Diazepam (marketed under the tradename Valium) is a derivative of the benzodiazepine class of minor tranquilizers and possesses the five therapeutic benzodiazepine properties; working as an anxiolytic, sedative/hypnotic, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant, and amnestic agent. All benzodiazepines share some commonalities. These include their mode of action, indications, potential side-effects, and the physical and psychological dependence that may develop after extended use. Benzodiazepines like Diazepam have been shown to produce various withdrawal effects if the drug is discontinued rapidly and without gradual reduction in dosage.
Diazepam is a central nervous system depressant. It accomplishes this by augmenting the effect of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) by binding to its endogenous ionotropic receptor (The GABAA receptor) at a location distinct from GABA itself. This ultimately results in the hyperpolarization of the neuron by increasing its inward chloride conductance, raising the threshold of stimulation, and making it more difficult for the cell to produce excitatory action potentials.
- Anxiolytic: Diazepam is one of the oldest benzodiazepines and has/is often prescribed by a medical doctor (usually a psychiatrist) for the maintenance of diurnal anxiety caused by day to day stressful situations that produce ephemeral agitation, or for people suffering from socially detrimental anxiety attacks in panic disorder.
- Amnestic: It is also useful for ameliorating the anxiety in individuals before undergoing unpleasant medical procedures such as endoscopies, colonoscopies, and dental work. Benzodiazepines are efficient amnestics and are therefore desirable in this context as well. The intravenous form of the drug is used for these cases.
- Sedative or hypnotic: Diazepam has been shown to be an effective treatment for short-term insomnia, associated with or without anxiety. However, prolonged treatment for insomnia may become less efficacious as the patient develops tolerance to the drug.
- Anticonvulsant: Diazepam, along with Lorazepam, are usually first choice drugs for the cessation of seizures in patients suffering from epilepsy.
- Muscle Relaxant: Diazepam may be prescribed to relieve chronic or acute muscle spasms due to its relaxant effects.
- Alcohol Withdrawal: Benzodiazepines such as diazepam have been demonstrated as effective in mitigating the symptoms of an individual undergoing withdrawal from alcohol abuse.