Mental Health Meds and Driving Risks

Antidepressants and insomnia medications increase risk of being in car accident

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Medications prescribed for common mental health conditions can be incredibly important treatment options. However, they come with risks as well.

A recent study has found a link between certain medications and the risk of being in a car accident.

The medications include ones prescribed for anxiety, depression and insomnia.

"Ask your doctor about medication side effects."

The study, led by Hui-Ju Tsai, PhD, MPH, of the National Health Research Institute in Taiwan, looked at the medications taken by people in two groups.

Past research has already looked at the possible effects of driving while taking benzodiazepines such as diazepam. Benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety and insomnia.

This study expanded past research by looking at other antidepressants and antipsychotics.

One study group of 5,183 people had been in car crashes, identified from medical records of the Taiwanese national health insurance program.

The 31,093 people in the comparison group had no history of being in car accidents, and they were demographically similar to the first group.

The study found that people taking psychotropic drugs were more likely to be involved in car accidents.

The psychotropic drugs with the higher risk included both antidepressants and "Z-drugs." Z-drugs are the newer insomnia medications that are non-benzodiazepines, such as zaleplon (Sonata), zolpidem (Ambien), zopiclone (Imovane) and eszopiclone (Lunesta).

The higher risk of being in a car accident was present regardless of whether medications had been taken for a month or for as little as a single day.

The higher likelihood of being in a car accident was about the same level of increased risk as it was for driving after taking benzodiazepines.

People taking antidepressants were about 1.7 times more likely to be in an accident, and people taking benzodiazepines were about 1.5 to 1.8 times more likely.

The risk was slightly lower for Z-drugs: people taking these medications were about 1.4 times more likely to be in an accident.

There was no risk found for those taking antipsychotic medications, regardless of the dosage.

In a release about the study, Dr. Tsai said that people taking these medications should pay extra attention while driving.

"Doctors and pharmacists should choose safer treatments, provide their patients with accurate information and consider advising them not to drive while taking certain psychotropic medications," she said.

However, she and the other authors emphasized that a person should not stop taking their medication without first consulting their doctor.

The study was published September 12 in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. The research was funded by the Department of Health and National Health Research Institutes. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 12, 2012
Last Updated:
November 15, 2012