Me pēhea e kai rongoā How to take medicines

Learn more about medicines commonly used in Aotearoa New Zealand. This includes important information to help you make good decisions about taking your medicine.

Always ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist

It is important to follow the instructions from your healthcare provider or pharmacist when taking your medicine. The instructions will normally also be printed on the label on your medicine.

Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you are not sure how to take your medicine or if you have any questions or concerns.

There are extra useful tips for caregivers if the medicine is for a child (tamariki).

Medicine safety: tips for parents — KidsHealth (external link)

Patient medicines information from My Medicines

You can learn more about commonly used medicines on the My Medicines website. My Medicines provides information for patients about individual medicines used in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

The information on My Medicines includes:

  • medicine name
  • what the medicine does
  • how you should take it
  • what to do if you forget a dose
  • whether you can take other medicines
  • what side effects you might notice
  • other information, such as warnings about alcohol, driving, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Some My Medicines information sheets are also available in te reo Māori.

If you have questions about your medicine, talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider.

My Medicines — information for patients (external link)

Medicines and food

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

You can consume alcohol with some medicines — but you should follow low-risk alcohol drinking advice whether or not you are taking a medicine.

If you are taking a sedative medicine like diazepam, lorazepam or sleeping pills, you should avoid alcohol completely.

Drinking a small quantity of alcohol is okay with most antibiotics. But with some antibiotics, like metronidazole, drinking any alcohol will make you feel sick.

You should be careful about drinking alcohol if you are taking a medicine long term. This could be for conditions such as:

  • epilepsy
  • diabetes
  • depression
  • blood clotting (when taking a blood thinner like warfarin).

This is because alcohol can make some medicines less effective or increase the chance of side effects.

Low-risk drinking advice — Amohia te Waiora ( (external link)

Medicines and driving

Some medicines can make you drowsy or slow your thinking or reaction time. Driving a vehicle, operating machinery or doing other types of work while using these medicines may be dangerous, for you and for others.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medicines might cause these problems for you.

It is unsafe to drive if you take medicine that reduces (impairs) your driving ability. It is also illegal to drive when impaired, whatever the cause of the impairment.

The New Zealand Transport Agency - Waka Kotahi has more information about medicines and driving.

Risks of mixing substances — New Zealand Transport Agency - Waka Kotahi (external link)

Swallowing your medicines

Put your tablet or capsule in your mouth with some liquid or easy-to-swallow food. 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.

If you find it difficult to swallow your medicine

Try swallowing your medicine with a thicker liquid instead of water, such as (from thinnest to thickest):

  • milk
  • yoghurt
  • ice cream
  • custard
  • apple sauce or fruit purée
  • Weet-Bix or porridge.

It is important to first check with your pharmacist if you can take your medicine with food.

Swallow most tablets and capsules whole

You should swallow most tablets and capsules whole with a glass of water.

Some tablets and capsules have a special coating to release the medicine slowly. Chewing or breaking it open destroys this coating.

If the special coating is broken, the medicine can enter your body quickly instead of slowly. You could have more unwanted side effects or you might not have enough medicine in your body throughout the day. If your medicine is a slow-release tablet or capsule, it is important to swallow it whole.

You can crush or chop some other types of tablet, and you can open some capsules and swallow the contents. It is important to always check with your pharmacist to make sure this is a safe and recommended way to take your medicine. 

If you still have problems swallowing medicines, you can ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider if your medicine is available as a liquid.

Call Healthline

You can call Healthline any day or time for free on 0800 611 116.

You can choose to speak with a Māori clinician if you are calling between 8am and 8pm.

Interpreter services are available and NZ Relay support.

More information on Healthline

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