How Valium Affects The Brain and Body

Last Updated: July 6, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

How Does Diazepam Work? Diazepam belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Primarily used to induce a calming effect, the drug, popularly known as Valium, is used to treat a broad range of conditions. Due to its calming effect, conditions that involve some form of agitation are a primary target for treatment.
What does Valium do for anxiety? Valium is effective in the treatment of anxiety owing to its calming effect. A person suffering from anxiety and/or panic attacks can benefit from the anxiolytic effects of diazepam through a titrated treatment regimen.

How Does Valium Work in General?


A member of the family of classical benzodiazepines, diazepam is useful because of its anticonvulsant and anxiolytic properties. The substance differs with most other anticonvulsants in that it has no effect on glutamate decarboxylase or on GABA levels. Diazepam has been shown to reduce acetylcholine release, a factor thought to contribute to its calming effects. When administered, it utilizes micromolar benzodiazepine binding sites while acting as a calcium channel blocker (CCB), significantly impeding reuptake of depolarization-sensitive calcium at voltage-gated calcium channel (VGCC) sites (primarily glial cell.)

Mechanism of Action

Diazepam affects Type A GABA receptors through positive allosteric modulation. This increases binding of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a powerful inhibitory neurotransmitter present in the Central Nervous System (CNS.) How fast does the Valium work? Increased binding of GABA to its receptors takes either 1-5 minutes or up to 40 minutes depending on whether taken intravenously or orally respectively and results in decreased activity at key CNS sites including the limbic and cortical systems. When this happens, the brain experiences an overall slowdown demonstrated in the calm that results from taking it.

What Does Valium Do to The Brain?

Bottle of valium pills next to a brain model.Valium for Anxiety

A person suffering from anxiety or panic attacks can benefit from taking diazepam as an anxiolytic aid. When taken, it reduces activity in key areas of the CNS involved in anxiety, resulting in a calming effect.

Valium for Insomnia

Diazepam can provide the relaxing effects needed to allow sleep to occur. While effective, it alters not only sleep patterns but also the very architecture of sleep resulting in longer but poorer quality of sleep.

Valium for Spasms

By depressing the cortical systems of the brain, diazepam reduces the number of motor impulses sent to musculoskeletal structures, resulting in relief from muscle spasms.

How Long Does Valium Take to Work?

Clock next to valium pills showing time of action.

How Long for Valium to Take Effect?

Valium has a relatively long half-life of between 30 and 56 hours so bioavailability of the substance allows for peak effects to build up over this period. From this, it can be inferred that diazepam takes a maximum 56 hours to reach peak pharmacological levels, although in most cases, the time is significantly shorter than this.

How Quickly Does Valium Work?

Valium pharmacokinetics depend on the mode of administration. The administration is done in one of four ways: orally, intravenously, intramuscularly, and via a suppository.

  • Oral: Bioavailability is 100% and will take up to 40 minutes to take effect. Peak pharmacological effects set in 30-90 minutes after administration.
  • Intravenous (IV): Taken in diluted form due to its damaging effects on veins, bioavailability is 100% and once taken, effects set in within 1-5 minutes.
  • Intramuscular (IM): With 100% bioavailability, effects set in within 15-30 minutes of administration. Peak plasma levels are achieved 15 minutes to 1 hour after administration for both IM and IV routes.
  • Suppository: Bioavailability is lower at 90% with peak effects being experienced after 10-45 minutes.

Does Valium Work for Everyone?

Diazepam is effective in the treatment of a host of conditions, but success varies from person to person. Factors such as age, the condition being treated, comorbidity (other conditions occurring simultaneously), contraindications, interactions, and others determine whether taking diazepam will result in positive effects or not. The substance also has dangerous side effects that must be weighed against the possible benefits of taking it.

Valium Pros and Cons

Pros: Diazepam has been shown to be effective in the long-term treatment of conditions that respond well to the drug. Valium for spasms is an example. Persons using the medication can also taper down their dosage relatively easily without long-lasting side effects. Easy availability through drug classification also makes diazepam a desirable choice for those taking it.
Cons: Diazepam adverse effects include confusion, anterograde amnesia, and chronic sedation. When used over a long time, Valium action can lead to tolerance and dependence, resulting in substance abuse and addiction. Depression and impaired motor function are also side effects that come with long-term use. Overdose may lead to coma and possible death due to respiratory arrest.

Useful Yet Deadly

Diazepam is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines as one of the most effective and safe medications required in a health system. This denotes its importance and efficacy in treating various debilitating conditions. However, recognition of the drug by the Department of Justice in the Controlled Substances Act and subsequent classification as a Schedule IV drug does mean there are dangers associated with taking it. Any person taking it must, therefore, do so with extreme caution and under strict medical supervision. Abuse can lead to serious side effects with possibly deadly outcomes.

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Published on: April 23rd, 2018

Updated on: July 6th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


Leave a comment

  • Michael Sentell
    I have suffered from panic attacks for several years especially when the time changes and it gets dark early. This medication has helped me very much . I had tried several different medications prior to this which simply did not help me however this one , once in my system , does . It acts very quickly within a few minutes and has a calming effect .The only side effect I have noticed is that it does effect my memory at times such as setting objects down and having a hard time remembering where i placed them .Also be advised due to Federal laws a drug test is required every three months if this medication is used over a prolonged period of time.
    • Melissa
      That’s most likely just your state been taking for years and no drug test from doctor
    • Bella
      I’ve recently begun having panic attacks during this time of year as well! Came out of no where. I didn’t understand.
  • Michael
    Diazepam for Essential Tremors. New to this drug but seems to help.
  • William Letten
    I am 87 years old. Suffered from the age of 10 years often very severe have usually coped very well, but not recently. As I am ageing it is getting worse so very concerned I have used Diazapan which has helped, but my doctor does not want to prescribe it, thus leaving me in a huge dilemma