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Can Hydrocodone Affect My Memory?

Last Updated on February 21, 2024 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Hydrocodone can affect memory, and cause other cognitive deficits. Understanding why this occurs and how to correct it is a top priority for those who want to overcome the lingering side effects of opioid use. For an addict, memory loss is just one of the potential effects of using too much hydrocodone or any opioid medication.1

Persons taking opioid medications develop issues with their memory and thought processes including decision making, imagining future goals and planning future actions. Understanding memory lapse and other cognitive problems as a side effect of hydrocodone addiction is another reason to be hopeful about the benefits of hydrocodone addiction recovery.

Can cognitive decline be reversed after opiates?
effects of hydrocodone
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Signs of Hydrocodone Addiction

Medications taken for pain, like hydrocodone, have many side effects, as well as a high potential for developing dependence and addiction in the user. Hydrocodone, prescribed under common brand names like Vicodin©, Norco©, and Lorcet©, is a narcotic used to treat pain and is also known as a popular street drug. This type of pain pill is commonly prescribed for someone experiencing pain over an extended period of time as opposed to one-time use. Hydrocodone, like other opioids, has a high “likeability” score and can develop addiction or dependence after a few days of concurrent use. How hydrocodone affects memory is just one of many ways hydrocodone addiction can hurt people.2-6

Signs of hydrocodone addiction include:
  • Cravings, an overpowering desire for more
  • Continued use despite deteriorating physical or mental health
  • Taking more than prescribed, or more than intended
  • Inability to stop taking hydrocodone
  • Using in risky or dangerous environments
  • Ignoring usual social contacts, the breakdown of relationships due to drug use
  • Tolerance, requiring a higher dose to get the desired effect
  • Taking more time to obtain the drug, prioritizing drug acquisition over other responsibilities
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur if the next dose is not taken
  • Cognitive decline, including impaired memory

Hydrocodone’s Warning of Drug Interactions

One should not take hydrocodone while drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs. The additive effects of doing so can induce life-threatening respiratory or cardiac shutdown and death. Adverse drug interactions can also take place when taking hydrocodone with other prescribed medications. Hydrocodone is a controlled substance, legal when prescribed by a doctor. However, its potent addictive qualities also have led to its inclusion in the opioid epidemic. Users of hydrocodone who do not have a prescription may frequently turn to dealers on the street for more powerful pain medications such as Dilaudid©, morphine, or others. In fact, many heroin users will attribute their first use of opioids to a pain pill of some sort. It is also common for abusers of hydrocodone to take more than the recommended dose as tolerance develops very quickly.

How Hydrocodone Addiction or Dependency Happens

The standard dose of hydrocodone would be 5mg every 4 to 6 hours, for a patient needing the drug as a means of pain remediation. In a state of hydrocodone addiction, a person may take over 50mg at a time or ingest the medication in other ways to compensate for tolerance and to experience the effects faster. Drug addicts may abuse hydrocodone in other ways by sniffing or snorting it in powder form, or through injection. The signs of hydrocodone addiction are observably apparent in those who abuse the pain pill as their lives are visibly deteriorating, along with their possessions, their relationships, and their bank accounts. However, even those who take the drug as their doctor recommended for a valid pain issue, have a high risk of developing dependency or hydrocodone addiction.

Reasons Hydrocodone Could Be Affecting Your Memory

A research study was done in 2014 that clearly demonstrated the impaired memory of long-term opioid users compared to non-opioid users.1

There may be multiple factors to explain why memory is so affected. One is that a person in the midst of addiction may develop poor eating habits, and other forms of personal neglect that can lead to a general breakdown of health, particularly mental health. A person wanting to recover after memory loss or other hydrocodone side effects would benefit from the Neurotransmitter Rehabilitation program at the Alternative To Meds Center. By focusing on rebuilding brain chemistry and providing proper nutraceutical therapies, patients are able to minimize the length and severity of these hydrocodone side effects and maximize personal health naturally.

