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Valium Vs. Xanax | Withdrawal, High, and Overdose

If you’re one of the 40 million people who struggle with anxiety disorders, your treating physician may have offered you Valium or Xanax. Unfortunately, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, and it affects 18.1 percent of the population annually. Although these disorders are highly treatable, only an estimated 36.9 percent of those suffering will get the help they need. 

Those struggling with anxiety disorders are three to five times more likely to see a doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those without an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders stem from a complex set of risk factors that include a person’s brain chemistry, genetics, personality, and life events. 

It’s common for us to experience anxiousness sometimes. However, for some people, anxiety is an unpredictable and uncomfortable condition that becomes a daily nuisance. Ongoing anxiety will affect your ability to function at school, work, and even in your home. 

Treating anxiety involves more than just medication sometimes, but when it’s warranted, it can be an effective means of helping someone. Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax are incredibly addictive, and treating one condition can lead to another. Valium and Xanax may seem the same, but they aren’t exactly alike. 

Why They’re Prescribed

Both Xanax and Valium are used to treat anxiety disorders, but Xanax can also treat panic disorder. In addition, Valium is used to treat several conditions, including the following:

How They Work

Xanax and Valium are both brand-name versions of two different generic drugs. Xanax is the brand name drug for alprazolam, while Valium is the brand name drug for diazepam. Both medications are considered minor tranquilizers. 

Each works by boosting the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals throughout the body, and if your body doesn’t have enough, you’re likely to experience anxiety.

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Interactions

If you’re prescribed Valium, it’s important to avoid significant amounts of grapefruit or grapefruit juice. Grapefruit is responsible for blocking the enzyme CYP3A4, which is responsible for breaking down certain drugs. By consuming large amounts of grapefruit will increase the levels of Valium in your body and multiply the side effects. 

Drug Interactions

Valium and Xanax are in the same class of drugs, and they have similar interactions with other substances and drugs. Any medication that affects our central nervous system (CNS) is dangerous when combined with benzodiazepines because it affects our respiratory system. 

Several categories of drugs that interact with benzodiazepines include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Alcohol
  • Other sedatives or benzodiazepines that include sleeping pills or medication for anxiety
  • Pain medication, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, tramadol, and codeine
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxants and tranquilizers

This does not include all of the potential drug interactions. You should always consult with your prescribing physician or pharmacist for a more detailed understanding of interactions that may occur. It’s challenging to determine how a drug can interact in your system since our body chemistry is different. 

When speaking with the doctor, always mention supplements or other prescriptions you might be taking before starting a new drug. This information could save you further discomfort or worse.

Warnings for Certain People

There are certain individuals who shouldn’t use either drug. For example, if you have acute angle-closure glaucoma or a history of allergic reactions to Xanax or Valium, you should seek alternative options. 

You shouldn’t use Valium if you have any of the following:

  • Myasthenia gravis, which is a neuromuscular disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Severe respiratory insufficiency
  • A history of drug dependence or addiction
  • Severe liver insufficiency or acute liver failure

Side Effects of Valium and Xanax

The most common side effects you could experience when using these drugs include the following:

  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired balance or motor coordination
  • Extreme drowsiness

You might experience these effects for a day or two after you stop using Valium or Xanax. If you experience sleepiness or feel lightheaded, please refrain from driving or operating heavy machinery. Until you know how these medications affect you, avoid any potentially dangerous activities.

Dependence and Withdrawal

Valium and Xanax blisters

Although these can be beneficial medications when treating anxiety or other panic disorders, the most serious concerns doctors and medical professionals have for Xanax or Valium are dependence and withdrawal. It’s easy to become dependent on either drug in a few days. Those who use these medications can build up a tolerance over time, and the risk of dependence will increase exponentially the longer you use them. The risk of dependence and withdrawals will increase, and both drugs have more prolonged effects in older adults. 

These effects can occur with both drugs, and if it’s a serious concern, speak with your doctor about the right treatment for your symptoms. You should never abstain from Xanax or Valium abruptly. Stopping benzodiazepines too quickly can cause withdrawal, which can be fatal.

Although withdrawal symptoms are similar for both, Xanax may cause more than Valium. Some example of withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Increased feelings of anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headaches

It’s possible for these symptoms to last for weeks, or in some cases, months. During this time, having support from family, friends, a group, or a professional organization can help you cope with the effects. Getting professional treatment in a controlled environment can help you access the necessary medications to alleviate the worst symptoms and stay safe. 

Which One Works Faster?

The difference is minimal. However, Valium is typically absorbed faster than Xanax. Peak concentrations for both drugs occur within one to two hours. The effects of Valium last approximately four hours but can persist in some individuals. The effects of Xanax last on average five hours, but there are wide variations between individuals. One study suggested diazepam could be more effective than alprazolam to control anxiety if the person was depressed, but the difference wasn’t significant. 

Which Drug is More Effective For Anxiety?

When comparing Xanax with Valium in the treatment of anxiety, Valium is said to be slightly more beneficial to relax anxiety, especially if it’s accompanied by depression. The differences were not clinically meaningful, and few side effects were reported. The most common effects include:

  • Tremors
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness

Xanax is shown to cause less drowsiness than diazepam, but it depends on the individual and their genetic makeup. 

Who Should Avoid Valium or Xanax?

If you don’t have underlying health conditions, Xanax and Valium are safe to use as long as a person follows their doctor’s instructions. Both of these medications run the risk of dependency because they cause significant changes in how the brain functions. For this reason, Xanax and Valium should only be used as short-term means to your condition. 

These medications aren’t for everyone, and a doctor will inquire about pre-existing conditions before prescribing Xanax or Valium. Those with the following medical conditions should avoid using these drugs. These include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleep apnea
  • Severe liver or kidney disease
  • Lung disease or other breathing issues
  • Depression
  • Glaucoma
  • Former or current alcohol or drug addiction or misuse

Children should not use Xanax or Valium. Older adults can, under the right circumstances, but they’ll typically receive smaller doses. There isn’t much data that exists to show the effects of Valium or Xanax in children. 

You should speak to your doctor if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant or think you’re pregnant. Although data doesn’t exist showing the use of these medications if safe or harmful during pregnancy or breastfeeding, it’s always better to err on the side of caution for your baby. 

Although Valium and Xanax are different, they’re used for similar issues. Only your doctor can recommend these medications.

Treatment for Valium or Xanax Dependence

As was mentioned above, abrupt cessation of benzodiazepines can be fatal. If you’ve been using these drugs and develop a dependence, having more than support from your friends is necessary. The way these substances affect your GABA can have lasting consequences, including death. Checking yourself into a medical detox will allow you to have access to around-the-clock care, support, and medications to get you through the worst of your symptoms. Once completed, it might be in your best interest to check into a long-term treatment facility to understand what made you start abusing drugs in the first place. 

Sources

ADAA (February 2021) Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

MedlinePlus (February 2021) Alcohol WIthdrawal. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

FDA (N.D.) Diazepam. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2008/013263s083lbl.pdf

NCBI (June 1984) Alprazolam and Diazepam in the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6145726/

MedlinePlus (February 2021) Alprazolam. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a684001.html

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