The negative effects of drugs and alcohol on memory are well documented. As one of the brain’s cognitive functions, memory plays a key role in acquiring knowledge and understanding. When memory is compromised, so are other cognitive functions, including learning, language, and comprehension.
There are two types of memory: Short-term, also called working memory, and long-term. Working memory acts as a temporary “scratch pad,” allowing us to recall information that can be used immediately, and for a short time. Examples of working memory include recalling a handful of items we need from the supermarket, or where we parked our car.
In contrast, long-term memory extends back throughout our lives. Memorable events from childhood are stored in long-term memory, along with things we learned in school, or skills such as tying our shoes.
Hundreds of studies have shown a link between substance abuse and memory loss. While research has demonstrated varying results, even within categories of drugs studied, virtually all studies have found that mood-changing and mind-altering drugs do affect memory, particularly with long-term use.
Many drugs, most notably alcohol, produce two specific types of memory loss: brownouts and blackouts. A brownout is a fragmented type of memory loss, in which we temporarily forget events that happened while drinking, until someone or something prompts us to remember. We then recall, in hazy detail, what we did while drunk.
A blackout, on the other hand, results from particularly heavy drinking, which prevents the brain from completing the process of forming memories. When we experience a blackout, we have no recollection of what happened, and can’t be prodded to remember. The events that transpired are forever lost to us.
Other drugs, including benzodiazepines, interfere with the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory. For this reason, benzodiazepines are often used as anesthesia for medical procedures: They cause us to forget pain and discomfort. Sleeping pills, known as Z drugs, blunt memory in a similar way. Opioids also impair both short- and long-term memory by inhibiting our perception of pain within the central nervous system and dulling our reaction to pain.
Studies on the effects of THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, have been performed on rats. THC changes the way the hippocampus region of the brain, where memories are formed, processes information. Many studies suggest marijuana’s effect on memory may depend on the age at which we begin using it. Early exposure to marijuana can inhibit learning and memory later in life.
If you or some you love is abusing drugs or alcohol, seek help immediately. Treatment is available, and you are not alone. When seeking a private residential treatment program, choose the program that has the highest accreditation’s, focuses on personalized care, and offers the greatest luxury accommodations. Harmony Place provides a full continuum of treatment options, from detox to transitional living. For a private consultation and more information, call us today: 1-888-789-4330