Drugs that can impact your memory

Published Apr 26, 2024 • By Carenity Editorial Team

Some drugs can hinder how optimally the memory works, and this is often observed with medications prescribed for anxiety, Parkinson's disease, and chronic pain.

So, which medications negatively affect the memory? How do they work? Should they be avoided?

Unravel the answers in our article!

Drugs that can impact your memory

Some medications used in treating numerous conditions, such as anxiety, Parkinson's disease, or pain, can cause memory disorders. These disorders are reversible, meaning they disappear when the medication is discontinued. Here are a few examples of such medications:

Benzodiazepines (alprazolam, oxazepam, bromazepam, lorazepam, diazepam)

Used for sleep disorders or anxiety, benzodiazepines can cause memory disturbances as well as reduced alertness. These adverse effects, coupled with the risk of dependence that benzodiazepines present, mean their prescription is highly regulated or restricted.

Indeed, the duration of the prescription should be limited to 12 weeks because, whether for anxiety or insomnia, benzodiazepines have proven effective when used short-term. However, their therapeutic benefit decreases with prolonged use, while adverse effects persist.

Dopaminergic agonists (pramipexole, ropinirole)

Indicated for Parkinson's disease, these medications help reduce involuntary movements associated with the disease but can also cause adverse effects such as memory loss. Additionally, caution is advised when driving a vehicle as they can cause drowsiness and, in rarer cases, hallucinations or addictive behaviors (addictions to gambling, sex, etc.).

Opioid medications (morphine, codeine)

These drugs are indicated for very intense acute pain, referred to as level III analgesics (the highest level of painkiller). These medications act on the central nervous system, affecting many elements such as the respiratory or digestive systems. For example, morphine can cause nausea and vomiting or coughing. But opioid medications also act on behavior and the brain and can thus cause excitement, sedation, or memory disorders. However, these are temporary and end when the treatment is discontinued. Sometimes, if the pain is very intense and accompanied by a generally deteriorated state, it can also cause memory disorders.

Medications for epilepsy (pregabalin, gabapentin)

Pregabalin or gabapentin are drugs indicated for the treatment of peripheral neuropathic pain, meaning pain due to nerves. They are also indicated for the treatment of various forms of epilepsy. The adverse effects of these treatments are cognitive, including deterioration of verbal and episodic memory, as well as abnormal thoughts.

Medications against motion sickness

Dimenhydrinate is an antihistamine, indicated for the prevention and treatment of motion sickness to avoid nausea and vomiting caused by transport. However, it has sedative effects and memory disorders as side effects.

Focus and explanations

All the medications mentioned above belong to the family of medications with anticholinergic effects, or at least have anticholinergic effects. For example, benzodiazepines are not anticholinergic medications but have anticholinergic effects.

Moreover, all medications with anticholinergic effects potentially have effects on memory due to their mechanism of action. Indeed, they block one of the chemical communication mechanisms of the body, and this mechanism is involved in the brain for memory and learning processes. This is why these medications all present potential memory disorders as side effects, to varying degrees.

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