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How mood medicines can depress your car insurance rates

Gina Roberts-Grey

Antidepressants, sleeping pills and anxiety drugs were among the most prescribed medicines in the U.S. in 2012. And according to a report from IMS Health, a services and technology provider for the health care industry, the number of antidepressant prescriptions written for Americans has risen a staggering 264 percent since 2000.  

Mood-altering drugs are prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. Taking these drugs can reduce debilitating symptoms of mental illness, such as mood swings, anxiety and loneliness. However, a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology says these medicines also may increase a person’s risk of being involved in car crashes.

No matter what the cause, a car wreck can bump up your car insurance rates – in some cases, as much as 20 percent or more.

The effects of mood-altering drugs

Damon Raskin, a specialist in medical detoxification at Cliffside Malibu, an addiction treatment center in California, says that because of their strong mental effects, drugs prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia and depression are available by prescription only.

“These drugs can change the levels of chemicals in the brain, restoring a normal balance of chemicals (such as dopamine) that need to be present in the brain,” he says. 

But these chemical changes can affect your attention span and brain function in other ways.

Drowsiness is a common side effect of this type of drug, says Jack Fincham, professor of pharmacy practice and administration at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. And drug-induced drowsiness often leads to impaired driving, he says.

Mood-altering drugs also can make you extremely fatigued or slow, and can cause dizziness, Raskin says. “The side effects associated with taking mood-altering drugs can be dramatically different between individuals, but can include slowing your coordination and response time, and even blurred vision,” he says.

And if you experience those side effects behind the wheel, you might not react quickly enough when someone pulls out in front of you, when a stoplight changes to red or when you need to slow down in heavy traffic.

The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology study says that in general, those involved in car crashes were more likely to have been taking mood-altering drugs than drivers who weren’t.

Size matters

Even one dose of a mood-altering drug could endanger your auto insurance rates.

Fincham says medicines affect each person differently; some experience extreme side effects while others none at all. “The size of the dose may or may not affect the reaction. The same is true with the timing of when the drug is taken during the day,” Fincham says.  

Although science doesn’t have a clear-cut reason why, Raskin says that in general, women tend to be more sensitive to the effects of mood-altering drugs than men. Seniors also are susceptible, as their slower metabolism means it takes their bodies longer to process the drugs.

There’s a particular type of mood-altering drugs, called benzodiazepines, which cause particular concern when it comes to their related side effects, including how they affect driving. This family of drugs includes Paxal, Valium and Xanan. The British study says that people taking benzodiazepines should pay closer attention to their driving to avoid wrecks.

Keeping your rates in check

Fincham says mood-altering drugs typically come with a warning on the bottle about operating vehicles. “In my opinion, these warnings are inadequate, and in many cases they are written on an attached sticker that is hard to read or decipher,” he says.

To stay safe and protect your auto insurance rates, consult your doctor or pharmacist about how a drug will affect your operation of cars, lawnmowers and boats.

“No one taking mood-altering drugs should even consider getting behind the wheel until after they have been on the drugs for a few days and know how the drugs affect them,” Raskin says.


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