Does Amnesia end Addiction?

The topic came up on an email list I participate in, and I thought I’d pose the question here to see what Dopers think. Since I don’t know if there’s an official factual answer, I’m posing it here vs. GQ.

(just using my one bump)

I don’t know the exact answer, but I’d imagine that addiction is unaffected by retrograde amnesia. Amnesia is a dysfunction of episodic memory, while addiction is a result of neurotransmitter rewards; both are separate in the brain. A person with severe amnesia can still perform motor tasks better than an amateur even if they don’t remember doing it before.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that amnesia cannot remove addiction, however. Amnesia usually results by brain damage due to trauma or stroke, and it is possible that it could cause damage to other regions of the brain.

In my case I would still be an alcoholic for sure, and probably still a drug addict. It’s just how I’m wired. I have no choice about how I drink- I do it alcoholically (as much as I can, every time, until I pass out , black out or run out. Every. Goddamn. Time.). Same with drugs. I have never known a day of moderation since I first picked up. It’s not that way for everybody, but it sure is for me.

Memory or lack of it would be irrelevant.

That is basically what I was going to say. I can’t imagine a type of amnesia that could wipe out the reward circuits that are fueling the addiction. Nobody even fully understands what those are. Severe, late-stage, alcoholism can cause permanent brain damage and the addiction certainly doesn’t fade away because of that.

I was basically bred for alcoholism as well and it comes from all sides of the family for generations. I didn’t get plastered every time when I first started drinking but that was because I could literally drink 3+ times as more as my college friends right off the bat. They would have 4 or 5 and I would have 12 or more and still be the designated driver who looked and acted dead sober and I was for the most part. That is a very bad warning sign. I was warned by my family about it from an early age and I promised it wouldn’t happen to me but it did. I have my young daughters to worry about now when they get older. I don’t think any type of amnesia would wipe that out because it was always there to begin with.

When I worked at the clinic where we treated drug addicts we actually had that happen. One of our patients suffered some Bad Thing (I’m not even sure what anymore, don’t remember!) and lost almost all of her memory, as well as most of her capacity to form new ones. She would up in the hospital, where she couldn’t tell the doctors much. She was displayed some physical symptoms which the doctors later realized were her cold-turkey withdrawal from opiates - she didn’t remember that she was an opiate addict but her body sure noticed the absence.

Anyhow - she had vague, very vague memories of withdrawal, and apparently felt some sort of lack, but could not keep in mind what the problem was. She had cravings, but she couldn’t remember what the cravings were for. With time this faded. So far as I know, she never used drugs again.

She also never was able to live alone, drive a car, shop for groceries, was unable to follow the plot of a movie or even an hour-long TV show… can you say “massive brain damage”?

In conversation she was actually quite pleasant, although very repetitive and would frequently ask you for your name over and over…

I agree. Under the current understanding of addiction as a disease, or the old thought of it as a character defect, both would be unaffected by a memory loss.

If anything, having a full memory of past bad experiences should HELP someone overcome an addiction, but an addict is deluded into thinking that if he/she just does something different THIS time that those bad things won’t happen.

My father has lost much of his short-term memory. He could not remember that he’d decided to quit smoking when he moved into the apartment in Lion’s Head, and he kept trying to smoke, even though he had nicotine patches on. (Too much nicotine = bad, I gather.) After a week, we gave up, removed the patches, and let him resume smoking. The habit-patterns of smoking were too deeply in him, and the new decision to not smoke was scrubbed away from the top of his memory almost immediately.

It took being in hospital for six months, and then in a nursing home, (both non-smoking environments) to cause him to not smoke.

those ads in the paper for cigarette stopping amnesia… I don’t think they work. An ex gf of mine and her mom went to one… she started smoking again 4 days later… her mom 7.

“Amnesia?” Do you mean hypnosis? It worked for my grandpa when he quit smoking, but not my grandma. I think that was because he really did want to quit, and she really did not.

Interesting input, guys - thanks!

This isn’t what the OP asked, but what about a non physical compulsion–like gambling or self harm or over exercise? Would that be affected by amnesia?

Korsakoff’s Syndrome, perhaps?

Much like that, although her brain damage had different causes it had very similar effects.

Most of them seem to involve dopamine reward, so presumably they would also not be affected, if they are true addictions.

This is what I thought of too. I went through hypnosis to quit smoking, and one of the hypnotist’s suggestions was “You don’t smoke; you are not a smoker.” I didn’t actually forget that I’d ever smoked, but when the sessions were done, I was thinking of myself as a non-smoker. Smoking would have been something new.

This sounds like my mom. Abused alcohol for years. A year ago in April she had a stroke. I don’t know the cause. Her first hours after the stroke she was quite lucid and even remembered that she and my dad had tickets to something that next night. The docs then gave her a shot for something, I think something to prevent paralysis in her face (does that sound right?). Or maybe to the body in general. The nurses said her recovery was hampered by alcohol withdraway.

She ended up losing the use of her right hand (thankfully she is left handed), and her short term memory is shot. Long term memory is not bad. BUT, she has never had a drink since. She is pleasant, but lacks personality. And has never even alluded to alcohol.

Wow… When I read (and wrote) I for some reason mistook amnesia for hypnosis… even though I know exactly what each is. I guess the whole quick story of the cigarette smoking related to something mental besides willpower overtook my own memory of what the words mean and switched them around. I later saw the thread title and thought… wait… didn’t it say hypnosis?

meh… ironic… slightly.

Okay, wait… how can you have a character (defective or not) if you don’t have any memories?

Or, what exactly is character? Conditioned endocrine responses? A function, therefore, of one’s basic neurochemistry? Because, if “character” is not in one’s memories (i.e., experiences and volitional response to same), then how can one be held responsible for a “character defect”?

Inquiring minds (mine) want to know!