Driving when taking strong painkillers

If you’re someone who drives, you may be wondering if it’s safe for you to go on driving while you’re taking strong painkillers or other medicines.

Effect of medicines on driving

Strong painkillers, like morphine or oxycodone, affect people in different ways. They can make you drowsy and your reactions may be slower than usual.

These side effects may be worse if you drink alcohol or take other medicines that cause drowsiness. For example, anti-sickness medicines and other medicines used to manage pain.

When to talk to a healthcare professional

You may be fit to drive once the dose of your medicines is stable and your pain is well controlled.

Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you think your driving could be affected by strong painkillers or other medicines you’re taking. Don’t drive until you have had advice from them. They may be able to change some of your medicines if these affect your ability to drive safely.

You should also speak to your healthcare professional if the dose of your medicine has changed or you have been prescribed something new.

When to avoid driving


  • do not drive if you feel sleepy, struggle with your co-ordination, feel dizzy or have any eyesight issues
  • do not drive if you have severe pain, pain that distresses you, or you feel unable to concentrate
  • do not drive after drinking alcohol
  • do not drive after taking drugs that have not been prescribed to you, like cannabis
  • do not drive if you’re taking drugs that cause sleepiness, like hay fever medicine – these may be prescribed from a doctor or bought from a pharmacy
  • do not drive on days when you’ve had to take an extra (breakthrough or rescue) dose of a strong painkiller

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have any doubts about whether you’re safe to drive.

Prescription drugs and driving laws

In Scotland, it’s illegal to drive with certain drugs above a set level in your body. This is whether your driving is affected or not.

If you’re on a dose that takes you above the legal limits, you’ll only break the law if:

  • you were not prescribed the drug for medical or dental reasons
  • you are not taking prescription drugs as advised by the person prescribing

People who are fit to drive and taking strong painkillers as directed by their doctor, nurse or pharmacist will not be breaking this law.

Further information on prescription drugs and driving in Scotland

The Drivers Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

You do not need to tell the DVLA that you’re starting a strong painkiller.

There may be other information about your illness that the DVLA needs to know. Your doctor, nurse, or the DVLA can advise you about this.

Visit the DVLA website for further information on health and driving

Car insurance

You may need to tell your car insurance company about your health and the medicines you’re taking.

Each insurance company is different. It’s best to discuss your personal circumstances with your insurance company to make sure that you’re covered.

Last updated:
04 July 2024