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How Over-the-Counter Medications Affect Driving

February 23, 2023 | Category: DUI

Before reaching for sleeping pills or cough medicine at night, do you think about the drive you will take in the morning? How about taking other over-the-counter (OTC) medications? Drivers know that drinking and driving is dangerous and illegal, but many drivers may not think about the consequences of the over-the-counter drugs they take every day. Will they cause you to have an accident where you or others may be injured or even tragically die?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) says, “Although regulatory agencies take care to assure nonprescription medications are safe and effective, these drugs still have the potential to have clinically significant interactions with prescription medicines.”

How over-the-counter medications affect drivingThe Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI) in Michigan recommends that everyone read the Drug Facts that come with OTC medications, especially the “active ingredients” and “warning” sections. The section titled “when using this product” includes warnings about drowsiness or impaired driving.

WHRI reports some of the most common OTC drugs that may cause drowsiness or impaired driving include:

  • Antihistamines (used to treat cold symptoms, congestion, and allergic symptoms)
  • Antidiarrheals (e.g. Imodium)
  • Anti-emetics (used to treat nausea, motion sickness, etc.)

When these and other over-the-counter medications are combined with prescribed drugs, the consequences can be even more disastrous.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports, “A common ingredient in a widely prescribed sleep medication is zolpidem, which belongs to a class of medications called sedative-hypnotics. The FDA has found that medicines containing zolpidem, especially extended-release forms, can impair driving ability and other activities the next morning.”

Studies show that OTC decongestants or pain-relieving drugs, nausea, allergy, or cold and cough medications can cause anxiety, dizziness, and drowsiness. They can affect cognition, judgment, reflexes, and motor skills. Drivers may react too slowly to objects on the road. Some OTC medications can cause blurred vision. They may also raise or lower blood pressure.

A 2021 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that nearly half of U.S. drivers surveyed drove while under the influence of one or more medications. Close to 50 percent of study participants reported they took “potentially driver impairing” (PDI) medication before driving during the 30-day study period. 60 percent said they used two or more of the medications, and nearly 71 percent admitted to using three or more before getting behind the wheel and driving.

Cough syrup and antihistamines were the most commonly used, although the study did consider a range of PDI medications. Those surveyed said they were unaware of the dangers the medications posed, even though they were outlined on the medication’s packaging.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says:


  1. If you have ingested an impairing substance, such as prescription drugs, sleep medication, marijuana, or any illegal drug, do not drive.
  2. Know someone who has ingested an impairing substance? Do not let them get behind the wheel.
  3. Passengers should never ride with an impaired driver. If you think a driver may be impaired, do not get in the car.
  4. If you’re hosting a party, make sure everyone has a sober ride home.
  5. Always wear your seatbelt. It’s your best defense against impaired drivers.
  6. Use your community’s sober ride program.
  7. If you see an impaired driver, call law enforcement.”

Should you or a family member be injured in an accident caused by the negligence of another driver, please contact Fort Myers DUI Accident Lawyer Randall Spivey after seeking medical attention. Mr. Spivey has been awarded the Martindale-Hubbell Client Distinction Award because clients complimented him on his communication ability, responsiveness, quality of service, and value to them. Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A. may be reached 24/7 at 239.337.7483, toll-free at 1.888.477.4839, or contact us online at There are no costs or attorney fees until the firm receives a monetary recovery for its client.





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