Losing Your Memory: It May be the Drugs You’re Taking

Is memory loss interfering with your daily life? Most people are familiar with some of the things that can impair memory, including alcohol and drug abuse, head injuries, stroke, sleep deprivation, severe stress, aging or a symptom of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. What many do not know is that episodes of forgetfulness can also be side effects of prescription drugs.

Dr. Armon B. Neel, a geriatric pharmacist with the AARP, claims:

“Scientists now know that memory loss as you get older is by no means inevitable. Indeed, the brain can grow new brain cells and reshape their connections throughout life.”

Dr. Neel promotes education on the importance of better understanding the effects of prescription medications. Commonly prescribed drugs that induce forgetfulness in some patients include:

• Antianxiety drugs (Benzodiazepines) dampen activity in key parts of the brain, including those involved in the transfer of events from short-term to long-term memory. Examples: alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), and lorazepam (Ativan).

• Cholesterol-lowering drugs (Statins) may impair memory and other mental processes by depleting brain levels of cholesterol. In the brain, these lipids are vital to the formation of connections between nerve cells, the links underlying memory and learning. Examples: atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor).

Antidepressant drugs (Tricyclic antidepressants) may cause memory problems by blocking the action of serotonin and norepinephrine, two of the brain's key chemical messengers. Some degree of memory impairment and difficulty concentrating is common. Examples: amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), doxepin (Sinequan), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), protriptyline (Vivactil) and trimipramine (Surmontil).

• Narcotic painkillers (opioid analgesics) involve many aspects of cognition and can interfere with long- and short-term memory, especially when used for an extended time. Examples: fentanyl (Duragesic), hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), morphine (Astramorph, Avinza) and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet).

• Hypertension drugs (Beta-blockers) may cause memory problems by interfering with "blocking" the action of key chemical messengers in the brain, including norepinephrine and epinephrine. Examples: atenolol (Tenormin), carvedilol (Coreg), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), propranolol (Inderal), sotalol (Betapace), timolol (Timoptic) and some other drugs whose chemical names end with "-olol.”

Many of the listed drugs are recommended for short-term use due to possible abuse and addiction and while others are needed to control chronic conditions. However, effective non-drug therapies may be a healthier choice and in many cases can be tried before medications.

Other suspect medications include sleeping aids, anti-seizure drugs, incontinence drugs and antihistamines. If you are experiencing memory loss, one of these commonly prescribed drugs may be the culprit. Consult your doctor.

Many new treatment options focus on treating underlying issues that cause problems rather than symptomatic relief. This is a more mindful approach to total health. Discuss medication questions with your physician or pharmacist and always consult your health care provider before making any adjustments to drug therapies.


Constance Scharff is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research for Cliffside Malibu. She is also the coauthor of the Amazon.com bestselling book Ending Addiction for Good with Richard Taite.

About the Authors

Richard Taite

Richard Taite is the CEO and founder of the Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center in Malibu, California and co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

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