wet brain - Nuview Treatment Center

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Wet Brain (Wernicke-korsakoff Syndrome) – Definition, Symptoms, Causes

Table of Contents

Overuse of alcohol can lead to serious side effects for the person that’s drinking and those in their lives. Not only can alcohol impact your relationships with your loved ones, but it can also be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Before you know it, you’re facing issues in your professional life, as well as financial and legal strain.

One of the more serious complications that can come from long-term alcohol abuse is known as wet brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This condition, both psychological and physical, can end up being life-threatening if not addressed. This is just one of the many risks involved with alcohol abuse.

What is Wet Brain?

Wet Brain, often referred to as “wetbrain” or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a common term for an alcohol-related brain disorder. Technically, it is usually two separate issues that occur together, called Korsakoff’s syndrome and Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Some scientists believe that, rather than two conditions, this is two parts of one condition in which the chronic stage is Korsakoff’s syndrome while the acute phase is Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Wet brain is also known as:

  • Alcohol dementia
  • Alcoholic encephalopathy
  • Wernicke’s dementia
  • Wernicke’s disease
  • Korsakoff’s psychosis

The cause of a wet brain is a deficiency in thiamine or vitamin B1. This vitamin is used by the entire body and is what enables us to use the carbohydrates we consume as energy. It is also essential in muscle, nerve, and heart function, as well as glucose metabolism. Thiamine is a vitamin that we get through our diet via foods such as rice, bread, milk, nuts, pork, and eggs.

One of the drawbacks of consuming alcohol regularly is that it can impact your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B1, even when consuming plenty of it. Thiamine deficiency can lead to serious health side effects, including wet brain. Wet brain can occur due to not consuming enough thiamine, but there are also activities that reduce the body’s ability to absorb the vitamin.

wet brain

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is not exclusive to those that consume alcohol, but it does occur more often in alcoholics than in those that do not drink. This thiamine deficiency can develop because of a few reasons, including:

  • Chronic infections
  • AIDS
  • Cancer
  • Extreme diets
  • Anorexia

What Are the Symptoms of Wet Brain?

Wet brain disorder progresses through two distinct stages, each characterized by specific sets of symptoms. The symptoms of wet brain can be difficult to identify, especially in the early stages, because they are similar to those of excessive alcohol consumption.

However, the symptoms of wet brain persist even when a person is no longer drinking. The primary symptoms of wet brain can be broken down into two categories since it is really the occurrence of two separate syndromes.

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

In the initial stage, individuals may experience symptoms such as confusion, staggering gait, unsteady movements, and impaired eye coordination. These manifestations stem from thiamine deficiency affecting brain regions responsible for balance and coordination.

Korsakoff’s Psychosis

If left untreated, the condition advances to this next stage, marked by severe memory problems, confabulation (fabrication of false memories), and an inability to form new memories. Affected individuals might struggle with recalling recent events, face difficulties in maintaining coherent conversations, and exhibit profound disorientation.

Recognizing the importance of seeking medical or professional attention is crucial at the onset of these symptoms. Early intervention can prevent the syndrome from progressing and potentially reverse some of the cognitive impairments associated with it. Left untreated, wet brain can lead to long-lasting neurological damage, underscoring the necessity of prompt medical care and rehabilitation for those affected.

What are the Dangers of Wet Brain?

When the symptoms of wet brain begin, generally Wernicke’s encephalopathy sets in first, causing damage to both the thalamus and hypothalamus regions of the brain. Following this, the more serious effects can begin.

Unfortunately, the brain damage caused by Korsakoff’s syndrome is usually irreversible. This permanent damage impacts the nerves and supporting brain cells.

One of the challenges in keeping an eye out for wet brain in a loved one addicted to alcohol is that these symptoms can often be confused with being intoxicated. One of the first signs is a confusion that lasts after they are no longer intoxicated. Initially, the ability to form memories will waver, leading to coma and death if not caught or treated in time.

The good news is, when caught early on, treatment is possible! Through thiamine injections, those that have been suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can see improvements in their brain function and condition of their tissue. Many individuals that get help right away regain their memory and vision. Unfortunately, there are side effects that can be permanent if not treated soon enough.

Those who receive treatment later on will have some lasting effects, but with some lifestyle adjustments, they can adapt to the changes and move on with their lives. They will need to completely stay away from alcohol and may require assistance. Some patients even have improvements to their memory with the help of Alzheimer’s medications.

In severe cases, the untreated wet brain can develop into the late stages. At this point, it is unlikely that the brain will be able to heal. From here, the plan of action is usually abstaining from future consumption in order to prevent it from getting worse.

In order to avoid developing a wet brain, some of the best things you can do are keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum and eat a balanced diet, with plenty of vitamin B1. You can even take a supplement if you are concerned that you aren’t consuming enough thiamin.

If you or someone you care about has wet brain, make sure to seek medical attention right away, as this is not something you want to ignore.

How to Get Help for Wet Brain & An Addiction to Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol addiction, you are definitely not alone. More than 7% of American adults battle with a drinking problem. With 8.1 million alcoholics, it is clear that this is a drug that impacts families everywhere. If you or a loved one need help to get on the path to sobriety, it is imperative that help be sought immediately. With premier outpatient care, contacting a leading alcohol addiction treatment facility is a great step on your road to recovery.

Reach out today if you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to alcohol and the devastating effects that alcohol can bring about. The time to get help is now. You deserve this chance to get better and have a lasting recovery at this very moment.

Frequenty Asked Questions (FAQs) About Wet Brain

How Long Does It Take to Develop Wet Brain?

The onset of wet brain varies among individuals and depends on factors like the severity of alcohol abuse, nutritional intake, and overall health. It can develop after years of chronic alcohol misuse.

How Long Can You Live with Wet Brain?

The prognosis for wet brain varies. If detected and treated early, some symptoms can improve. However, untreated or severe cases can lead to irreversible damage, coma, and even death.

How is Wet Brain Diagnosed

Wet brain, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is diagnosed through clinical assessment, medical history, blood tests to measure thiamine levels, brain imaging (MRI or CT scans), and neuropsychological tests. These methods help identify symptoms, deficiencies, brain changes, and cognitive impairments. This approach enables accurate diagnosis for effective treatment planning.

Is Wet Brain Reversible?

If detected and treated early, some symptoms of wet brain can improve or even reverse. However, prolonged or severe cases can lead to irreversible brain damage.

What Are the Final Stages of Wet Brain?

The final stages of wet brain can include severe memory loss, inability to form new memories, hallucinations, and physical impairments. If not treated, it can lead to coma and death.

How Does Wet Brain Differ from Other Alcohol-related Conditions?

Wet brain specifically results from a deficiency in thiamine or vitamin B1, leading to brain damage. While other alcohol-related conditions might affect the liver or other organs, wet brain directly impacts the brain’s functioning and structure.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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