Diazepam is an antianxiety medication that is also useful in the treatment of muscle spasms and some types of seizures. The drug belongs to the class of medications known as benzodiazepines that depress activity of the central nervous system.
Diazepam, which is marketed under the brand names of Valium, Diastat, T-Quil, and Valrelease, is taken by millions of people to relieve feelings of anxiety. As well, the drug can lessen muscle spasms and can control some types of seizures. Diazepam is also used to therapeutically lessen the agitation caused during alcohol withdrawal by someone who is physically addicted to alcohol. Additionally, diazepam is used in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and to lessen the symptoms of panic attacks.
Diazepam is supplied as a tablet, as a capsule that releases the active drug at a slower rate, or as a liquid. All three of these forms of the drug are taken orally. The time-release capsule should be swallowed whole. Diazepam should be stored at room temperature in a tightly closed container to avoid alteration in the compound due to excessive heat or moisture. Valium is also available in an injectable form.
Diazepam dosage is determined by a physician taking into account the nature of the problem, severity of the symptoms, and the person's response to the drug. Typical adult doses range from 2–10 mg taken two to four times a day. Children and elderly adults will typically receive 1–2 mg one to four times daily.
The dosage of diazepam typically prescribed by a physician is taken anywhere from one to four times each day, depending on the strength of the individual dose. This maintains the concentration of the drug at a therapeutic level, as diazepam is quickly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Peak levels of the drug are reached within a couple of hours after administration, with levels dropping below therapeutic effectiveness within six to eight hours.
Diazepam can be taken with or without food. The liquid form can be mixed with other fluids or select foods such as applesauce.
The recommended dosage should not be exceeded, nor should it continue to be taken after the prescribed time. Such abuse can lead to a dependence on the drug, or the establishment of tolerance. As the effectiveness of diazepam is related to its concentration, it is important to take the drug regularly. Doses should not be skipped as this could lead to a worsening of the symptoms.
Diazepam should not be taken with other central nervous system depressants such as narcotics, sleeping pills, or alcohol. The combinations could lower blood pressure and suppress breathing to the point of unconsciousness and death.
Persons taking diazepam should exercise extreme caution when driving or operating machinery. These activities should be avoided during periods of drowsiness associated with diazepam therapy.
Pregnant and breast-feeding woman should not take diazepam, nor should someone with myasthenia gravis. The drug should be used cautiously in those with epilepsy, as diazepam may trigger an epileptic seizure.
Common side effects from diazepam include drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, fatigue, muscle weakness, memory loss, skin rash, diarrhea, dry mouth, stomach upset, decreased sexual drive, and an altered appetite. Less common side effects include jaundice, decreased white blood cell count (leukopenia), insomnia, hallucinations, and irritability.
Diazepam can interact with other prescription medicines, especially antihistamines, as well as cimetidine (Tagamet), disulfiram (Antabuse), and fluoxetine (Prozac). Additionally, interaction can occur with medications given for the relief of depression, pain, Parkinson's disease, asthma, and colds, and with muscle relaxants, oral contraceptives, sedatives and sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and even some vitamins. In general, the result of the interaction is to increase the drowsiness caused by diazepam.
Diazepam: A Medical Dictionary, Bibliography, and Annotated Research Guide to Internet References. San Diego: Icon Health International, 2004.
"Diazepam." Drugs.com. May 5, 2004 (May 22, 2004.) <http://www.drugs.com/diazepam.html>.
"Diazepam." Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine. May 5, 2004 (May 22, 2004). <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/medmaster/a682047.html>.
Brian Douglas Hoyle, PhD