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Can My Prescription Cause Me to Get a DUI?

The first thoughts that probably come into your head when you think of driving under the influence (DUI) are alcohol, breathalyzers, check points, and open containers. Even though alcohol is the most common cause of DUI charges, an increasing number of people have been arrested for driving under the influence of other substances, which include legally prescribed drugs. Virginia Law prohibits driving while under the influence of any drug which impairs the ability to drive. While most people know they should avoid illegal drugs and prescribed narcotics while driving, it is less commonly known that other prescribed drugs, such as sleep aids like Ambien and Lunesta, can also lead to a DUI charge.

Ambien has been found to cause a phenomenon known as a “sleep driving” side effect for some people who take the medication. The FDA defines sleep driving as “driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event.” In 2007, the makers of Ambien recognized this dangerous side effect by adding a warning label to their product which specifically warns against “sleep-driving.” Despite this warning, Ambien is still being prescribed, and still leading to “sleep driving” incidents that can lead to DUI charges.

Sleep driving can come with heavy consequences. Even though sleep driving has become a recognized effect of sleep aids, you can still face a conviction if you are pulled over while driving and arrested for a DUI. An officer can charge you with driving under the influence regardless of whether you pass a breathalyzer test or have any alcohol in your system. The failure to pass a field sobriety test can be sufficient probable cause for an officer to make an arrest.

Hiring an attorney in these DUI situations can be a very wise decision. There are defenses available to those facing DUI charges; including drivers charged with a DUI because of a drug they have been lawfully prescribed.

DUI penalties in Virginia are very strict. Convicted DUI drivers face jail time, high court costs, a restricted license, and required training programs, along with the heavy financial burdens of fines and insurance increases. If you have recently been arrested for a DUI, please feel free to call our office to schedule an appointment so that we can answer any questions you may have and better inform you of your options.


An outstanding job on my case to have custody, visitation and support decided in my home state instead of Virginia after I separated from military service.- A.E.