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The Devastating Risks of Long Term Benzodiazepine Use

Updated: November 7, 2023

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risks of benzo and long term risks of benzodiazepine use

Two commonly prescribed benzodiazepines (benzos or BZD) are Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam)

Both of these medications enhance the effects of GABA neurotransmitters (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. (1

Both Xanax and Valium are a class of prescription drugs used primarily for treating anxiety disorders and insomnia.

They are controlled substances.

What Are Valium and Xanax?

Valium and Xanax are two kinds of prescription drugs that help with severe anxiety attacks. (2)

Both of them are part of the family of medications known as benzodiazepines.

Valium is the brand name for ‘Diazepam’, which acts as a strong tranquilizer for severe episodes of anxiety.

Xanax is the brand name of ‘Alprazolam’, which aims to provide the same effect as Diazepam. 

These medications are highly addictive and should only be used for short periods of time, under close supervision from a doctor or healthcare professional. (3)

Both Valium and Xanax help boost the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that enables nerve cells to slow down.

When there isn’t enough GABA in the brain, anxiety, nervousness and other negative conditions can occur. (4)

By making sure that GABA levels stay normal, Valium and Xanax can help ease and alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Further reading: A Guide to Understanding and Conquering Benzo Addiction

Valium vs. Xanax Comparison

Xanax Side Effects May Include:

  • joint pain
  • difficulty urinating
  • Weight changes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Increased salivation
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Light-headedness
  • Drowsiness (6)

Valium Side Effects May Include:

  • Difficulty Urinating
  • Frequent Urination
  • Changes In Sex Drive Or Ability
  • Loss Of Control Of Bodily Movements
  • Uncontrollable Shaking Of A Part Of The Body
  • Slurred Speech
  • Slowed Breathing And Heartbeat
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dry Mouth
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Confusion (7)

Xanax has an average rating of 8.7 out of 10 out of a total of 915 ratings on 83% of user reviews reported a positive effect, while 8% of people reported a negative effect. (8)

Valium has an average rating of 8.7 out of 10 out of a total of 332 ratings on 86% of reviewers reported a positive effect, while 8% reported a negative effect. (9)

Similar Drugs to Xanax and Valium

Estazolam (Prosom)Clonazepam (Klonopin)
Quazepam (Doral)Triazolam (Halcion)
Oxazepam (Serax)Flurazepam (Dalmane)
Temazepam (Restoril)Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
Midazolam (Versed)Clorazepate (Tranxene)

Structural Differences Between Valium and Xanax

The structural differences between these two medications significantly impact how they interact with our bodies. (8)

For instance, while both affect areas of the brain called GABA receptors, they do so differently because of their unique structures.

Xanax binds more tightly to the GABA receptor, causing it to act faster and with greater intensity.

However, Valium has a lower binding affinity for GABA receptors. This means it doesn’t latch onto these receptors as strongly.

This rapid onset of action may be beneficial in acute anxiety situations but it also leads to a higher risk of dependency and withdrawal when the medication is suddenly stopped after extended use.

Remember: seek help from your doctor or medical professional for guidance and support.

Suggested Reading: Devastating Risks of Benzo Usage

Why is Xanax is Prescribed?

Xanax is commonly prescribed fto treat anxiety and intense panic attacks. (9)

Generally, Xanax is reported to have more severe withdrawal effects; however, this may differ from person to person. On average, the effects of Xanax may last 5 hours.

Known particularly for addressing acute symptoms of panic disorders quickly, Xanac (alprazolam)  can work within an hour but the effects don’t last quite as long.

Xanax is also prescribed in smaller doses for short periods of time as an effective tool against insomnia.

But again, care must be taken since overuse can lead to dependency, severe benzo addiction or even overdose.

There are times when severe anxiety disorders don’t respond to regular medication.

In such cases, doctors might consider upping the dosage.

But remember, this should only be done under strict medical supervision.

Why is Valium Prescribed?

Valium (Diazepam) is prescribed to treat seizures, anxiety and to deal with alcohol addiction treatment and alcohol detox. (10)

It is also used to calm people down before medical treatments and to ease muscle spasms. 

It can also be used to treat hyperekplexia, ICU agitation, and light anesthesia. (11)

It is reported that the effects of Valium may last approximately 4 hours, although may persist for longer in some people. (12)

How Valium and Xanax Works in the Brain

The nerve cells in our central nervous system use GABA to reduce their activity. (12)

This has a calming effect on many bodily functions, reducing symptoms such as anxiety or panic attacks.

Both Valium and Xanax increase GABA’s effects, helping people cope with extreme stress or fear.

Xanax works quickly but is also metabolized faster than most benzos due to its short half-life. It can start working within an hour after ingestion, making it ideal for acute episodes of anxiety.

In contrast, Valium takes longer to take effect but lasts longer. (13)

This makes it suitable for conditions requiring continuous control over symptoms like muscle spasms or withdrawal from alcohol dependency.

How Quickly Does Xanax Start Working?

Xanax is known for its fast onset. It works quicker than many other medications commonly used for similar purposes.

 After ingestion, peak concentrations in the blood usually occur within 1 to 2 hours. 

This rapid absorption makes it particularly effective at managing acute episodes of anxiety.

The speed with which Xanax works can be attributed to its short half-life - about 11.2 hours on average, (14).

However, this also means that the effects wear off relatively quickly compared with longer-lasting benzos like Valium.

The Long-Lasting Effects of Valium

Valium may last around 4 - 6 hours; however, it has a very long half-life of roughly 20 - 70 hours (15).

Even though Valium and Xanax have different effects at first and for longer periods of time, doctors usually say that the effects are about the same when taken in the right amounts.

FAQs in Relation to Valium Vs. Xanax: Differences, Uses, and Addiction Risks

What are the side effects of Valium vs Xanax?

Both drugs can cause drowsiness, confusion, and weakness. But while Xanax might lead to memory problems or mood changes, Valium could trigger muscle weakness or lack of balance.

Which benzodiazepine is least addictive?

The addiction risk varies from person to person. However, longer-acting benzos like Clonazepam may have a lower addiction potential compared to shorter-acting ones such as Xanax.

Is Valium as addictive as Ativan?

Addiction risks between these two depend on dosage and length of use. While both pose significant risks if misused, Ativan might be more addictive due to its quicker onset of action.

What is stronger: Xanax, Valium or Klonopin?

Klonopin’s potency lies in its long duration rather than strength per dose. Between single doses though, most find that Xanax has a stronger effect than Valium.


While these medications can be lifesavers for those dealing with specific health conditions, remember that there’s always a potential risk linked to addiction or overdose, so tread carefully.

It is essential to consult healthcare professionals for guidance and advice.

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