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Heroin’s Effect On Memory

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

August 8, 2018

Heroin use can result in a severely damaging addiction that causes a wide variety of serious physical and mental concerns that impact the ability to function. Chronic use of heroin can devastate various aspects of an individual’s memory in an unpredictable and scary manner.

Heroin Damages The Hippocampus

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps manage and control your memory. When this area of the brain is damaged, memory can become seriously impacted. While this type of damage most commonly occurs physically (such as during concussions), drug use–and heroin use in particular–can seriously impact the hippocampus.

The reason that heroin seriously impacts the hippocampus is due to the presence of opioid receptors in that area of the brain. When you use heroin, opioid receptors are the section of the mind and body impacted by the drug. It over-stimulates these areas and leads to addiction.

This stimulation can cause cells in this area of the brain to die. While the brain regularly repairs dead brain cells by the process of apoptosis, heroin interferes with this process by causing cells to die too early. It also dulls the processes in the mind, causing it to more slowly replace brain cells. As a result, cells in the hippocampus die too quickly to be replaced.

How Memory Is Impacted

As the cells of your hippocampus die, problems with your memory are going to start showing up. While these problems won’t occur all at once, that’s almost worse: they will slowly and surely start popping up over a lengthy period of time. As a result, it can be easy to write them off or ignore the problems as they increase in severity.

Typical memory problems caused by heroin use include:

  • Difficulty making new memories
  • Loss of short-term memory efficiency
  • Disappearance of long-term memories
  • Struggle to remember basic facts (address, phone number, etc)
  • Inability to recognize faces
  • Decreased memory scores
  • Blackouts and memory gaps

Quitting heroin may help decrease the severity of these symptoms and even reverse them a little. However, your memory isn’t liable to ever return to its full power.

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Verbal Memory Can Be Damaged

One of the most damaging effects that heroin has on your memory is the way it impacts your verbal memory. Verbal memory is the connection your brain has made between sounds and objects. For example, your verbal memory has the sound for the word “dog” stored inside. So when you hear that sound or words that resemble it, your mind will automatically connect the sound to the word.

However, a study called “The effect of heroin on verbal memory” discovered that regular heroin use degraded the verbal memory and made it more difficult for people to recall sounds and words. Sometimes, they could no longer translate sounds into proper words or couldn’t speak words properly.

This leads to two different problems: difficulty understanding and difficulty speaking. People with a difficulty understanding have lost some ability to connect sounds to words. As a result, they will struggle to recognize what you are saying and may think you are speaking gibberish.

People with difficulty speaking may understand what you are saying, but will struggle to form coherent words and sentences. They may substitute words (such as saying “magazine” for “television”) or say unusual sentences with conviction, as if they are communicating something important.

Mental Effect Spans Beyond Memory

Although short- and long-term heroin use heavily impacts your memory, that isn’t the only mental health concern it causes. It can affect large portions of your brain, causing a decrease in your cognitive and conative abilities. These abilities are centered around learning and reasoning (cognitive) and impulsiveness and personal ambition (conative).

The decay of your cognitive abilities can be devastating on heroin. After a while, you’ll find it difficult to learn new tasks and may struggle to perform old ones. Reasoning and logical skills may also be effected, making it more difficult for you to solve simple mathematical equations. It may also cause you to struggle to make logical connections, causing strange personal beliefs and a struggle to communicate.

Even worse, when your conative areas degrade, you will start to become more impulsive and lack personal ambition. Your whole life will start to revolve around using heroin. It can also cause a disappearance of sexual desire, leading to impotence in men and indifference in women. These effects may not be reversible if heroin use is sustained for years.

It’s Never Too Late To Change

If you’re concerned about memory loss after suffering from a heroin addiction, you still have time to change. Brain cells can grow back over time, as long as you stop using heroin and strive to live a healthy and active life. For more information about this topic and others that affect you, please use the resources at RehabCenter.net or contact us today.

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