Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

How to take medicines

Me pēhea e kai rongoā

It's important to follow your general practice team's or pharmacist's instructions when taking your medicine. The instructions will normally be printed on your medicine box or bottle. Talk to your general practice team or pharmacist if you aren't sure how to take your medicine or if you have any questions or concerns.

You can also find extra information about giving children medicine on Giving medicines to children.

Medicines and food

Some medicines should be taken with food or just after food. Some should be taken on an empty stomach. It's important to follow these instructions to make sure your medicine works well and to help protect you from unwanted effects.

If the instructions say you should take your medicine on an empty stomach, take it at least an hour before or two hours after a meal. If the instructions say to take your medicine with or just after food, a small amount of food is usually enough.

Medicines and alcohol

It's OK to drink alcohol with some medicines (though you should stay within the low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines whether or not you are taking medication).

If you're taking sedatives like diazepam (Valium), lorazepam or sleeping pills, you should avoid alcohol completely.

Drinking limited alcohol is OK with most antibiotics. But with some antibiotics like metronidazole, drinking any alcohol will make you sick.

You should be careful about drinking alcohol if you're on long-term medications such as medications for epilepsy or diabetes, antidepressants or blood thinners like warfarin. This is because alcohol can make some drugs less effective or increase the chance of side effects.

Medicines and driving or operating machinery

Some medicines may make you drowsy or slow your thinking or reaction time. These could be dangerous for you and others if you take them before driving or operating machinery or doing other types of work.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if this might be a problem for you.

See the New Zealand Transport Agency page Are you safe to drive? for more information about medicines and driving.

Tips for swallowing medicines


Place capsules at the front of your mouth and let them float down your throat with liquid.

FDP TabletsTablets

Place tablets on the back of your tongue and gather them with liquid or food to the back of your mouth before swallowing them.

Head position when swallowing tablets or capsules

Tilt your head forward (chin to your chest) when swallowing a tablet or capsule. Tilting your head forward helps to make the pipe connecting your mouth to your stomach wider. Do not tilt your head backwards. This can make it harder to swallow as it narrows the pipe.

Other options if you have problems swallowing medicines

Liquid medicine – Your medicine may also come as a liquid. Check with your pharmacist or general practice team.

Thick liquids – Try thicker liquids instead of water. Options are (thin to thick): milk; yoghurt; ice cream; custard; apple sauce or fruit purée; Weet-Bix or porridge. First check with your pharmacist if you can take your medicine with food.

Crush, chop or open – You can crush or chop some tablets. You can open up some capsules and swallow the contents. Always check with your pharmacist or general practice team before you try this.

Slow-release medicines

You should swallow most tablets and capsules whole with a glass or water. Some tablets or capsules have a special coating to release the medicine slowly. Chewing or breaking destroys this coating. If your medicine is a slow-release tablet or capsule, it's important to swallow it whole or the medicine will get into your body quickly instead of slowly. You could have more unwanted effects, or you might not have enough medicine in your body throughout the day.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by Christchurch Hospital pharmacists and HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2023.


See also:

Look up your medication

Safe use, storage and disposal of medicines

Using a spacer

Page reference: 71595

Review key: HIHTM-71595