In California, like most states, driving under the influence of a prescription medication (or over-the-counter drug) can be illegal depending on its effects. As a rule, anything that impairs your driving will count as DUI, even if you have not been drinking and even if the substance is legal.
Not all drugs affect your driving, however. The most common categories of medications that are associated with DUIs include:
- Prescription pain relievers
- Anxiety medication
- Blood pressure medication
This is not an exhaustive list. The general rule in California is that a substance counts for DUI if that substance affects your muscles, brain or nervous system. That includes just about any medication that changes how you “feel,” as well as those that cause drowsiness.
Specific Prescription Medications Involved in DUI
One of the most common medications involved in DUI cases is Xanax. This drug is particularly difficult because many people combine it with alcohol, which can make its effects much more severe—but even on its own, Xanax can impair driving. You can read more about Xanax DUI here.
Other specific medications that we see involved in DUI cases include:
- Benzodiazepines, which include Xanax as well as Valium, Ativan, Halcion, Paxal and others.
- Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percocet, and Hydrocodone, and other prescription pain relievers. If you use these drugs long-term, it is possible to build up some “tolerance” and they may not affect you as much, which means you may have a stronger defense against a DUI charge.
- Adderall and Ritalin, which are supposed to improve concentration, but which do technically affect the brain and can sometimes affect driving—especially if you stop taking them or decrease your dose after taking them a long time.
- Ephedrine, diet pills, stimulants, and any medication that contains caffeine. These pills can affect your driving in their own right, and they can also become dangerous when mixed with alcohol, because they make you feel less drunk and more alert, but you are still just as impaired for driving a you were without them.
- Suboxone and Subutex, which are prescribed to recovering heroin addicts, but can have severe side effects if not used as indicated.
Additionally, although uncommon, it is possible to be charged with DUI for using over-the-counter products that cause drowsiness, such as Nyquil, Robitussin, allergy medications and more. Some cough syrups may even contain alcohol, although this is not as common as it once was.
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