Among heroin addicts there is an unofficial term used to describe heroin-related memory loss. That term is “CRS” which is an acronym for “Can’t Remember S__t.” Not surprisingly, the science backs up the term. We know for instance that heroin use clouds mentation. We also know that heroin use impairs brain function. It should come as no surprise to anyone that either effect could adversely affect your memory.
What is memory?
Memory is a cognitive function that perceives, stores and retrieves information. The brain stores information either as short-term or long-term memory. What’s so fascinating is that memory always begins as short-term memory. Yet if short-term memory is deemed important, the brain refiles it as long-term memory, otherwise the information gets discarded.
Short-term memory can only store about 7 items of information (plus or minus 2) for about 20-30 seconds. Then it discards the information or refiles it as long-term memory. That’s why people can remember 7-digit phone numbers with relative ease, but find it almost impossible to remember 10-digit numbers.
Long-term memory is divided into two types: declarative (knowing what) and procedural (knowing how).
Declarative memory has to do with retrieving facts (knowledge of the universe) and events (times, places, related emotions and other information).
Procedural memory has to do with retrieving the skills necessary to perform a task, such as walking, or driving a car. Procedural memories are acquired through repetition, and are composed of automatic behaviors so deeply embedded in our mind that we carry them out without thinking.
How heroin affects the brain
The Locus Coeruleus (LC) Factor
Heroin affects several areas in the brain, and one of those areas is the Locus Coeruleus (LC). The LC is the brain’s primary producer of norepinephrine (NE), which the body uses to keep us awake and breathing. But NE does quite a bit more than that.
What NE does is wake the brain up, by priming it to respond. It stimulates neurons so they are ready for action and opens more synapses so there are more neurons available for various stimuli to enter. You could say that NE gets the brain ready for life. It acts like an attention primer, but the less norepinephrine we have, the less attention we place on things.
Heroin and memory loss
Memory is a product of perception, retention and recall of data. We know now that heroin use hinders the brain’s ability to perceive, retain and recall information. But why?
Number 1. Heroin use suppresses the Locus Coeruleus (LC).
Number 2. A suppressed LC reduces Norepinephrine (NE) production.
Number 3. We know that less NE means you’re less awake, therefore you put less attention on things, and the result is your brain perceives less.
Number 4. Less NE also means less synapses are open, therefore there are less places for information to be stored, and the result is you have less retention.
Number 5. Heroin use clouds mentation, therefore your brain has less ability to find information, and the result is you have less recall.
Even moderate heroin use can hurt your memory
Studies show that heroin use impairs your ability to perceive, store and retrieve information. In other words, if you are currently under the influence of heroin, you are probably having difficulty remembering things, or said another way, you forget a lot.
Does your memory get better after you quit?
Fortunately, memory loss associated with heroin use may only be temporary. Much of the evidence indicates that if you achieve a year of abstinence, your ability to perceive, store and retrieve information will show little to no-noticeable impairment. Which is good news, but of course it’s only good news if you stop. Otherwise you’ll keep on forgetting.
Now the obvious question is – “Can you remember what you just read?” ………………Lol