Many of us feel symptoms of anxiety from time to time. For some people, though, anxiety and all of its uncomfortable symptoms are a daily occurrence. Ongoing anxiety can affect your ability to function at home, school, and work.
Treating anxiety often involves talk therapy and antidepressant medications. Benzodiazepines are another class of medications used to help curb anxiety. Two commonly prescribed benzodiazepines are Valium and Xanax. These drugs are similar, but not exactly alike.
Both drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders. Xanax also treats panic disorder.
Valium treats several other conditions, as well, including:
- acute alcohol withdrawal
- skeletal muscle spasm
- seizure disorders
- chronic sleep disorder
How they work
Valium and Xanax are both brand-name versions of different generic drugs. Valium is a brand name for the drug diazepam, and Xanax is a brand name for the drug alprazolam. Both of these drugs are minor tranquilizers.
They work by helping to boost the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter, or a chemical messenger that transmits signals throughout your body. If your body doesn’t have enough GABA, you may feel anxiety.
If you take Valium, you should avoid large amounts of grapefruit or grapefruit juice. Grapefruit blocks the enzyme CYP3A4, which helps break down certain drugs. So, having large amounts of grapefruit can increase the levels of Valium in your body. This can increase your risk of side effects.
Xanax and Valium are in the same drug class, so they have many of the same interactions with other drugs and substances. Medications that affect your central nervous system can be dangerous when combined with benzodiazepines. That’s because they can affect your respiratory system.
Several groups that interact include:
- other benzodiazepines or sedatives, such as sleeping pills and drugs for anxiety
- pain drugs, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, codeine, and tramadol
- antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics
- antiseizure medications
- tranquilizers and muscle relaxants
Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about all drugs and supplements you are currently taking before you start taking any new drug.
Certain people should not take one or either of these drugs. You shouldn’t take either one if you have acute angle-closure glaucoma or a history of allergic reaction to either drug.
Also, you shouldn’t take Valium if you have:
- a history of drug dependence
- myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease
- severe respiratory insufficiency
- sleep apnea
- severe liver insufficiency or liver failure
Common side effects of each drug include:
- impaired memory
- impaired motor coordination or balance
If you feel lightheaded or sleepy, don’t drive or operate dangerous equipment. This effect may last for a day after you stop taking the drug.
The most serious concerns about using Valium or Xanax are dependence and withdrawal. You can become dependent on these drugs after a few days or weeks. People who use these drugs may build a tolerance over time, and the risk of dependence increases the longer you use the drugs.
The risk of dependence and withdrawal also increases as you age. The drugs may have longer effects in older adults and take longer to leave their bodies.
These effects can happen with both drugs, so if they’re a serious concern for you, talk to your doctor about the right treatment for your anxiety.
You should also never stop taking these drugs abruptly. Stopping these drugs too quickly can lead to withdrawal. Seek your doctor’s advice on the best way to stop taking these drugs slowly.
Diazepam and alprazolam are effective in treating several conditions, including acute anxiety. However, each drug also treats different conditions. One drug may be more appropriate for you based on the condition you’re trying to treat and your medical history. Talk to your doctor about symptoms as well as your medical history to help your doctor determine which medication may be the best choice for you.
Differences at a glance
|slower to take effect||takes effect quickly|
|stays active for a shorter period||stays active for a longer period|
|approved for panic disorder||not approved for panic disorder|
|safety not established for children||may be used to treat children|