Heroin use can result in a severely debilitating addiction that causes a wide variety of serious physical and mental health problems. From a person’s skin to their heart to their risk of developing infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, this drug can impact many areas of a person’s life. But can heroin cause memory loss?
What Does Heroin Do to the Brain?
When you use heroin, the drug attaches to opioid receptors located in the brain and multiple areas throughout the body. The drug overstimulates these areas, not only causing numbness and reduced pain but also activating the release and blocking the reuptake of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. As a result, these drugs flood the user’s brain, leading to a euphoric and rewarding high.
The effects of heroin on the brain aren’t just limited to one area but rather anywhere where there are opioid receptors. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps manage and control your memory. When this region of the brain is damaged, a person may experience impairments in memory.
While this type of damage usually occurs as a result of a concussion, drug use – including the use of heroin – can damage the hippocampus and therefore impact one’s memory. Why? Because of opioid receptors.
As we previously mentioned, heroin attaches to opioid receptors, and the hippocampus is full of them. But when a person uses heroin, they overstimulate this area of the brain, overworking it to the point where cells begin to die. While the brain regularly repairs dead brain cells via apoptosis, heroin interferes with this process by causing premature cell death.
Heroin also inhibits processes in the mind, slowing down functions like learning and apoptosis. As a result, cells in the hippocampus die more quickly than they’re replaced.
Does Heroin Cause Memory Loss?
Yes, heroin causes memory loss by overstimulating the hippocampus and causing brain cells in this region to die prematurely. As this area of the brain is damaged, users’ memory may start to worsen. While these problems don’t usually occur all at once, memory problems like gaps in memory, blackouts, and issues with short-term memory may gradually worsen over time.
For this reason, it’s easy for heroin users to write off these issues or ignore heroin memory problems until it’s severe enough to interfere with their day-to-day living. This is especially true among high-functioning heroin addicts, as they’re often in denial about the drug’s dangers and believe they can “pull off” their drug use and quit whenever they want without the help of heroin rehab.
Possible effects of heroin on memory include:
- Difficulty making new memories
- Loss of short-term memory competence
- The loss of long-term memories
- Trouble remembering basic facts about oneself (address, phone number, etc.)
- Inability to recognize faces
- Decreased memory scores, based on the results of a Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE)
- Blackouts and memory gaps
Because opioids are difficult drugs to recover from, our Texas recovery center recommends that those with heroin addictions start their treatment with heroin detox. Medical detoxification offers 24-hour care and medicated support to alleviate clients’ withdrawals and drug cravings, making their experience in recovery less intimidating and more effective.
Verbal Memory Problems
Heroin’s effects on memory can also impact users’ verbal memory. Verbal memory refers to the connection your brain has made between sounds and objects. For instance, your brain may have the verbal memory for the word “bell” stored. So, whenever you hear that sound or something that resembles it, you’ll automatically connect the sound to the word.
A recent study found that long-term heroin uses degraded verbal memory and made it more difficult for users to recall sounds and words. Some reached a point where they could no longer translate sounds into proper words or couldn’t say words properly.1
Inhibited verbal memory then leads to two additional problems: trouble understanding and trouble speaking. People who struggle to understand have lost some ability to connect sounds to words. As a result, they may struggle to recognize what someone else is saying and think they’re speaking gibberish.
People with trouble speaking may understand what you’re saying but struggle to string up a coherent sentence. They may substitute words with others that don’t make sense, such as saying “car” when they mean “apple.” They might also say unusual sentences with conviction, confident that they’re saying something that makes sense.
Mental Health Problems Beyond Memory
Not only can heroin cause memory loss and problems, but it can also affect other portions of your brain, contributing to decreased cognitive and cognitive abilities. These abilities are centered on learning, reasoning, impulsiveness, and personal ambition.
The deterioration of one’s cognitive ability can be devastating. After a while, heroin users often find it difficult to perform even the simplest of tasks or prioritize important things like their loved ones or jobs. Reasoning and logic may also be impacted, making it more likely that the user will make poor decisions.
What’s more, when one’s cognitive areas are debilitated, you’ll begin to become more impulsive and lack personal ambition. At this point, your life may revolve around heroin abuse. It can also contribute to physical changes like impotence, both in men and women. These side effects may not be reversible if heroin abuse is sustained for years.
Our Heroin Rehab in Texas Can Help
No matter how far into addiction you are, it’s never too late to change. Banyan Treatment Centers offers various Texas drug and alcohol treatment options, including detox and therapy, that can help you or someone you care about get and stay sober.
For more information about our facility and how we can help, call Banyan Texas today at 888-280-4763.
- National Library of Medicine - The effect of heroin on verbal memory