Wet Brain: Causes and Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Discover the causes, symptoms, and treatment methods for wet brain in this comprehensive article.

Table of Contents

What Is Wet Brain?

Also called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, wet brain is a condition characterized by a depletion of vitamin B1 that primarily occurs in people who drink long term. Research has shown that Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is eight to ten times more likely to develop in individuals with chronic alcoholism compared to the general population.1

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Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome occurs due to a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. It is a condition that most commonly affects people who drink heavily long term. When the condition is caught early on, it can be reversible. However, if it is not addressed immediately, it can lead to life-threatening symptoms, such as ongoing confusion, muscle control issues, hallucinations, and death.

Thiamine Depletion

Thiamine is an essential nutrient, and a deficiency can result in brain damage, nerve damage, and heart conditions. People who drink heavily often do not eat a balanced diet. Therefore, they may not get the thiamine they need to function properly.
Wet Brain
Furthermore, thiamine is absorbed when it passes through the gastrointestinal tract into the body’s tissues. Alcohol causes inflammation in the digestive tract, which interferes with thiamine absorption. It also makes it difficult for the cells in the body to process and utilize thiamine properly. According to one 2004 study, 80% of people who drink alcohol heavily develop a thiamine deficiency.2

Wernicke Encephalopathy and Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is the combination of Wernicke encephalopathy (a disorder causing altered mental state, ocular abnormalities, and lack of coordination) and Korsakoff syndrome (a neurological disorder causing memory loss; sometimes develops from Wernicke encephalopathy), both of which are caused by a lack of thiamine.

The Dangers of Wernicke Encephalopathy

Data indicates that the prevalence of Wernicke encephalopathy is between 1% and 3%. Wernicke encephalopathy is essentially the first stage of wet brain and can be fatal if left untreated. Thus, it is essential to learn the signs and symptoms of this disease before it progresses any further.3

Wernicke encephalopathy symptoms include:

  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Vision changes
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • General confusion
  • Muscle loss
  • Issues with balance
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Drowsiness
  • Hypothermia
  • Heart issues
  • Drooping eyelid (ptosis)
  • Eye muscle weakness or paralysis
It’s best to address wet brain during these early stages. Failure to do so can result in brain and cell damage that leads to severe memory loss and the inability to form new memories, resulting in the development of Korsakoff syndrome.

The Dangers of Korsakoff Psychosis

If Wernicke encephalopathy is left untreated, it will lead to Korsakoff psychosis. Statistics show that over 80% of people with Wernicke encephalopathy will develop Korsakoff psychosis.4

Korsakoff psychosis symptoms include the following:

  • Amnesia
  • Difficulty forming new memories
  • Agitation and anger
  • Delirium
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Confabulation
  • Hallucinations that may accompany alcohol withdrawal
  • A lack of focus
  • Unsteady gait
  • Coma
Once Korsakoff psychosis sets in, the symptoms can be difficult or even impossible to treat. As a result, 20% of people die of Wernicke Korsakoff after it reaches the Korsakoff psychosis stage.5

The Dangers of Memory Loss and Confusion

While wet brain can be deadly in and of itself, the effects of memory loss and confusion can also be quite dangerous. Here are some issues that may be a result of the mental issues the condition causes:

Getting Lost

A person with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may forget where they are, causing them to get lost and find themselves in a dangerous situation.

Leads to Other Mental Health Disorders

Memory loss and confusion lead to anxiety and depression and can even result in suicidal thoughts.

Engaging in Dangerous Behavior

If a person is confused, they may accidentally engage in dangerous behavior. For example, they may get in their car and momentarily forget how to drive and cause an accident.

Vulnerability to Fraud and Scams

An individual with cognitive issues is a prime target for fraud and other scams. It will be easy for scammers to fool them into thinking they are trustworthy sources, and they may take their personal information and use it for illegal purposes.

A Personal Toll

If a person is dealing with memory loss and confusion, they will probably be unable to care for themselves and require a caretaker or nursing home. This can make them feel like a burden and significantly take a toll on the individual because not only are they unable to care for themself, but the people around them are affected as well.
Wet Brain symptoms

Treating Wet Brain

While wet brain is not curable, it is treatable, especially in the early stages. Here is what’s involved:

Can You Reverse Wet Brain?

Healthcare providers can slow or reverse symptoms like confusion, muscle coordination issues, and eye problems in the Wernicke encephalopathy stages. This is typically achieved with treatments such as:
  • IV fluids to promote rehydration
  • Vitamin B1 tablets
  • Alcohol use disorder treatment, such as detox and therapy
  • Nutritional support
  • Medications

Treating Alcoholism

People can also reduce their risk of developing Wernicke Korsakoff by stopping or limiting alcohol use, following a healthy diet, and supplementing with thiamine tablets or injections.
Quitting drinking is not easy, especially if the individual has been drinking heavily for a long period of time. It typically requires a three-step process that includes the following:
  • Detox: Detox involves allowing the body to rid itself of unwanted substances. The patient will experience withdrawal symptoms as their body gets used to functioning without alcohol. The medical staff in a rehab facility will oversee the process to keep the patient as comfortable as possible.
  • Therapy: After detox is complete, the patient will move on to therapy. Facilities will typically take a dual diagnosis approach that simultaneously treats the addiction and its underlying cause. A combination of science-based and alternative approaches may be integrated.
  • Aftercare: After therapy is complete, aftercare is administered to ensure the patient has the support they need to maintain sobriety.

How Profound Treatment Can Help

Profound Treatment provides alcohol rehab that can stop wet brain before it starts. We are a premier Los Angeles drug and alcohol treatment center that offers an approach that sets us apart. We combine a variety of alternative and conventional therapies, ensuring a successful transition from addiction to sobriety.

Wet brain is just one of the many detrimental effects of alcoholism. Don’t let your substance use disorder run your life. Call Profound Treatment today. We will provide you with a stress-free journey from addiction that may just save your life.

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