Valium and Xanax have uses in treating anxiety. Both are in a class of medications called benzodiazepines, which are sedatives. However, there are key differences in side effects and drug interactions. Here, we explore how these drugs work and compare their effects.

Valium and Xanax are brand names for two types of medication for anxiety. The generic name for Valium is diazepam. The generic name for Xanax is alprazolam.

Many anxiety symptoms result, to some extent, from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medication can help change this imbalance.

Sedatives slow down certain functions in the body. This can help a person sleep or make them feel calmer.

The best choice of medication and the dosage and duration of treatment will be different for each individual.

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Valium and Xanax are both medications for anxiety.
Image credit: Dean812, 2007

Valium and Xanax are different medications. A doctor should help a person decide which is most suitable.

People can take either medication as tablets or liquid, but adults usually only receive a prescription for pills.

An individual tends to take Valium or Xanax one to four times per day, but the dosage will depend on the person’s needs and on the medication, due to the differing lengths of action.

The following are some key facts about each:

used to treat severe anxiety and panic disordersused to treat less severe anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug withdrawal, muscle spasms, and seizures
intermediate onset (15–30 minutes)rapid onset (within 15 minutes)
can cause dependencycan cause dependency
causes withdrawal symptomscauses withdrawal symptoms
withdrawal does not last longer if a person takes the drug for a longer periodwithdrawal does not last longer if a person takes the drug for a longer period

Both medications work with a chemical in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).

GABA reduces activity in parts of the brain that control memory, emotions, logical thought, and functions such as breathing.

Valium and Xanax increase the effects of GABA. This makes the muscles relax, reduces anxiety, and causes drowsiness.

Valium and Xanax have similar side effects. Seek medical advice if any of these symptoms are severe or last for a long time.

Common side effects include:

Side effectValiumXanax
dry mouthXX
appetite changesXX
difficulty concentratingX
weight changesX
blurred visionX
sex drive changesXX
difficulty peeingXX
joint painX
increased salivationX

Some side effects can be serious. A person should seek urgent medical attention if they experience any of the following:

Side effectValiumXanax
shuffling walkX
lasting tremorX
difficulty breathingXX
difficulty swallowingX
serious skin rashXX
yellow skin or eyesXX
irregular heartbeatX
memory problemsX
speech problemsX
thoughts of suicideX
balance problemsX
behavior or mood changesX

If a person has any other side effects, they may wish to seek medical advice.

A doctor can offer support and information about any concerns regarding medication.

A person who has taken Valium or Xanax regularly for a long time may experience withdrawal if they stop taking it. These symptoms may be physical or mental.

Withdrawal symptoms are similar for both, but Xanax may cause more symptoms than Valium.

Some examples of these withdrawal symptoms include:

  • stomach cramps
  • increased feeling of anxiety
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • problems sleeping

A person should seek medical advice if they plan to stop taking either medication. A doctor will usually reduce the amount gradually to lessen the withdrawal symptoms.

It is possible for withdrawal symptoms to last for weeks or months. Receiving support from friends, family, a group, or an organization can help when coping with these effects. A doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help with withdrawal symptoms.

If a person does not have certain underlying health conditions, Valium and Xanax are safe to take as a doctor instructs.

Both medications can cause dependency because they trigger significant changes in the brain, and withdrawal can be difficult.

For this reason, doctors tend to recommend Valium and Xanax for short-term use.

People may not be able to take certain medications alongside Valium or Xanax. A person should talk with their doctor or pharmacist and review current medications to decide what they can or cannot take.

The following treatments can interact with Valium, Xanax, or both:

Rifamate and RifaterXX
Rytary, Sinemet, and StalevoX
medication for depressionXX
medication for seizuresXX
medication for Parkinson’s diseaseX
medication for asthma, colds, or allergiesX
Lopressor and Toprol XLX
muscle relaxantsX
oral contraceptivesXX
Probalan, and Col-ProbenecidX
Hemangeol, Inderal, and InnopranX
sleeping pillsXX
Elixophyllin, Theo 24, and TheochronX
Onmel, and SporanoxX
Cordarone, Nexterone, and PaceroneX
antifungal medicationX
Biaxin and PrevpacX
Gengraf, Neoral, and SandimmuneX
Cardizem, Cartia XT, and TiazacX
Ergomar, Cafergot, and MigergotX
EES and ErycX
Adalat, Afeditab CR, and ProcardiaX
Brisdelle, Paxil, and PexevaX
St. John’s WortXX

A person with a prescription for Valium or Xanax may not need to stop taking other medications.

To avoid interactions, a doctor may need to change the dosage or monitor regularly for side effects.

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A doctor will not usually prescribe Valium or Xanax to people with breathing problems, liver disease, depression, or glaucoma.

These medications are not suitable for everyone. A doctor will ask about existing conditions before prescribing Valium or Xanax.

People with the following medical conditions usually cannot take Valium or Xanax:

  • breathing problems or lung disease
  • severe kidney or liver disease
  • sleep apnea
  • muscle weakness
  • previous drug or alcohol addiction
  • depression
  • glaucoma

Children cannot generally take Valium or Xanax. Older adults can, but they usually receive a reduced dosage.

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding usually cannot take Valium or Xanax because the drugs can interfere with the baby’s development.

These medications can also pass into breast milk and can cause harmful side effects.

Both drugs can cause drowsiness. A person should usually not drive or operate machinery while taking either medication.

Valium and Xanax are different, though they can treat similar issues. A doctor considers a range of factors before recommending either.

Xanax can treat more severe cases of anxiety, and it requires more doses throughout the day. Withdrawal from both medications can be severe.