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Consciousness, Driving, and Prescription Medication

Nithya RamanujamDo you or a loved one take prescription sleep medications or what are known as sleep aids? If so, you or your loved one are among the millions of people who do in today’s society. This is an issue that has proven to be very significant for all of us. According to a recent report in the New York Times (2013), the FDA is conducting tests using a driving simulator in clinical trials to test the effect of sleep drugs on behavior. Evidence suggests sleep aids like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata remain in the system far longer than once thought. Many are waking in the morning still under the influence of these drugs and perhaps unable to operate their vehicles in a safe manner.

We live in a society filled with fatigue, sleepless nights, depression, and anxiety. We thrive on 50% energy during the day due to a host of daily stressors such as raising kids, dealing with work-related tasks, sitting in traffic, coping with poor relationships, striving to meet expectations, pay bills, and simply remain above the water. For some people, sleep is only a strong wish and sleep aids, antidepressants, or medication for anxiety are the only hope. Sadly, many rely too heavily on these medications and often end up putting their lives and the lives of others in jeopardy.

One of the most controversial ingredients currently under close evaluation in many sedatives is Zolpidem, an active ingredient in Intermezzo and Ambien. In January of this year, the FDA drew up an order to have generic sleep drugs halved for women due to extreme drowsiness and a link between impaired driving and the use of the medication.

“Sleeping aids” are tranquilizers, medication that affect the central nervous system (CNS), consisting of the brain and spinal cord (the “seat” of our consciousness). Medications of this nature slow the normal functioning of the brain down,  very much like alcohol at high doses.

 The consequences of sleep aids

3 well-known classes of sedatives include:

  1. Barbiturates (used to treat anxiety)
  2. Benzodiazepines
    • Xanax
    • Librium
    • Valium
  3. Antihistamines (Claritin, Benadryl)

These medications have the potential for abuse and are often either mixed with alcohol or psychiatric medication such as antidepressants. In severe cases of sleeplessness or insomnia, individuals mix these meds with over the counter medications or street drugs, creating a very lethal mixture. Taking these medications at high doses can lead to feeling drowsy, uncoordinated, confused, and dazed. At lethal levels, individuals can blackout, have memory loss, and have seizures. Prolonged use of CNS depressants can result in life-threatening consequences such as death.

Despite life threatening consequences, there are other consequences that can lead to major difficulties including driving erratically or irresponsibly, failing to fulfill major responsibilities due to lack of consciousness, and an inability to operate heavy machinery such as industrial trucks, airplanes, etc. People who take these sedatives could be placing their lives and others lives in danger according to reports from the FDA 

Other considerations of sleep aids


This issue doesn’t only revolve around sleep aids or sedatives, but a combination of sleep aids and many psychiatric medications such as:

  1. Haldol
  2. Buspar
  3. Lithium
  4. Risperdol
  5. Zyprexa
  6. Geodon
  7. Abilify

Having worked in multiple healthcare settings, I have observed many patients taking high doses of sedatives and psychiatric medication (often mixing them) and still being asked to attend their therapy sessions each week. What are we to do about this gross oversight? We ask patients suffering from mental health conditions to take their medications, yet we fear that driving may be impaired. Quite a contradiction!


What do you think about this situation? Have you encountered this issue with a loved one? If so, how did you handle it or how would you handle it?

For a listing of psychiatric medications most commonly prescribed, visit the National Institute of Health’s Medication index. To check the active ingredients of meds, visit Drugs.Com.

If you would like further information or help, call’s helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE or (1-855-378-4373) to speak to a Parent Specialist, Monday to Friday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm ET.

Photo credit: Nithya Ramanujam

Consciousness, Driving, and Prescription Medication

Támara Hill, MS, LPC

Támara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a licensed therapist and certified trauma professional, in private practice, who specializes in working with children and adolescents who suffer from mood disorders, trauma, and disruptive behavioral disorders. She also provides international consultations and works with some young and older adults struggling with grief & loss or life transitions. Hill strives to help clients to realize and actualize their strengths in their home environments and in their relationships within the community. She credits her career passion to a “divine calling” and is internationally recognized for corresponding literary works as well as appearances on radio and other media platforms. She is an author, family consultant, Keynote speaker, and founder of Anchored Child & Family Counseling. Visit her at Anchored-In-Knowledge or Twitter and Youtube Youtube If you are interested in scheduling a telehealth family consultation, feel free to let me know.

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APA Reference
Hill, T. (2013). Consciousness, Driving, and Prescription Medication. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 12, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Aug 2013
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