Is Drug-Induced Dementia Reversible?

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Two different types of commonly used drugs have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, but thankfully, there are alternative medications available.

Large-scale studies have shown that both benzodiazepines (medications for anxiety and insomnia) and anticholinergics, (drugs for allergies, colds, depression, high blood pressure, and incontinence) can increase the risk of dementia when used for more than a few months. The risk appears to rise with higher doses and longer periods of use in both drug categories. There are also other drugs that may cause dementia or are linked to cognitive decline.

This guide explores issues that include:

  • Can drug use cause dementia?
  • Can drugs cause dementia that’s irreversible?
  • What drugs cause dementia?

What Is Drug-Induced Dementia?

Drug-induced dementia refers to a decline in cognitive function that can be attributed to the use of certain medications. This condition emerges when specific drugs, particularly those with long-term use, negatively impact the brain, leading to symptoms similar to those of dementia. These symptoms might include memory loss, confusion, and difficulties with concentration and decision making.

This type of dementia is distinct from other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, as it is directly related to the effects of drugs on the brain. In some cases, reducing or stopping the use of the offending medication can lead to an improvement in symptoms, although this should always be done under medical supervision.

Is drug-induced dementia reversible, then?

Can Drug-Induced Dementia be Reversed?

The reversibility of drug-induced dementia largely depends on the extent of the cognitive impairment and the duration of the drug use. In many cases, if the dementia-like symptoms are caused by certain medications, reducing or completely stopping the use of these drugs can lead to a significant improvement in cognitive functions. This process should always be overseen by a healthcare professional to manage the transition safely and effectively.

That said, the degree of recovery can vary. For some people, especially those who have used the medications for a shorter period, cognitive functions may return to normal once the medication is discontinued. In others, particularly where there has been prolonged use of the medication, some cognitive impairment might persist even after stopping the drug.

Other factors like age, overall health, and the presence of other medical conditions can influence the recovery process. In some instances, alternative therapies and medications may be needed to help manage the conditions for which the original drugs were prescribed, while also minimizing cognitive side effects.

Regular monitoring and cognitive assessments can help track improvements and guide further treatment decisions. Additionally, cognitive rehabilitation and lifestyle changes, such as improved nutrition, regular exercise, and mental exercises, might aid in recovery.

A woman gazes out of the window representing Drug-induced dementia symptoms

9 Drugs Linked to Dementia

What drugs can cause dementia, then? These are some of the most common substances associated with dementia:

  1. Anticholinergics: Anticholinergics are drugs that can cause dementia which are used for a variety of conditions including allergies, colds, hypertension, and incontinence. They block neurotransmitters and can cause memory loss and confusion.
  2. Benzodiazepines: Commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia, benzos can impair memory and cognitive function, especially with long-term use. This may lead to dementia caused by drugs.
  3. Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants – older types of antidepressants – can have anticholinergic effects that contribute to memory impairment.
  4. Opioids: Powerful pain relievers known for their potential for abuse, opioids can also cause memory issues and mental fog. Research shows that dementia is more prevalent in those who use this class of drugs.
  5. Z-drugs: Non-benzo sleep aids and other z-drugs may impair cognitive function, especially in the elderly.
  6. Antipsychotics: Often prescribed for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, some of these medications can trigger cognitive decline over time.
  7. Antiepileptics: Used to control seizures, some of these drugs can affect cognitive function and memory.
  8. H2 blockers: Commonly used to treat acid reflux and peptic ulcers, certain H2 blockers have been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
  9. Beta-blockers: Used for heart conditions and high blood pressure, some beta-blockers can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect memory and cognition.

While these drugs are linked to potential cognitive impairment, they may be necessary for managing specific health conditions. Any concerns about medications should be discussed with a healthcare provider, who can weigh the benefits and risks or suggest alternative treatments.

Prevention & Treatment for Drug-Induced Dementia

Preventing and treating drug-induced dementia symptoms involves a careful approach to medication management and lifestyle choices. Regularly reviewing medications with a healthcare provider is key. This helps identify drugs that might have cognitive side effects, particularly in older adults. Regular cognitive assessments can help in early detection of any cognitive decline, enabling timely interventions.

When possible, switching to alternative medications with a lower risk of causing cognitive impairment can be beneficial. Healthcare providers can suggest safer alternatives.

If a medication linked to cognitive impairment is necessary, gradual withdrawal under medical supervision might be considered. This should be done carefully to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Ensuring that dosages are at the lowest effective level can help minimize risks. This often requires close collaboration with a healthcare provider.

Engaging in activities that promote brain health, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, mental stimulation, and social interaction, can be protective.

Effectively managing underlying health conditions that necessitate these medications is also highly beneficial. This might include non-pharmacological approaches to conditions like anxiety, insomnia, or chronic pain.

Educating individuals and caregivers about the risks of certain medications and signs of cognitive impairment is important for early detection and intervention.

The goal is to balance the need for these medications with the risk of cognitive side effects, always prioritizing overall health and quality of life. Any changes in medication should always be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

ohio recovery centers facility from curb view, representing Drug induced dementia

Get Treatment for Drug Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

Alcohol is one of the most addictive drugs, even though it is legal and socially acceptable. If you have developed dependence on alcohol or you feel that you have alcohol use disorder, we can help you fight back at Ohio Recovery Centers.

The outpatient nature of our treatment programs enables you to remain anchored to your everyday commitments while pursuing treatment at our rehab in Cincinnati, OH.

The unique aspect of alcohol addictions means that all treatment at Ohio Recovery Centers is personalized. Access MAT (medication-assisted treatment), as well as psychotherapies, counseling, family therapy, and holistic treatments.

When you are ready to live unconstrained by alcohol addiction, call 877-679-2132.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn