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Anxiety can be debilitating, but there are medications available to treat it. Among the more common anti-anxiety drugs available are Valium and Xanax, which are both benzodiazepines that can effectively treat symptoms of anxiety.
Many people think Xanax and Valium are essentially one and the same, but this is far from the truth. Though there are similarities, including their risks for abuse and addiction, there are also some key differences between these drugs. Side effects, dosages and uses can vary widely between each drug, so it’s important to understand how each one works.
Valium and Xanax are two types of anti-anxiety drugs. They are both classified as benzodiazepines, a specific class of medications commonly prescribed to help alleviate anxiety. Valium is a brand name for diazepam, while Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam. Both drugs act like minor tranquilizers.
Valium and Xanax both help to increase the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that sends inhibitory signals through the nervous system. When there is not enough GABA, feelings of anxiety may arise. By helping to keep GABA at an adequate level, Valium and Xanax can help to alleviate the anxiety that would otherwise occur.
Xanax and Valium both belong to the benzodiazepine drug class. This is a large class of medications that can be used to treat anxiety, seizures, insomnia, panic, alcohol withdrawal and other conditions.
Example of other drugs in this class include:
Although these drugs are similar, they are not exactly the same. While Xanax treats anxiety as well as panic disorder, Valium treats these and several other conditions. These conditions include muscle spasms, seizure disorders, sleep disorders and alcohol withdrawal.
These drugs share some similar side effects, but they each have their own unique side effects as well. For instance, Xanax side effects can also include constipation, weight fluctuations and memory problems. Meanwhile, Valium side effects can also include diarrhea, muscle spasms, rash, loss of balance, lack of sleep, confusion, irritability and double vision.
Even though people commonly use these terms, calling Valium “stronger” or “weaker” than Xanax does not accurately describe how the drugs work. Both drugs can be just as strong as the other if given in the correct dosages. A better definition is “potency,” which refers to how much of a drug is needed for the same effects.
In terms of potency, Xanax is much more potent than Valium. Basically, this means that you can take smaller doses of Xanax to get the same effects as higher doses of Valium. Both drugs have the same effects on the body, so when taken at equivalent doses, they will produce the same effects, like calmness, sedation, drowsiness and dizziness.
Due to the potency of Xanax, 1 mg of Xanax is equal to 20 mg of Valium. Because of the range in potency between different benzodiazepines, a health care professional would prescribe varying dosages based on the drug a person needs.
Another difference between benzodiazepines is that they work for different amounts of time in the body. Even though 1 mg of Xanax is equivalent to 20 mg of Valium, Xanax only lasts six hours while Valium lasts 12 hours. Valium also accumulates more than Xanax, so someone taking it long-term will have more accumulated in their body and may not have as many withdrawal symptoms because it leaves more slowly.
Valium takes longer to work than Xanax when both are taken by mouth. The exception is if Valium is injected into the vein or muscle. Xanax is only available in oral form, and it takes about 30 minutes to work. Valium can take 30 to 60 minutes to start working.
Half-life is used to measure whether a benzodiazepine is short-acting or long-acting. Generally, short-acting benzos have a half-life of less than 12 hours, and long-acting ones have a half-life of more than 12 hours.
Half-life is a measure of how long it takes the body to remove half of the drug. Xanax has a half-life of 11 hours, while Valium has a half-life of up to 48 hours.
Benzos with a short half-life usually have a greater potential for addiction because withdrawal symptoms happen quickly after stopping it. Benzos with a long half-life release from the body slowly, so detox and withdrawal symptoms usually begin more slowly and are milder.
Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for anxiety, but their usage has been decreasing over the last several decades because of an increased understanding of their potential for abuse and addiction. If your doctor prescribes one of these drugs, it will usually only be for a short period.
Xanax only comes in an oral form, and for this reason, it is only approved to treat anxiety. Another reason for this is that it is shorter-acting than other benzodiazepines. Valium is often prescribed for other reasons, including alcohol withdrawal, seizures, muscle spasms and psychiatric emergencies. The long half-life means it is useful for managing alcohol withdrawals and life-threatening conditions like seizures in epilepsy. Neither drug should be used regularly due to the potential for addiction.
Valium and Xanax should not be used together. They have the same effect and targets in the body, so taking them together will only increase the risk of side effects like drowsiness, dizziness and addiction. Further, the overdose risk greatly increases when taking more than one type of benzo at a time. Benzodiazepine overdose is generally not fatal but can greatly increase the risk of death when mixed with other drugs, such as opioids.
In addition to their ability to alleviate anxiety, Xanax and Valium are perhaps most comparable in their potential for addiction. If taken in high doses over a prolonged amount of time, the risk of Valium or Xanax addiction increases. Both drugs can lead to addiction if misused. It is also possible to become addicted to either drug even after just a few days of taking them in excess.
People who take either Xanax or Valium can develop a tolerance to them as well, meaning they will need larger amounts of the drugs to achieve the same effects. Further, the risk of addiction typically increases with age, as the effects of Valium and Xanax tend to last longer in older individuals. The drugs also usually take longer to leave the system in an older person compared to a younger one.
Addiction is a serious condition, whether it is due to illicit street drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs like Xanax or Valium. If you believe you have an addiction to either Xanax or Valium, it is important to reach out for help right away.
Rather than abruptly stopping your use of these drugs, it is safer to detox in a medically supervised environment where you will receive the care and attention needed to safely and effectively eliminate the drugs from your system. From there, you can enter a drug rehab program to develop tools that can help you in your journey toward addiction recovery.
If you or someone you love is struggling with Valium or Xanax addiction in Colorado, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about benzodiazepine addiction treatment programs that can work well for you.
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The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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