Brain Chemistry

opioid-related memory lossMemory loss in hydrocodone users can also be attributed to the effects the medication has on brain chemistry. For example, dopamine is a natural chemical that offers a feeling of reward, happiness, and even euphoria. Hydrocodone, and other pain medications, work by triggering the brain to make additional dopamine available. During the process, it is common for the user to get a wave of pleasurable feelings, sometimes leading the user to go in and out of consciousness (nodding out). Whether the user is experiencing the high, coming down, or in hydrocodone withdrawal, the brain chemistry is not functioning at normal levels, which can lead to dysfunction. This can show up as memory loss, reduced focus, and reduced cognitive sharpness. The pleasurable aspects of hydrocodone come at a cost, but make it very effective as a medication for pain, giving the suffering patient a sense of feeling temporarily better in the mind and body.

But these same desirable effects of hydrocodone are also what make it so addictive. Opioid medications, including the pain pill hydrocodone, are the most deadly and addictive prescription drugs on the market. The addictive biochemistry of the individual will likely lead to long-term dependence on hydrocodone unless proper treatments are given to balance the dopamine levels and work on the underlying addictive issues.


A person being overmedicated is a major player in unwanted symptoms such as memory loss. Sometimes, a person given hydrocodone for pain will also be on other stronger medications for pain. Hydrocodone combined with other opiate medications could lead to a much more potent effect and a higher possibility of encountering memory loss or other memory-related issues.

With opioid abuse, pain pills being taken in excess of the prescribed dosage lead to increased feelings of euphoria. Extreme hydrocodone users achieve a high similar to heroin. These medications are highly addictive and once a person begins taking them in excess, a tolerance develops requiring more and more hydrocodone to mimic the initial desirable effect. An individual using hydrocodone in combination with psychiatric meds could experience a host of additional symptoms.

Drug use leaves toxic residues in the body. We also are barraged daily with toxins from the environment, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. Clearing out these neurotoxic residues is also key for restoring natural mental health. This is another aspect of the program at Alternative to Meds Center.

Hydrocodone Drug Interactions

Hydrocodone taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol may have serious consequences. For example, both hydrocodone and alcohol are depressants. By taking the two at the same time, there is an increased risk for intensified side effects and symptoms. Changes in breathing, heart rate, memory, or brain issues are all potential problems a person may encounter while abusing multiple drugs. Even a simple glass of wine combined with hydrocodone could multiply the effects and lead to a quicker onset of intoxication as well as potentially life-threatening reactions. In a cognitively compromised state, poor decisions lead to negative outcomes.

Things to Do to Stimulate Memory

For those experiencing memory loss after using hydrocodone or other pain meds, the treatment approach would need to include aspects that treat both the brain chemistry and the addictive patterns. Even for a person that does not consider themselves addicted to hydrocodone, the body’s chemistry becomes dependent on the additional dopamine. Simply going without medication could cause withdrawal symptoms or mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

opiate addiction treatment sedona drug rehabAlternative To Meds Center treats hydrocodone dependence by using a multifaceted treatment approach. Each client suffering side effects of hydrocodone is given the proper therapies and nutrients to target dopamine levels, plus the full range of nutrients that are necessary for normal CNS function. This process involves the use of orthomolecular medicine as well as a daily regimen of nutrients and toxin removal procedures. Correcting the diet is also of prime importance. Insomnia is another common problem that many struggle with when attempting to stop drug use. We provide an arsenal of therapies and strategies to improve and regulate sleep without further medication. Once a person is able to safely break the dependence on hydrocodone, neurochemistry can be restored naturally and kept in balance through the use of many effective and natural hydrocodone alternatives.

In order to stimulate memory, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle that includes foods that boost brain function, nutrients and supplements that target deficiencies, support a healthy microbiome (where many neurochemicals are produced), physical exercise, and a stress-free environment. Quality of sleep is also a huge determinant of memory and cognitive function. Using science-based therapies we help our clients recover from the problems caused by hydrocodone use, and offer holistic pain management strategies as well, for a full and authentic recovery experience. Counseling such as CBT has also been found to be extremely effective for any drug recovery program. CBT in particular is useful for restoring the quality of sleep, memory and cognitive sharpness, decision-making ability, and focusing on future plans and goals.7-13

Seeking Holistic Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment

At Alternative to Meds Center, we frequently see patients who have been prescribed too many medications. Often, patients have multiple doctors as many resources in providing their medications without the proper coordination of care. Our medical team helps those who are overmedicated find a baseline level of comfort through safe and effective medication tapering services and natural alternatives to hydrocodone and other medications.

