Cocaine use causes short-term brain damage which can be reversed. Long-term damage is more serious and might be permanent.

Yes, cocaine can cause memory loss indirectly. Cocaine use and addiction can cause cognitive impairment in the short-term, but these symptoms are probably reversible with abstinence.

Serious conditions like ischemic stroke usually cause long-term memory loss from cocaine.

Cocaine use can affect both the brain and memory. Short-term damage is often reversible, but long-term damage can be permanent.

Article at a Glance:

Important takeaways to remember about cocaine use and memory loss include:

  • Cocaine can cause short- and long-term memory loss
  • Short-term memory loss is reversible
  • Long-term cocaine use can form clots in the veins
  • If a clot breaks off, it can cause permanent damage to the brain, lungs or heart
  • Memory loss is permanent if it is because of a stroke

Cocaine and Short-Term Memory Loss

Cognitive impairment from cocaine use is at least somewhat reversible when a person stops using the drug.

A recent study compared 57 people who use cocaine to 48 people who do not. The researchers followed each group over one year and used hair samples to measure their intensity of cocaine use.

At the beginning and end of the study, both groups were given cognitive tests to measure their performance. At the end of one year, the group who did not use cocaine showed small improvements in every area tested. The results of this study probably reflect normal learning and development for the average person.

The group who used cocaine showed worse performance (than their previous scores) in every area, especially working memory, which is another term for short-term memory.

Interestingly, people in the cocaine group who stopped using cocaine completely recovered their cognitive function after one year. They were able to perform at the same level as the group who did not use cocaine.

Ultimately, the study shows that cocaine damages the brain and cognitive function. It also demonstrates that time and the right treatment can effectively reverse short-term damage from cocaine use.

Symptoms of Short-Term Memory Loss

Some signs of cocaine-induced short-term memory loss include:

  • Asking the same question over and over
  • Completing familiar tasks at a slower rate
  • Forgetting common words
  • Putting items in the wrong place, like misplacing a wallet in the fridge
  • Mixing up common words, like chair and desk
  • Unexplained mood changes

Cocaine and Long-Term Memory Loss

Long-term memory loss from cocaine use happens differently than short-term memory loss associated with cocaine use.

Formation of Clots in the Vascular System

In the body, cocaine can increase blood pressure and promote the formation of clots in the vascular system (veins and arteries). Forming a clot takes years, but cocaine use make clot formation much faster than people who do not use cocaine.

When a clot forms in a vein, it can break off and travel to other parts of the body. The clot can get stuck in other veins and lead to heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or stroke, depending on where it ends up.

Clots Can Influence Strokes

A stroke is when a clot gets stuck in a blood vessel in the brain. Low blood flow cuts off oxygen and causes cells in the area to die. Dead brain cells are permanent and this results in memory loss.

Symptoms of Long-Term Memory Loss

If a person chronically uses cocaine and they suffer from a stroke, they may experience symptoms of memory loss. Memory loss from stroke is permanent. Other effects include:

  • Inability to do simple tasks
  • Lack of attention
  • Slow movement
  • Slow thinking

Other Permanent Symptoms of Stroke

Memory loss is a highly debilitating consequence of stroke, but there are other long-term symptoms as well. Some examples are:

  • Behavioral changes, such as depression or impulsivity
  • Difficulty in reading, writing, and learning new information
  • Inability to recognize body parts
  • Left-sided weakness or paralysis and sensory impairment
  • Paralysis on the right side of the body
  • Problems with depth perception
  • Visual problems, including losing the ability to see with the right side of the eye

Recognize and treat cocaine use and abuse before permanent consequences result. Many of the short-term effects of cocaine use are reversible, but if cocaine use leads to the development of a clot in the veins, the damage will be permanent.

The best way to avoid cocaine-related permanent brain damage and memory loss is to stop using cocaine. Enroll in an addiction treatment program to stop memory loss and brain damage.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. “Effects of Stroke.”, 2019. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Novitzke, Jill. “Privation of Memory: What Can Be Done[…]tients Remember?” Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology, 2008. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Vonmoos, Matthias, et al. “Cognitive Impairment in Cocaine Users[…]ngitudinal Study.” Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.