The holidays are typically joyous, full of celebrations and time with loved ones. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the deadliest times of year due to impaired driving. That’s why each December, the president of the United States issues a memo urging people to partake in National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. Understandably, the focus of most outreach efforts involves creating awareness for drunk driving, but alcohol isn’t the only thing that can impair driving; some medications can as well.
Which Medications Pose Risk?
A number of prescription and over-the-counter medications can impair driving. Moreover, sometimes even small doses of the medications can impair driving if a person has gone off schedule, is mixing medications, or consumes alcohol alongside them. Busy holiday schedules, which also cause some to miss out on sleep, can further enhance the effects of some medications. Research presented by Find Law concludes that the following six categories pose the greatest risk:
Pain Medications: Opiates, including morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone, pose a risk because they naturally make people sleepy, dizzy, or disoriented. However, even pain relievers like ibuprofen and Tylenol that don’t have the same side effects can cause trouble too, as pain tends to exhaust people. Once the pain is diminished, it’s easier to fall into a relaxed state and become drowsy or less aware.
Antidepressants: Some antidepressants work by relaxing an individual. As sedatives, they also impair driving and can cause symptoms that mimic excessive alcohol consumption.
Valium: Often prescribed to relieve anxiety or to reduce seizures, valium is a strong sedative. “10 mg of the popular tranquilizer can cause impairment similar to having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent,” according to Find Law.
Antihistamines: Some antihistamines, such as Benadryl, are known to cause drowsiness.
Decongestants: Medications like ephedrine (found in traditional Sudafed) can make people jittery, anxious, and disoriented, while others cause drowsiness.
Sleeping Pills: While most wouldn’t dream of taking sleeping pills and then getting behind the wheel right away, it can take them a considerable amount of time to wear off too. That means some may still suffer from grogginess the morning after taking a sleep aid.
What to Do When Medications Impair Your Driving
Naturally, driving while drowsy, disoriented, or distracted is dangerous, so the primary concern of taking these and similar medications is the risk of causing an accident. However, because of the high number of drunk drivers on the road this time of year, there is also much more patrolling by law enforcement. Those exhibiting any signs of impaired driving have a high likelihood of being stopped. Even those with no alcohol in their systems can still receive a ticket for driving under the influence (DUI) if medications are found in their systems, which comes with the same consequences as a drunk driving charge. To avoid these risks, consider some of the following strategies:
Talk to your doctor. If you’re on a medication that you know impairs your driving, have a frank conversation with your physician about how it impacts your life and see what alternate options are available. Under your doctor’s guidance, you may be able to discontinue, reduce, or change your medication. Other times, talking the medication at a different time of day when you won’t be behind the wheel may be a possibility.
Take public transit. If changing up your medication in some way is not a possibility, see if your region's transit system is. Many major metropolitan areas offer special transportation services for the elderly and disabled which puts it within reach for people who might otherwise have trouble getting to a bus, train, or subway.
Carpool. Just as people who partake in alcohol while out should arrange for a designated driver, those on specific medications can too.
Hail a ride. Taxis or companies like Lyft can often have a driver at your door within minutes, depending on where you live.
RefillWise Can Help
Whether you have medications you need to take regardless, or your doctor recommends you switch to a new medication that isn’t covered by your insurance, RefillWise can help keep your costs lower. Moreover, by using our free prescription discount card, you’ll accrue rewards that you can use on anything from groceries to thank-you gifts for those who are able to fill the designated driver role. Get your RefillWise card by signing up on our site or texting JOIN to 22822.