Under no circumstances is it wise to stop opioid medication cold turkey. Acute medication withdrawal can be a difficult and medically dangerous process. Before trying to change your medication levels at home, please consult with a doctor, or consider working with our team for an effective holistic detox.

To learn more about medication titration and how Alternative To Meds Center can assist your hydrocodone recovery, including any concerns about memory loss, please call to speak with our highly trained, compassionate staff.


1. Terrett G, McLennan SN, Henry JD, Biernacki K, Mercuri K, Curran HV, Rendell PG. Prospective memory impairment in long-term opiate users. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2014 Jul;231(13):2623-32. doi: 10.1007/s00213-014-3432-6. Epub 2014 Jan 22. PMID: 24448901. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

2. Miller NS, Greenfeld A. Patient characteristics and risks factors for development of dependence on hydrocodone and oxycodone. Am J Ther. 2004 Jan-Feb;11(1):26-32. doi: 10.1097/00045391-200401000-00008. PMID: 14704593. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

3. Wightman R, Perrone J, Portelli I, Nelson L. Likeability and abuse liability of commonly prescribed opioids. J Med Toxicol. 2012 Dec;8(4):335-40. doi: 10.1007/s13181-012-0263-x. PMID: 22992943; PMCID: PMC3550270. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

4. Meltzer EC, Rybin D, Saitz R, Samet JH, Schwartz SL, Butler SF, Liebschutz JM. Identifying prescription opioid use disorder in primary care: diagnostic characteristics of the Current Opioid Misuse Measure (COMM). Pain. 2011 Feb;152(2):397-402. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.11.006. Epub 2010 Dec 21. PMID: 21177035; PMCID: PMC3027065. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

5. US Dept of Labour Report Risk Factors for Opioid Misuse, Addiction, and Overdose published online [cited 2022 Sept 9]

6. Dydyk AM, Jain NK, Gupta M. Opioid Use Disorder. [Updated 2022 Jun 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: [cited 2022 Sept 9]

7. Meckel KR, Kiraly DD. A potential role for the gut microbiome in substance use disorders. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019 May;236(5):1513-1530. doi: 10.1007/s00213-019-05232-0. Epub 2019 Apr 14. PMID: 30982128; PMCID: PMC6599482. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

8. Magill M, Ray L, Kiluk B, Hoadley A, Bernstein M, Tonigan JS, Carroll K. A meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioral therapy for alcohol or other drug use disorders: Treatment efficacy by contrast condition. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2019 Dec;87(12):1093-1105. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000447. Epub 2019 Oct 10. PMID: 31599606; PMCID: PMC6856400. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

9. Friedrich A, Schlarb AA. Let’s talk about sleep: a systematic review of psychological interventions to improve sleep in college students. J Sleep Res. 2018 Feb;27(1):4-22. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12568. Epub 2017 Jun 15. PMID: 28618185. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

10. He HL, Zhang M, Gu CZ, Xue RR, Liu HX, Gao CF, Duan HF. Effect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Improving the Cognitive Function in Major and Minor Depression. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2019 Apr;207(4):232-238. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000954. PMID: 30865075. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

11. Jin JW, Nowakowski S, Taylor A, Medina LD, Kunik ME. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mood and Insomnia in Persons With Dementia: A Systematic Review. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2021 Oct-Dec 01;35(4):366-373. doi: 10.1097/WAD.0000000000000454. PMID: 33929370. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

12. Rasch B, Born J. About sleep’s role in memory. Physiol Rev. 2013 Apr;93(2):681-766. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00032.2012. PMID: 23589831; PMCID: PMC3768102. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

13. Miller MA, Renn BN, Chu F, Torrence N. Sleepless in the hospital: A systematic review of non-pharmacological sleep interventions. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2019 Jul-Aug;59:58-66. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2019.05.006. Epub 2019 May 24. PMID: 31170567; PMCID: PMC6620136. [cited 2022 Sept 9]

Originally Published Feb 8, 2019 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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