepam exactly as prescribed and not to increase the dosage or frequency of use without consulting your healthcare provider. If you have a history of substance use disorder or addiction, it’s very important to discuss this with your doctor before starting Diazepam treatment. Regular monitoring and open communication with your practitioner can help mitigate the risk of addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes. Because of it’s sedative nature, many people feel very drowsy, light-headed and sleepy. Some doctors use diazepam to treat insomnia. When taking diazepam, please don’t drive or operate any machinery that could be dangerous.

In the UK, Diazepam is a controlled drug and can only be prescribed by a doctor. It cannot be bought over the counter on online, and it is illegal to buy or sell diazepam.

It typically starts working within 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion. The onset of action may vary depending on individual factors such as metabolism and overall health.

Yes, it is a highly addictive benzodiazepine medication. Like any other benzodiazepine, its misuse can lead to addiction. It is normally only prescribed for short-term use. It is essential to use it only as prescribed and under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Combining Diazepam and alcohol can have dangerous effects, including blackouts and potentially life-threatening complications. It is important to avoid alcohol consumption during treatment with Diazepam.

Diazepam may interact with other medications, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. It is important to inform your healthcare professional about all medications and supplements being taken to avoid potential drug interactions.

Some medications that may interact with Diazepam include:

  • Opioid pain medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamines
  • Sedatives and sleep aids
  • Alcohol

The interaction between medications can lead to increased sedation, respiratory depression, and other potential side effects. Always consult a healthcare professional before starting or stopping any medications while taking Diazepam.

Diazepam should not be taken during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. The medication can potentially harm the baby and could lead to withdrawal symptoms in newborns. It is important to discuss different treatment options with the doctor if pregnancy is a consideration. Also, Diazepam should be avoided while breastfeeding, as it can pass into breast milk and potentially affect the nursing infant. Consultation with a healthcare professional is essential for breastfeeding mothers.

Yes, diazepam may also be used in drug detoxification, particularly for addiction to other benzodiazepines and opioid and withdrawal management. The specific treatment plan will depend on individual circumstances and professional recommendations.

Yes, although it is a specialist alcohol withdrawal medication, Diazepam’s anxiolytic (a medication that reduces anxiety) properties help reduce anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation, which means a GP can prescribe it for treatment of conditions other than alcohol withdrawal, but this is rare. The dosage and duration of treatment for anxiety disorders may differ from that of alcohol detoxification.

Depends on the painkillers. Taking this medication with alcohol or other drugs that can cause drowsiness or breathing problems (especially opioid medications such as codeine, hydrocodone) may cause very serious side effects, including death.

Valium has no known harmful interaction with ibuprofen, paracetamol or aspirin. Speak to a doctor if you are taking painkillers and Diazepam.

Its relaxation properties mean Diazepam helps to increase serotonin and dopamine levels – one of the reasons it’s so effective in treating anxiety and anxiety-present conditions, including alcohol withdrawals.

Getting Help for Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal should never be taken lightly, as it can be a severe and potentially life-threatening condition. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol dependence and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, please seek professional help. Treatment providers and medical professionals can provide the necessary support and guidance to safely manage alcohol withdrawal and develop a comprehensive treatment plan for alcohol dependence. The selection of treatment setting, whether inpatient or outpatient, should be determined based on the person’s specific needs, severity of symptoms and presence of comorbid medical or psychiatric conditions.

Treatment for alcohol withdrawal should always be followed by further treatment for alcohol dependence to address the underlying addiction and promote long-term recovery. Seeking help from support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or engaging in comprehensive treatment programs can provide additional support and resources for people on their journey to recovery.

Remember, recovery is possible, and seeking help is the first step towards a healthier and happier life free from alcohol dependence. Contact us today for free advice on how to start getting well from alcohol addiction.

James McInally

Written by James McInally

This article was written by James McInally,
James is an addiction specialist and counsellor, mindfulness teacher, NLP practitioner, fitness instructor and well-being coach. He has helped hundreds of people overcome alcohol misuse.
Last updated on 16 August 2023

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