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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Cocaine Brain Damage?

03/15/2011

Question:

I have used cocaine for 18 months and recently quit 5 weeks ago when I first noticed severe impairments in memory, concentration, problem solving, and analytical thought. First week I was experiencing severe cognitive deficits and there was slight improvement a week after and since then no noticeable improvements in cognitive functions. I have been taking aminos, fish oils, and memory boosters such as choline and ginkgo to aid in the recovery process.

However, I believe the symptoms I am experiencing is a result of brain damage. What I`m still experiencing is inability to decipher new information quickly, impairments in memory, and depression. Can the brain repair itself through continued abstinence? Is the impairments result of decreased blood flow in brain and possible collapse of blood veins in brain? If so, are these effects permanent or can the brain restore some of the deficits? What type of medical treatment or supplements can help restore brain functions?

Answer:

Thank you for your question. There can be very real thinking and memory effects of cocaine addiction, some of which you describe. Typically these effects ease up and go away after several weeks to a few months, with people reporting being pretty much back to normal by 6 months or so. 

 
The single most important thing is to be sober, and not just from cocaine but from marijuana, alcohol, benzodiazepines and opiates as well. All of these other drugs of abuse or addiction can prolong the effects that you are describing and impair the ability for the brain to heal. They also markedly increase the risk of relapsing back to cocaine or developing an addiction to them. Eating a well balanced diet, exercising, and staying sober are the only things that help.
 
Finally, there are sometimes (usually rare) where these symptoms that you describe are actually due to small strokes in the brain caused by the cocaine use. When this is the case there is not much healing that can take place and the best that you can do is avoid further damage by ceasing the cocaine use.

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Response by:

Ted   Parran, MD Ted Parran, MD
Associate Professor of General Medical Sciences
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University