Wholly Healthy: Impaired by Medication?

We are all acutely aware of the fact that drunk drivers are especially dangerous. In fact, our beloved South Carolina is one of the worst states in the union for drunk driving fatalities. That’s a daily, nightly tragedy.

However, I think people often forget all of the other medications that can affect them when they drive. It’s easy enough to say “I’d never drink alcohol and drive a car,” or “I don’t use alcohol at all.” But many medications can cause drivers to be dangerous. And far too many people drive when taking them.

It seems that every year Americans consume more pharmaceuticals than before. Those medications include (but are not limited to) anti-inflammatory pain medicine like ibuprofen, antibiotics, antidepressants, blood pressure, diabetes and heart meds, and pills for dementia, as well as powerful narcotic pain medicine. And that’s really not a comprehensive list. 

All too often, patients simply forget that their driving (and even their walking) can be affected by diabetes medication that lowers their blood sugar and makes them sleepy, or a new hypertension pill that lowers blood pressure so much that they nearly pass out.

Medications for anxiety, depression or other mental health problems are well known to cause drowsiness, particularly when first started or when doses are changed. And pain medicines like hydrocodone, oxycodone, tramadol, morphine, codeine, fentanyl and others can easily cause serious drowsiness, resulting in accidents and injuries on the road, in the home or at work.

The list of sedating medications goes on: nausea medications like promethazine (Phenergan), sleeping medications like zolpidem (or Ambien), or even antihistamines like diphenhydramine (or Benadryl). 

I hardly have space to discuss all of the medications that can affect our wakefulness, our reaction times and our decision-making. But it’s important that people simply acknowledge that there are more things than alcohol that can lead to life-changing, life-ending accidents. Furthermore, the same medications can cause accidental and deadly overdose in the young and old, and can result in serious injuries in seniors when they are left alone on these medications and fall to the ground or against hard objects like dressers or bathtubs.

If you haven’t done this, go over your medications with your physician or pharmacist. And make note of (or even mark) the prescriptions capable of affecting your alertness, clouding your judgment or limiting your ability to react. 

After all, alcohol isn’t the only thing that causes car crashes, accidental injuries and deaths. 

Some of the worst offenders are sitting quietly in your medicine drawer.