Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse: Alcoholism

Wet Brain Syndrome: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

When it comes to alcoholism and the health problems it can cause, liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, or fatty liver, and changes in personality or moods are often the first things that come to mind. What people tend to not think about, or might not even know about, is a condition known as wet brain.

Wet brain is a serious brain disorder caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Immediate medical treatment is needed to avoid experiencing severe, life-altering problems from wet brain. If Wet Brain is left untreated, the alcohol will continue to damage the brain. Eventually, the damage will become so severe that it is irreversible and cannot be treated.

Unfortunately, because the effects of alcohol on the brain are so rarely talked about, many people don’t realize how important it is to seek treatment for Wet Brain when symptoms first start to appear.

It is our hope that you can use the information we provide to better understand wet brain including what causes it, how to recognize it and how it is treated. By developing a better understanding of this condition, you will have the knowledge you need to help yourself, or a loved one, get the proper treatment not only for wet brain, but for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

The Many Different Names for Wet Brain

The official medical term for wet brain syndrome is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. However, many individuals, both in the medical field and out of it, refer to it as Wet Brain. Another, less common used, name for this condition is alcohol dementia.

Regardless of what term is used, wet brain, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, or alcohol dementia, it all describes the same medical condition.

What is Wet Brain?

Wet brain, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a brain disorder that is caused by a severe deficiency in vitamin B1. An individual who develops Wet Brain can experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms that range from leg tremors and vision problems to memory issues, delusions, and visual or auditory hallucinations.

Wet brain occurs in two stages.

The first stage, known as Wernicke Encephalopathy, can be reversed with immediate medical treatment and by avoiding any future consumption of alcohol. If Wernicke Encephalopathy is not properly treated or you continue to consume alcohol, wet brain can progress to the second stage: Korsakoff Syndrome or Korsakoff Psychosis.

Unfortunately, once Wet Brain advances to the second stage, it is permanent. Even though Wet Brain is permanent once it enters the second stage, it is important that you stop drinking. Without proper addiction treatment, the disorder will continue to progress causing a worsening of the cognitive, psychological and physical symptoms you experience. In some cases, if proper addiction treatment is not sought and you continue to drink, Wet Brain can be fatal.

What Causes Wet Brain?

Wet brain is caused by a severe thiamine deficiency. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is a water-soluble vitamin that is vital to helping to covert glucose into energy. If this process cannot be completed or enough energy can’t be created, the body is unable to properly function and symptoms will start to develop.

A thiamine deficiency can happen for a number of reasons including autoimmune diseases and malnutrition, but chronic consumption of large amounts of alcohol is the most common cause of thiamine deficiency.

How Does Drinking Large Amounts of Alcohol Cause Thiamine Deficiency?

There are two reasons why thiamine deficiency happens when you drink large amounts of alcohol. The first reason is because of a poor diet. The only way to get proper amounts of thiamine is by eating a proper diet. Unfortunately, many individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse and alcoholism don’t consume a well-balanced diet that contains enough thiamine.

Even if an individual who drinks large amounts of alcohol follows a healthy, well-balanced diet, many of the symptoms of heavy alcohol consumption, such as vomiting, nausea, increased urination, and diarrhea, can prevent the body from obtaining the proper amount of thiamine.

The second reason heavy alcohol consumption causes thiamine deficiency is because alcohol prevents the liver from working properly. The alcohol will prevent the liver from converting the thiamine into a usable form. This causes the body to not be able to have enough thiamine to properly function.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Wet Brain?

Identifying if a person is suffering from Wet Brain, especially in the early stages, is often difficult because the symptoms are very similar to those we associate with excessive alcohol consumption. However, while symptoms of excessive drinking tend to disappear once a person is no longer drinking, the symptoms of Wet Brain do not.

Some of the symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy, the early stage of wet brain syndrome, include:

  • Increased confusion
  • Sudden memory loss – in the early stages, memory issues tend to be very minor, but will progress as the disorder progresses
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty with balance or an inability to properly walk
  • Vision problems – double vision, blurred vision, problems with drooping eyelids
  • Sudden muscle spasms or tremors
  • Loss of consciousness

Symptoms of the second stage of wet brain syndrome, known as Korsakoff psychosis, often do not develop until long after the symptoms of the first stage have developed. It is only after a person has exhibited symptoms of the first stage of wet brain syndrome for a prolonged period of time that symptoms of Korsakoff psychosis occur.

The following are some of the most common symptoms of Korsakoff psychosis:

  • Memory loss – these can range from very minor to so severe the individual is unable to perform basic day-to-day tasks
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulty with short-term memory
  • Vision problems
  • Confabulation – creating stories of things that didn’t happen
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Coma-like state
  • Experiencing extreme tremors that make it difficult to walk and perform basic functions

If left untreated, Korsakoff psychosis can eventually lead to death. It is extremely important that if you suspect you or someone you love suffers from wet brain syndrome, you get them the help they need.

What Treatment Options are Available for Those with Wet Brain Syndrome?

Seeking medical treatment is the first step of the treatment process for wet brain syndrome. As part of the treatment for wet brain syndrome, you will be given additional thiamine – usually in an IV or supplemental form – to help increase your levels. Over time as your thiamine levels increase and stabilize, you may notice an improvement in your symptoms.

If you get proper medical care when you are in the early stages of wet brain syndrome, the symptoms can be reversed. However, if the disease is left to progress, the symptoms cannot be reversed.

Even though the symptoms of the second stage of wet brain syndrome can’t be reversed, medical professionals may still administer additional thiamine through an IV or supplement. The additional thiamine may be able to stop the progression of wet brain syndrome. You won’t notice an improvement in your symptoms, but you won’t notice a worsening of your symptoms.

The second part of the treatment process for wet brain syndrome is to seek help from an addiction treatment program. Getting help for your addiction is important, especially if you suffer from wet brain syndrome, because the disorder will continue to progress if you don’t stop drinking.

An addiction treatment program can help you access the tools and resources you need, ranging from detox programs to mental health services, that will help you overcome your addiction.

Reach Out and Get Help for Your Alcohol Addiction

Time is of the essence if you or a loved one is showing signs of wet brain syndrome. The earlier you seek help, the better your chances are of being able to fully recover. Contact us today to see how we can help you overcome your addiction. We can help you explore various addiction treatment options and find the best one for you.


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