Addiction and How It Causes Memory Problems
When visiting a physician, one particular complaint by drug and alcohol abusers is their inability to remember a time period during which they were intoxicated. If a user is plagued by memory problems, it is a clear symptom of drug addiction, among other possible causes.
Memories are formed by neurotransmitters in the brain. When drugs are taken, they disrupt the process of these neurotransmitters, leading to the inability to create memories. There are two major ways in which drug users experience memory loss: these are brownouts and blackouts.
- Brownouts (or partial blackouts): These are a fragmentary form of memory loss, whereby the affected person is able to form memories but unable to access them afterwards. However, over time, that person might be able to regain some of their memories of previous events. Brownouts aren’t considered serious, due to their temporary nature.
- Blackouts: These are a permanent form of memory loss. In this case, the brain is unable to create new memories while it is subject to drugs and alcohol. Unlike brownouts, sufferers of blackouts are never able to regain their memories of these events.
How Do Drugs Affect the Memory?
Different illicit substances affect the brain in their own unique ways. After consuming alcohol, the ethanol within disrupts the activities of the hippocampus. This is the major part of the brain that deals with the conversion of short-term memories into long-term memories. When a huge amount of alcohol is drunk, the hippocampus is unable to do its job properly, which leads to a blackout or a brownout.
There are also drugs that interfere with acetylcholine in the brain. This is the main neurotransmitter involved in the creation of memories. People whose acetylcholine levels are low become more forgetful and find it more difficult to concentrate. Acetylcholine levels are majorly affected by drugs like antidepressants, antipsychotics and antihistamines.
Marijuana is another drug that interferes with the processes of the hippocampus. Marijuana intoxication disrupts the formation of short-term memories and their conversion into long-term memories. It changes the way the hippocampus processes information. In younger people (whose brains are yet to fully form), it creates memory problems for them in the long run.
Opioid-based drugs directly interfere with the functions of neurotransmitters in the brain. During this period, short and long-term memories might have trouble forming. When consumed, they change the chemicals present in the brain and consequently lead to memory problems.
Heroin and other depressants that affect a person’s respiratory processes also affect the formation of new memories. The less oxygen the brain receives, the less its ability to function and create memories. A frequently oxygen-deprived brain will eventually develop long-term memories.
The Need for Caution
Continuous abuse of drugs and alcohol has serious consequences on the body. Addicts are likely to face long-term problems that permanently impair their ability to form new memories or recall past events.
With this in mind, if a person suffers from any kind of substance addiction, be it yourself or a loved one, it is important to get help.
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