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Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome, also known as wet brain, is a form of brain damage that often affects those struggling with alcohol use disorder. In the United States, this disease is all but eradicated among healthy adults, but is most often seen as a result of repeated, heavy alcohol use.

What is Wet Brain?

Wet brain is a combination of two syndromes – Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Though there are many variations, wet brain is typically classified by the development of Wernicke’s encephalopathy followed by the development of Korsakoff’s psychosis. Wernicke’s encephalopathy causes neurological disruptions as a result of damage to the thalamus and hypothalamus regions of the brain. This typically leads to common symptoms such as confusion and problems with vision, muscle coordination, and potentially more.

Korsakoff’s psychosis comes as a result of permanent damage to those parts of the brain that are responsible for memory formation and retention.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that between 80 and 90 percent of alcoholics who have Wernicke’s encephalopathy will develop Korsakoff’s psychosis as well. That said, it is unknown how many American’s suffer from wet brain syndrome. It’s hard to get an accurate number because not everyone seeks treatment and many of those suffering from wet brain are likely homeless.

What Are The Causes of Wet Brain?

Wet brain is a result of a Vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is essential to all tissue in the body. The brain needs thiamine to in order to fully develop and function properly. It also helps the body break down sugars and produce energy. Thiamine is an essential vitamin that does not occur naturally in the body – you must ingest it in order to get the recommended daily amount. Through a relatively balanced diet, the average person consumes enough thiamine to prevent this condition. Those who are struggling with excessive alcohol consumption, however, often focus more on consuming alcohol than eating a balanced diet, even choosing alcohol over food. As a result of this poor diet, the amount of thiamine in a person’s body falls. Alcohol also hinders the body’s ability to absorb thiamine, and interferes with the enzyme that activates the thiamine. Additionally, alcohol abuse damages the liver, which will prevent the storage and release of thiamine into the body. If you are a heavy drinker, you are especially at risk of the thiamine deficiency that leads to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which can have permanent effects.

What Are Symptoms of Wet Brain?

Early symptoms that alcohol addiction could be leading to wet brain syndrome include:

Symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy:

Once Korsakoff’s syndrome begins, symptoms include:

What Are the Lasting Effects of Wet Brain?

Without treatment, Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome will continue to worsen and could result in coma or death. If it is left untreated for long enough, wet brain syndrome will lead to permanent brain damage, specifically affecting memory and critical thinking skills. Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome is not curable, however, the symptoms can be treated in order to slow the progression and reverse some of the damage. Certain symptoms, for example muscle spasms, eye abnormalities, unusual gait, and hallucinations, may be treated. The degree of improvement varies with each individual depending on the severity of the brain damage that occurred. Some symptoms may improve a little, while others will improve a lot. Some problems, specifically those related to memory loss and the ability to create and store new memories, are generally not reversible.

Treatment usually includes increasing thiamine levels in the body through vitamin supplements given orally or intravenously. Improving diet and significantly reducing, or ideally eliminating, alcohol consumption are both also necessary in order for symptoms to improve. Early treatment will reduce the amount of damage done to the brain, so it is essential to seek help as soon as symptoms begin to appear. Contacting a doctor or an alcohol addiction counselor is a great place to start. When it comes to wet brain, prevention is the best treatment. Do not consume excessive amounts of alcohol and try to eat a well balanced diet, including lots of protein and whole grains. Alcohol use disorder should be treated with the help of both medical experts and counselors at your side so the chances of relapse and the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms are low. A vitamin B1 deficiency is no joke, and the chronic conditions that may follow from chronic alcohol abuse can really hinder your quality of life. 

At New Choices Treatment Centers, our chefs make sure poor nutrition isn’t an issue alongside our other care providers so that you have one less thing to worry about. Here, you can just focus on your recovery. While you embrace abstinence from alcohol, you can really take this period of time to find your real priorities in life, and get back on track. Addiction treatment options are available, and the effects of alcohol and wet brain symptoms can be reduced the earlier you get into treatment. It is never too late to seek it out and take back what you can of your life. 

Related: Detoxing from Alcohol


One Response

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