Many of us take some kind of medication to help ease daily aches and pains or to manage mild to serious health issues.

But whether it’s over the counter, prescription or traditional healing medication – it’s important to remember that they all have the potential to impair your mind and body, and make it unsafe and illegal to get behind the wheel.

Here's a few medications that are more likely to cause impairment:

  • strong painkillers
  • depression medication
  • heart medication
  • allergy medication
  • sleeping tablets
  • anti-psychotic medication
  • epilepsy medication
  • addiction treatment
  • nausea medication
  • anxiety medication.

Mixed substances – never mix well

It may come as a surprise that mixing your medication by taking more than one at the same time, or even taking them hours apart, makes your situation all the more dangerous.

Different substances such as medication, illegal drugs or alcohol can interact negatively when mixed – even if consumed hours apart from each other – and can mask the effect of other drugs, make them worse, or cause a reaction you wouldn’t expect.

The most common form of mixing is when alcohol is mixed with medication. Mixing alcohol with illegal drugs and medication can increase your risk of a fatal crash from impairment by 23 times.

You could be taking something to settle an upset stomach then take an illegal substance, be on anxiety medication then have a drink at lunch, or take epilepsy medication and take painkillers for a headache. No matter what you take or how you take it, it’s important to realise that mixing medication or illegal drugs with or without alcohol, makes impairment far more likely.

Infographic showing the different levels of likeliness of a fatal crash based on different types of impairment. If you are on drugs and medication you are twice as likely to have a fatal crash, if you are impaired by alcohol you are 13 times more likely t

What you should know

It’s illegal to:

  • operate heavy machinery when impaired, which includes cars
  • drive when impaired, whatever the cause of the impairment might be, such as substances, illness or injury
  • drive if you’re under the legal limit for alcohol consumption but impaired due to other substances.

All forms of mixing can largely increase the risk of impairment - meaning mixing illegal drugs with alcohol can be just as risky as mixing medications with alcohol.

If a healthcare professional such as a doctor, nurse or pharmacists wants to know if you are taking illegal drugs or drinking alcohol — be up front with them. They just want to keep you safe and give you the best advice.

Healthcare professionals will only report illegal drug consumption to the police if you’re putting someone else at risk or in danger.

Limits and fines for drug and alcohol affected driving

What you can do

Speak up and stay safe

  • Always tell your healthcare professional what you’re already taking, so they can assess the chances of you becoming impaired.
  • Always tell your healthcare professional if you drink alcohol or take illegal drugs, so they can correctly assess the chances of you becoming impaired.
  • Healthcare professionals will usually tell you if you’re likely to be unfit to drive, but it’s a good idea to front foot the conversation and get in the habit of asking their opinion.
  • Even if your healthcare professional has told you it’s ok to drive with medications, it's important to assess yourself each time you get behind the wheel. If you don't feel alert or well enough to drive – don't drive.

Check in on yourself

Check yourself for the symptoms of impairment. These could include:

  • feeling drowsy or sleepy
  • dizziness or blurred vision
  • headache
  • feeling weak
  • slowed reactions
  • feeling sick or nauseous
  • being easily confused or unable to focus or pay attention
  • slurred speech or have trouble forming a sentence
  • feeling wired and overconfident (those around you might notice this first).

If you think you have symptoms of impairment, trust your gut and don’t drive.

Think before you drive

  • If you are impaired, give driving a miss and think of another way to get where you’re going, such as getting a lift with friends or whanau, or catching a bus or taxi.
  • If you’re already driving and you notice signs of impairment, pull over and call friends or whanau for help.
  • If you’re worried about how impaired you are, get advice from a health care professional, and if the impairment is severe – call 111.

More information and support

  • Talk to a nurse by calling Healthline (available 24 hours), phone 0800 611 116
  • Talk to a counsellor by calling the Alcohol and Drug HelpLine (available 24 hours), phone 0800 787 797
  • Mixed driving brochure