Substance abuse and addictions not only affect our livelihood and that of our loved ones; it also significantly impairs our cognitive functioning. Our cognitive functioning simply refers to our thinking and mental activity which includes our memory, attention, reasoning and our ability to retain information.

Some substances constantly produce powerful levels of chemicals like dopamine in the brain that controls how we experience pleasure and reward. We typically know that effect as “the high”. Unfortunately, for substance users, the brain becomes used to producing such chemicals and starts to think it is normal. Therefore, after extended use, the reward, motivation and memory pathways in our brains are rewired and can no longer function without drugs. Substance users crave the drug above all else and this is when users become dependents and abusers. 

The adolescence years, posed the highest risk for substance abuse. This is because the brain is still developing and any substance use can cause premature cognitive decline and other mental health concerns. Some typical effects of substance abuse in adolescence can include ADHD, depression, anxiety and eventually disorders in adulthood.  

In adulthood, after repeated drug use, users will begin to experience difficulty remembering either short-term memories or long-term memories. Either way, short-term memories will go first and eventually have permanent effects on long-term memories and users will start to lose memories from their past and even their childhood. Along with memory loss, there are deficits in attention, learning, impulse control, attention and concentration.

Addiction is treatable but recovery is a life-long process. Recovering users can seek help from cognitive behavioral therapist, family therapists or even a 12-step support group that provide positive social and psychological support. 


Foy, C. (2018). How Drugs Affect Your Cognitive Functioning. Retrieved from How Drugs Affect Your Cognitive Functioning ( 

Gould T. J. (2010). Addiction and cognition. Addiction science & clinical practice, 5(2), 4–14. Retrieved from Addiction and cognition – PubMed (  

NIDA. (2022). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from 

Winters, K. C., & Arria, A. (2011). Adolescent Brain Development and Drugs. The prevention researcher, 18(2), 21–24. Retrieved Adolescent Brain Development and Drugs – PMC ( 

Written by:

Giselle Jordana Baker
Wellness and Health Counselor

Provides FREE mental health counselling services. Get help to overcome the barriers to a healthier life. Talk to a registered Psychotherapist in-person and online.

To book an appointment:
Email – [email protected]
Call – +1 (905) 629-1873 ext. 313

Published By: