HomeBlogRecoveryHow Substance Use Disorder Affects Your Memory

How Substance Use Disorder Affects Your Memory

Written By: Harris House

Category: Recovery, Recovery

Puzzle pieces.

While substance abuse can lead to memory loss, patience is instrumental in recovering cognitive function.

Drug use has many health consequences on the body and brain. These include a weakened immune system; heart, lung and liver conditions; changes in appetite and weight loss; and seizures, stroke and brain damage. One lesser-known effect? Problems with memory, attention, and decision-making. Here’s a closer look at the impact of substance use disorder on cognition, along with what you can do to improve your memory when you’re undergoing treatment or in recovery. 

Substance Abuse and Your Brain

Drugs alter many areas of the brain. These range from parts that perform life-sustaining functions to those that impact how we feel. They also affect the parts of the brain responsible for how we think. Says research published in the academic journal Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, “The brain regions and processes that underlie addiction overlap extensively with those that are involved in essential cognitive functions, including learning, memory, attention, reasoning, and impulse control.”

Not only that, but these changes to normal brain structure and function also result in maladaptive learning that interferes with the journey to abstinence and recovery.

In an article for Psych Central, clinical psychologist Ben Martin explains that things learned during periods of substance abuse can become hard to recall when not under the influence. “Many people can learn and perform in the drug state and do quite well as long as their routine and drug level don’t change. If there is a change, trouble can result,” he explains. One such change? Sobriety.

Woman sitting in a meditative posture.

Mindful meditation helps people struggling with addiction stay in control of their thoughts and actions.

Memory Boosting Tips for Addiction Recovery

The process of becoming sober takes time and patience. It can also be frustrating. Offers Martin, “Your difficulty recalling events or behaviors does not mean that you are going crazy. Nor does it mean that you have destroyed all your brain cells. It is, instead, a normal process that is part of recovery…Returning to drug use is not the answer. You can and will relearn the skills in the same ways, that you learned them in the first place.”

Furthermore, there are some things you can do to help the process along, according to a report from CBS MiamiThese include practicing mindful meditation; embracing physical activity; exploring creative pursuits like writing, art, dancing, and music; establishing and maintaining social connections; playing brain training games; and getting enough sleep. Adopting these strategies can boost cognitive function while improving recovering and reducing your risk of addiction and relapse.

One last word of advice from Martin? “Recovery takes time, but as you unlearn the habits of addiction, you will relearn the skills and behaviors that you acquired earlier.” As such, patience is an essential part of the journey to recovery and a substance-free life.

However,  the reality is that talking about these strategies and adopting them in a real-world setting can be difficult, especially if you’re in an environment without an infrastructure of support. Enter rehabilitation programs like St Louis drug rehab Harris House. For more than 50 years, Harris House has been providing a safe and nurturing environment aimed at helping people with substance abuse overcome their addictions while acquiring critical skills for sober living.  If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and its repercussions, call us to learn about admissions to Harris House today.

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