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Wet Brain: What It is, How It Happens, & How To Get Help For An Addiction To Alcohol

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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. This condition is both psychological and physical and can end up being life-threatening if not addressed. This is just one of the many risks involved with alcohol abuse.

The good news is that you are not alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to alcohol, help is possible. Reaching out to a treatment center to see what your options are could save your life and help you avoid serious conditions such as wet brain.

What is Wet Brain and How Does it Happen?

Wet Brain is a common term for an alcohol-related brain disorder, called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Technically, it is usually to 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

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.

Wet brain can occur in anyone deficient in vitamin B1, but is most common in alcoholics and those that are malnourished. When the symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome begin, there will be a number of uncomfortable things that happen. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Laziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Dramatic changes to vision
  • Speech impediments
  • Hard time swallowing
  • Inability to make sense when speaking
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Memory loss and confabulation

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.

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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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