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Recovering from Addiction and Recovering Your Memory

A chronic marijuana user has cut down his dosage dramatically, but now his supervisor complains that his job performance as a bricklayer was far better before he started treatment.

A recovering alcoholic learned to play the saxophone in the years when she drank the most heavily, but now that she drinks less she finds she no longer can play.

Do these stories sound familiar to you?

As you recover from alcoholism or other drug abuse, you may find that you have trouble remembering skills that you learned while addicted. These difficulties may be results of state dependent learning;, that is, when sober, you may not be able to recall what you learned under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The Key is Context

You’ve probably had the experience of recognizing people, but not remembering who they are because they are out of their normal context. Just as you may not remember immediately how you know your local florist if you see her at a movie theater, you may find that for some skills you rely on the context of intoxication.

Many people can learn and perform in the drug state and do quite well as long as their routine and drug level don’t change. If there is a change, trouble can result.

For example, while you may be able to drive home from the bar on a specific route, you won’t be able to adjust to a detour. At best, you could be arrested for driving while intoxicated; at worst, you could be involved in the death of someone innocent.

Alcohol and other drugs are powerful stimuli in the process of learning and information recall. New information is stored in brain cells that make and keep it available, but these cells require specific factors — such as the intoxicated state in which the learning occurred to recall the information.

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It’s Hard, but Remain Patient

Adjusting to a sober life calls for patience and understanding. If you get frustrated, try to keep the following ideas in mind:

Your difficulty recalling events or behaviors does not mean that you are going crazy. Nor does it mean that you have destroyed all your brain cells. It is, instead, a normal process that is part of recovery.

Returning to drug use is not the answer. You can and will relearn the skills in the same ways,that you learned them in the first place.

Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Recovery takes time, but as you unlearn the habits of addiction, you will relearn the skills and behaviors that you acquired earlier.

Recovering from Addiction and Recovering Your Memory

Ben Martin, Psy.D.

Ben Martin, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He also writes psychoeducational articles about mental disorders and mental illness.

APA Reference
Martin, B. (2020). Recovering from Addiction and Recovering Your Memory. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.