Memory Loss

Problems with attention span and memory loss often occur in drug abusers, and can be seen as a significant marker for drug addiction. Substance abuse floods the brain with chemicals that interfere with regular brain function, possibly leading to a short attention span and loss of memory, amongst other symptoms. Different drugs affect the brain in different ways. Some effects last for only as long as the user is intoxicated, while others last longer and become worse with regular abuse. Here are a few examples of some popular illicit drugs and how they affect the brain.


Marijuana’s main active compound, THC, over-stimulates the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, to produce mind-altering effects. THC affects attention levels, prevents the formation of new short-term memories, and disrupts the conversion of short-term memories into long-term ones, which is why you may not remember events that occurred while intoxicated. Abuse of marijuana in adolescents, while the brain is still developing, can result in a permanent disruption of memory functions.

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Heroin and Other Opioids

Opioids bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and block out feelings of pain. They also cause an increase in the production of dopamine, which is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Increased production may affect general neurotransmitter activity in the brain, leading to memory loss. Prolonged abuse of opioids can cause irreversible brain damage.


This class of drugs includes Ativan, Valium, and Xanax. Benzos interfere with the formation and transference of memories. They also affect episodic memories, leading to blackouts where the user does not remember anything they did after taking the drug.

Cocaine and Methamphetamine

Both of these drugs are highly-addictive stimulant drugs, which impair the role of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to reductions in attention span and focus levels. They also cause long-term memory loss in addicts.

Allowing Your Brain to Heal

Some people are addicted to multiple drugs at once, which makes it hard to separate and identify the effects of each drug on the individual. It is generally accepted that addicts can recover from the effects of drug abuse on the brain, provided that all drugs are flushed out of their system and the brain is allowed to heal without the disruption of more drugs. Less stress, better nutrition, and healthier sleep patterns, all of which are usually affected by drug addiction, will help in the recovery process. However, those who have suffered addiction for prolonged periods of time are at a greater risk of permanent brain damage.

The paradox of this is that most drug addictions cannot be cured by merely stopping the use of the drug suddenly. This will almost always lead to a relapse. Rehabilitation centres have programmes that will help you to gradually reduce your dependency on drugs, with professionals that provide medical and mental health services. Please note that the sooner you, or an affected individual you know, seek professional help, the better the chances of reversing any brain damage that could lead to permanent memory loss or changes in attention span.

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