The Most-Used Drugs that Affect Driving

Some drugs affect attention, concentration, and sleep. When you consume them, you shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery.
The Most-Used Drugs that Affect Driving

Last update: 08 March, 2020

Did you know that several commonly taken drugs affect driving?

In fact, many common medications have several side effects people aren’t aware of that can be dangerous. Some of these effects are nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain. Also, they can induce sleep, a condition that seriously affects driving or operating heavy machinery. 

All commercially available drugs can trigger side effects. However, the side effects vary in severity and frequency. Side effects are the undesirable and unintended events that a patient can expect when they start treatment with a drug. In this article, we’ll talk about some common drugs that affect driving due to their side effects.

Four drugs that affect driving

1. Benzodiazepines and driving

Different pills on a table.

Benzodiazepines are drugs that act on the central nervous system. They’re capable of producing sedative, anticonvulsant, and hypnotic effects. For this reason, they’re widely used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other diseases, such as epilepsy or alcohol withdrawal.

They’re the most prescribed psychotropic drugs, especially by primary care physicians. Overall, 15% of patients who take anxiolytics and 1.6% of all adults between the ages of 18 and 79 of the general population that have been prescribed benzodiazepines for a few days or weeks gradually pass to a chronic and virtually indefinite use of the drug.

Patients who have taken more than the indicated dose may suffer sedation, loss of coordination of movements, and respiratory depression, especially if taken with alcohol consumption. Also, they can produce a decrease in attention, concentration, and motor function, even at therapeutic doses. These side effects severely affect driving.

Moreover, benzodiazepines can induce depression, which is more common in patients who have already suffered from this affective disorder.

After a patient takes these drugs, they can suffer from withdrawal syndrome if they abruptly discontinue them. In turn, this may lead to anxiety, irritability, tremors, and hallucinations, among other symptoms. Some patients who have been prescribed long-term treatment with benzodiazepines at lower doses may suffer from anxiety and insomnia when they discontinue the medication. This may be due to the lack of medication or the recurrence of the originally-treated symptoms.

2. First-generation or classic antihistamines, one of the drugs that affect driving

Unlike other antihistamines, first-generation antihistamines can cross the blood-brain barrier. Due to this fact, they can produce central side effects, such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Visual disturbances
  • Hallucinations

Due to all the side effects these drugs can cause, experts strongly advise against taking them when you need to drive.

However, the effect is different if the patient takes second-generation antihistamines, such as ebastine, loratadine, or cetirizine. Nevertheless, they can also trigger a series of side effects on the central nervous system to some extent, meaning that they could also affect the ability to drive, but to a lesser extent.

Overall, it’s important to exercise caution when taking any allergy medications. 

3. Antidepressants

A woman driving.

If you’re taking antidepressants, you should also avoid driving. Just like in the previous cases, they may cause drowsiness. Plus, according to studies conducted on patients suffering from depression and insomnia, the use of these drugs improves sleeping problems. This means that they may make it easier for you to fall asleep.

It’s increasingly common for doctors to prescribe an antidepressant with sleep-promoting effects at low doses to treat insomnia due to the positive results obtained, even if the patient doesn’t suffer from depression. Medical professionals should warn patients of the possible side effects and precautions of the use of any drug.

4. Antiepileptic drugs

Finally, these drugs have side effects, such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion or lightheadedness
  • Memory loss or loss of concentration

In addition to these dangerous effects on driving, epilepsy itself can alter patients’ motor and cognitive functions.

It’s important to be aware of drugs that affect driving

It’s essential to be informed about the drugs that affect driving due to the excessive sleepiness they may cause. Not being aware of this fact can increase the likelihood of being in a serious accident. Consult both your doctor and pharmacist if you have any questions about this issue.  Above all, never self-medicate. If you’re already taking benzodiazepines or antidepressants, seek alternatives to driving to help prevent accidents.

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Although many people turn to coffee to reduce daytime drowsiness, there are healthier more effective options to fight fatigue.

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  • Josefina Velert, Lucrecia Moreno1 , Luis Salar, M.a Teresa Climent, S. A. (2006). Estudio sobre la adecuación de la prescripción de Benzodiazepinas en la Comunidad Valenciana. E-Farmacéutico Comunitario.
  • Caro, I., Aguas, M., Ayestarán, A., & Pascual, B. (2007). Antiepilépticos. Revista Multidisciplinar de Gerontologia.