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07 Oct

How Do Different Types of Prescription Drugs Affect Your Driving?

Posted by David Jones on Oct 07, 2019


In California, DUI laws do not differentiate between alcohol, illegal drugs, or legal (prescription drugs).  Prescription drugs can impair your driving in multiple ways, such as excessive drowsiness and impaired motor skills.  Although it is difficult to measure the level of impairment a prescription drug may be causing, if an officer believes you are under the influence of a drug, you can still get arrested and potentially charged with a DUI.

Prescription drugs can have varying effects on different people and many people take multiple prescriptions making it even more difficult to know how those drugs interact with each other.  There is no easy answer to how a prescription drug may affect you, but being aware of the typical side effects of certain types of prescription drugs can help you minimize the chance of being charged with a DUI for prescription drugs. 

Pain Medications

Most doctor prescribed pain meds usually contain some form of narcotics like codeine, Demerol, or fentanyl.  Narcotics like these can cause various side effects that may impair driving, including drowsiness, lightheadedness, dizziness, or sometimes they may affect decision-making.


Antihistamines are prescribed to treat a variety of allergies and are a common culprit of impairing a person's driving.  Most antihistamine medications are known to make it difficult to focus, cause temporary drowsiness, or sometimes causes people to fall asleep at the wheel. 

Sleep Medications

Prescriptions that are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders come from a family of drugs that affect the central nervous system and are often called Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants.  A few commonly prescribed CNS depressants are Valium, Xanax, and Ativan.  Other than the obvious side effect of drowsiness, this type of drug also has other impairing effects, such as muscle weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and slower nervous system functions. 


Antidepressants affect different people in different ways as a result of their purpose of affecting certain chemicals in the brain. Therefore, it is hard to predict the effects of an antidepressant until someone has taken it for a bit of time. Typical side effects that can lead to impairment include drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, insomnia, or changes in decision-making.  

It is important to make sure to read the labels of your prescription medication and talk to your doctor in order to know how the drug may affect you. Also, make sure to use caution driving when starting a new medication and when mixing prescription drugs with alcohol.  Knowing the potential effects of prescription drugs and keeping these tips in mind may help you avoid a DUI charge for prescription drugs.

If you find yourself with a DUI arrest, Jones Law can help.  We have extensive experience in prescription drug DUI cases and understand California DUI law inside and out. Let us use our knowledge to defend your rights and freedom.

David Jones

David E. Jones is a Central Valley area DUI and criminal defense attorney who represents those accused of DUI and other crimes in both state and federal court. Mr. Jones has practiced criminal law throughout Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties since 1996. Mr. Jones was a Deputy District Attorney for Fresno County 12 years and has been an instructor for the Police Academy for over 10 years. He is an experienced and respected trial attorney.

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