Memory is a cognitive function that stores and retrieves information. The brain stores information either as short-term or long-term memory. What’s so fascinating is that all memory begins as short-term memory, but if short-term memory is deemed important it gets refiled as long-term memory. A healthy mind effortlessly distinguishes between which pieces of information become long-term memories and which ones get discarded.

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Short-term memory

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 is why many people can remember 7-digit phone numbers with relative ease, but find it almost impossible to remember 10-digit phone numbers. Scientific studies show that when a person uses heroin, both the amount of information the mind can store, and the duration of time it can store that information for, decreases considerably.
We know that men and women who are currently under the influence of heroin have trouble remembering things. They may forget a sentence they just read, or forget a name they just heard. We know now that heroin use reduces the brain’s ability to store and retrieve short-term memory, but it may also hinder the brain’s ability to refile short-term memories into new long-term memories, and that may be a much bigger problem.

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Long-term memory

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.

Studies show that heroin use impairs a person’s ability to retrieve long-term memory, both declarative and procedural. When a person is under the influence of heroin he or she may forget their friend’s birthday (declarative) or slip and fall off a ladder (procedural). As a matter of fact, overdoses, viruses, and ACCIDENTS are the top 3 reasons why heroin addicts die prematurely. Many of those accidents are associated with impaired procedural memory.

Heroin and memory loss

Among addicts there is an unofficial term used to describe drug-related memory loss. That term is “CRS” which is an acronym for “Can’t Remember Sheet.” Truth be told, the science backs up the term, because we know that heroin use clouds mentation and impairs brain function, and both neurological effects negatively impact the brain’s ability to store and retrieve short-term memories, as well as make new long-term memories.

Is heroin induced memory loss permanent?

Acute heroin intoxication, as in a “near miss” heroin overdose, may result in permanent long-term memory loss both declarative and procedural. However, overdose related memory loss is associated more so with respiratory failure i.e. oxygen deprivation to the brain, rather than direct drug-effects of heroin.


Will my memory improve?

Memory loss associated with heroin use may only be temporary, with the exception of heroin overdose related memory loss. Most of the evidence shows that heroin addicts who achieve a year of abstinence are able to store and retrieve both short-term and long-term memories without any noticeable impairment. Which is very good news – but of course, it’s only good news if you stop.