Substance abuse and susceptibility to false memory formation: a systematic review and meta-analysis


Substance abuse has an impact on various cognitive domains, including memory. Even though this impact has been extensively examined across different subdomains, false memory has been sparsely studied. This systematic review and meta-analysis seek to synthesize the current scientific data concerning false memory formation in individuals with a history of substance abuse.


PubMed, Scopus, the Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and PsycINFO were searched to identify all experimental and observational studies in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Studies were then examined by four independent reviewers and, if they met the inclusion criteria, assessed for their quality. The Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for randomized controlled trials (RCT) and the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) critical appraisal checklists for quasi-experimental and analytic cross-sectional studies were used to assess the risk of bias.


From the 443 screened studies, 27 (and two more from other sources) were considered eligible for full-text review. A final 18 studies were included in the present review. Of these, 10 were conducted with alcoholics or heavy drinkers, four focused on ecstasy/polydrug users, three were done with cannabis users and one focused on methadone maintenance patients with current cocaine dependence. Regarding false memory type, 15 studies focused on false recognition/recall, and three on provoked confabulation.


None but one of the studies considering false recognition/recall of critical lures found any significant differences between individuals with a history of substance abuse and healthy controls. However, most of the studies taking into account false recognition/recall of related and unrelated events found that individuals with a history of substance abuse showed significantly higher rates of false memories than controls. Future research should continue to consider different types of false memories as well as their potential association with relevant clinical variables.

Systematic review registration:, identifier: CRD42021266503.


confabulation; false memory; false recall; false recognition; meta-analysis; substance abuse; systematic review.

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