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6-minute read

Key facts

  • Diazepam is a sedative medicine (a medicine that helps you feel calmer) in a medicine class called benzodiazepines.
  • It is mainly used to treat people with anxiety, but it can also be used to treat muscle spasms and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Diazepam is usually recommended only for short periods of time, around 2 to 4 weeks, to avoid becoming dependent on it.
  • Avoid driving and using alcohol and recreational drugs while taking diazepam.

LOOKING FOR A MEDICINE? — See this list of medicines that contain diazepam to find out more about a specific medication.

What is diazepam?

Diazepam is a sedative medicine (a medicine that helps you feel calmer or more relaxed) in a medicine class called benzodiazepines.

What is diazepam used for?

Diazepam is a medicine mainly used to treat people with anxiety or a panic disorder. Diazepam is used to treat anxiety that is more serious than that caused by the normal stress of everyday life.

In general, diazepam is only used only for short periods of time, around 2 to 4 weeks, unless your doctor advises something different. If you use this medicine over a longer period of time, you can become dependent on diazepam.

Diazepam is also used to relax muscles and treat muscle spasms caused by injury or conditions such as cerebral palsy and paraplegia. It can also be used to treat symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as trembling, confusion and anxiety.

Your doctor may have prescribed diazepam for another reason. If you are not sure why your doctor has prescribed diazepam, ask your doctor.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How does diazepam work?

Diazepam works by increasing the effect of several naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that make you feel calm, relaxed and sleepy.

Overall, it slows the brain and slows the movement of information from the brain to the nerves.

What forms of diazepam are available?

Diazepam is the name of the active ingredient. It is available in many different brands, which have different:

  • names
  • appearances (size, shape or colour)
  • forms (tablets, liquid or by injection)
  • packaging

No matter which brand you are prescribed, diazepam works in the same way to treat your condition.

In Australia, you can only buy diazepam with a doctor’s prescription.

What are the possible side effects of diazepam?

All medicines have benefits but also the risk of side effects. Diazepam helps most people with anxiety but some people experience side effects.

The most common side effects of diazepam include:

  • drowsiness
  • muscle weakness
  • unsteadiness

It can also make you forgetful and dizzy.

There are other rare side effects. Tell your doctor at once or go to the emergency unit of your nearest hospital if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • sudden excitation or anxiety
  • feelings of restlessness, agitation or anger
  • abnormal behaviour
  • hallucinations (hearing, seeing or smelling things that aren’t there)
  • breathing difficulties
  • serious sleep disturbances

If you or someone else is having trouble breathing, or are experiencing one of the listed side effects, call triple-zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

This is not a full list of side effects for diazepam. For more information about diazepam, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. You can also read the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflet about diazepam.

What should I be careful of when taking diazepam?

Diazepam can make you drowsy and slow your reaction times. Because of this, it’s important that you don’t drive or operate heavy machinery when you take it.

You should also avoid drinking alcohol and using recreational drugs when taking diazepam, as it can make you more sensitive to the effects of these substances.

When should I speak to my doctor?

Speak to your doctor if you:

  • experience side effects that trouble you
  • have signs of an allergic reaction
  • have a health condition or are taking medicine that may affect how your body reacts to diazepam
  • become pregnant or start breastfeeding

See the CMI for full details about when to speak with your doctor before or after you have started taking diazepam.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Are there alternatives to diazepam?

Psychological treatment, such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), is usually the main treatment for anxiety. However, adding medicine such as diazepam may be helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms in the short-term.

There are alternatives to diazepam for muscle spasms, such as heat, exercise, relaxation and other medicines.

Resources and support

Asking about your treatment or medicine is important, to help you understand your options. Read our guide to important questions to ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking a medicine.

You can also visit healthdirect's list of medicines that contain diazepam to read the CMI for the brand of diazepam prescribed.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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