Do Amphetamines Cause Memory Loss?

A typical question from a reader is:

I started using amphetamines a few months ago. A friend of mine gets them on prescription for his attention deficit disorder, and he sells his extras. I find that they help me stay awake when I need to, and help give me a lift, as well.  I thought that they must be safe, because he gets them from his doctor, but I've been having increasing problems with remembering things. I had planned to use them to get through exam season, but I'm starting to wonder if they might be affecting my memory. Is there any research on this?


There has been extensive research on the effects of amphetamines on memory. Overall, these drugs do appear to be associated with memory problems, and this has been demonstrated in both research with animal and with human drug users. Unfortunately, this is even the case when pharmaceutical amphetamines are appropriately prescribed.

Read: Is Ritalin Addictive?

Even occasional users of stimulant users are at risk of developing memory problems. A study comparing young people who occasionally use stimulants with those who have never taken the drug showed significant memory deficits in the occasional amphetamine users, particularly in the areas of verbal recall and recognition.

Of course, as the authors of the study pointed out, the users were not tested before they had taken the drug, it is possible that people with memory problems had the memory deficit before taking the drug. Those with memory problems may even be more vulnerable to using amphetamines.

However, just because a causal relationship has not been proven is no reason to assume it does not exist.

There is other evidence which indicates that amphetamine use is harmful to the brain. Research with current and former pharmaceutical amphetamine users showed that male amphetamine users and ex-users perform more poorly on visuo-spatial tests of memory compared to women amphetamine users, women ex-users, and men and women healthy controls.

Chronic amphetamine users performed particularly badly on memory and other mental tasks.

The fact that you have been noticing symptoms of forgetfulness is something you should be paying attention to. Some of the behaviors that often go along with amphetamine use, which you have alluded to, can also impair memory, for example stress and sleep deprivation. Probably the best way you can increase your chances of academic success is to stop using amphetamines, practice stress management, and start prioritizing a good sleep routine.

It is never a good idea to take medications that have been prescribed for someone else. There are many factors that physicians take into account when writing a prescription, in addition to the symptoms the patient is experiencing. Also, if you take another person's medication, the other person may be under-medicated for a condition that requires a certain level of the drug to be effective.

Depending on how much of the drug you have been taking, if you quit, you may experience amphetamine withdrawal.

 If you have difficulty managing without amphetamines, you may need extra help. Your doctor can help with determining what kind of help you might need, including treatment for addiction.


Ersche KD; Clark L; London M; Robbins TW; Sahakian BJ, Profile of executive and memory function associated with amphetamine and opiate dependence. Neuropsychopharmacology 31 (5), 1036-47. 2006.

Reske, Martina; Eidt, Carolyn A.; Delis, Dean C.; Paulus, Martin P.; Nondependent stimulant users of cocaine and prescription amphetamines show verbal learning and memory deficits.Biological Psychiatry, 68(8), 762-769.  2010.

Rogers RD, Robbins TW Investigating the neurocognitive deficits associated with chronic drug misuse. Curr Opin Neurobiol 11: 250–257. 2001.

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