Can You Get A DUI from Using Cold Medicine?

Taking cold medicine might be legal, but operating a vehicle while using this medicine may land you in trouble

Cold and flu season is upon us. Simple over the counter cold medicine can provide great relief to those in the throws of coughing, sneezing, and congestion. However, there are often side effects that can leave you drowsy and judgment-impaired much the same way alcohol can. This leads many to wonder—can you get a DUI from using cold medicines?

To answer that question, you really need to take a look at what a DUI offense is really all about. DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” Yes, this commonly refers to an individual operating a vehicle with a blood or breath alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or above. However, the law is intended to prevent driving while under the influence of anything that could impair your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, including drugs. Driving while impaired by drugs is illegal in Tennessee. The fact that a drug was legally taken and obtain is no defense. If the state prosecutors can prove that you were driving while impaired by drugs, you may be found guilty of driving under the influence.

A DUI with drug involvement is much more difficult to prove than when alcohol is involved. With alcohol, there are objective tests to prove you are above the legal limit. There are blood, breath, and urine tests. With drugs, the proof is more subjective. A law enforcement officer would need to recognize clear signs of drug impairment. This is why Tennessee law enforcement agencies have worked to expand the state’s Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program. DRE is a three-week training course that educates officers on how to recognize signs of drug impairment.

Depending on the dose, cold medicines can cause impairment that would rise to a DUI level. Cold medicines may cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Impaired judgment
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Dizziness

Remember, you may not feel the full effects of some over the counter drugs until an hour or so after you take them. Be mindful of this if you need to drive during this time frame.

With all of this being said, the answer is, yes, you can face a DUI if you are driving under the effects of cold medicine. Whether or not a prosecutor will be able to prove that you were actually illegally impaired by taking the cold medicine is another story. You need an experienced DUI defense attorney by your side to make sure a DUI charge does not turn into a DUI conviction marking your permanent record.