Opiate addiction affects users differently, but one of the most troubling problems is the way it damages memory, especially short-term memory. You may struggle to process information if you abuse opiates, but you can recover if you seek professional help to get and stay clean.

How Opiate Abuse Affects Memory

The reason scores of people have turned to opiates both for relief and recreation is directly related to how opiates affect neural dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is the brain’s pleasure chemical, so the more of it that docks within the brain, the happier and more relaxed an individual may feel.1 Eating, laughing and reuniting with friends are a few activities that ignite the brain’s dopamine levels, but opiates artificially boost this neurotransmitter, which is an immediately gratifying side effect. Even when someone is using opiates to deal with pain.

When people use opiates either at higher levels or for longer time periods than prescribed, the brain gets used to living with this heightened sense of pleasure.

The brain soon begins producing less dopamine on its own, so it comes to rely solely upon the drug to feel pleasure. This is the root of opiate dependence. In addition, the dopamine overload hyperstimulates the brain’s capacity for memory, causing such mnemonic difficulties as mild amnesia and short-term blackout.


Long-Term Opiate Use and Short-Term Memory Loss.

Short-term memory loss is often one of the biggest struggles opiate users face. This side effect will continue for some time even after the individual stops using the drugs. Withdrawal from opiates occurs in stages. Memory loss is one side effect that occurs even in post-acute withdrawal.2 In other words, a person in opiate recovery will need time for his or her brain to completely heal and return to normal once the drugs are withdrawn.

Basically, long-term opiate use causes damage the central nervous system.

It most cases it takes many years for this tissue to repair itself.3 That is why effective opiate treatment is so important. The opiate user’s brain and body need time to recover. Learning to understand the addiction, its triggers and what coping methods you need to cope with withdrawal symptoms while healing can prevent relapse.

This, along with proper nutrition, exercise, meditation, spiritual guidance, and other holistic methods, you or your loved one can break free from opiate addiction. The best course of action is to remain as active as possible and consult with addiction treatment providers about assistance with brain-stimulating activities or healthy diet changes that may help the body better heal.

Other Side Effects of Opiate Abuse

Abusing opiates such as morphine, codeine, thebaine, and heroin also damage the body and brain in the following ways:
  • Physical and psychological dependence
  • Severe constipation
  • Overactive allergies
  • Sleepiness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Abnormally lowered heart rate
  • Gastrointestinal pain
  • Heightened pain sensitivity
  • Changes in temperament or cognitions
  • Death by overdose4

Because the addictive nature of opiates is so well documented, widespread fear of dependency leads many hospital patients to request alternative methods of pain relief, even if they are in severe pain, because they do not want to risk addiction. Their fears indeed have merit, but awareness of addiction and a close accountability system of family and friends can make medical opiate use much safer.

Finding Help for Opiate Abuse

If you or someone you know has abused opiates in the past or even misuses drugs now, we are here to help you. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to hear your concerns in complete confidentiality and help you find the right treatment plan for your unique situation. Call us today at 706-914-2327 to ask about interventions, treatment centers, payment plans, or any other aspects of addiction. We are here for you.


1 How Do Opioids Work?NIDA for Teens. 11 June 2018.

2 Maron, Dina Fine. “Mystery Memory Loss among Illicit-Drug Users Spurs Health Action.” Scientific American. 19 Apr. 2017.

3 Treatment and Recovery.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). July 2014.

4 Short- & Long-Term Side Effects of Opioids – Morphine Addiction & Abuse – Drug-Free World.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Accessed June 19, 2018.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at Black Bear Lodge. For more specific information on programs at Black Bear Lodge, contact us today.