Wet Brain: What You Need to Know
Wet Brain: What You Need to Know
Table of Contents
What is Wet Brain?
Wet brain is damage that happens to the brain due to excessive use of alcohol. The medical term for wet brain is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Currently, around 14% of people who struggle with alcohol use disorder will develop wet brain.
Wernicke and Korsakoff Syndrome are two syndromes normally caused by a lack of thiamine, also known as Vitamin B.
Wernicke Syndrome is a neurological disease made up of three parts: confusion, an inability to move voluntarily (ataxia), and eye abnormalities. Korsakoff syndrome is a mental disorder where a person struggles with disproportionate memory loss.1 Most cases occur in those who struggle with alcohol use disorder.
According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Thiamine is an important nutrient that takes sugar from food and converts it into energy for the brain, heart, and nerves. Thiamine is used to process fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.2
Thiamine depletion will lead to loss of appetite, constipation, fatigue, and muscle weakness. It is normally caused by poor nutrition, a diet lacking vitamins, and inflammation of the stomach lining due to high levels of alcohol consumption. Alcohol harms the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and function normally.2
Eventually, the body will form beriberi, a disorder that affects the circulatory and nervous systems. In the most extreme cases of beriberi, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome will develop.
The Dangers of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy
Wernicke syndrome, also known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy, is a serious condition that can lead to detrimental symptoms. Someone with Wernicke’s encephalopathy will have balance and movement issues. They may develop leg tremors, walk slower with a wider stance and short steps, need help standing and getting around, and feel weakness in their arms and legs.3
Those with Wernicke’s encephalopathy will also develop confusion. Normally, this starts by losing interest in events. People can also develop double vision, droopy eyelids, or rapid eye movement (Bhargava, 2020). Eventually, Wernicke syndrome will cause issues with the cardiovascular system, meaning one’s heart and blood vessels. This will lead to drowsiness, fainting, faster heartbeat, low blood pressure, a lack of energy, and eventual heart failure. Without treatment, Wernicke’s encephalopathy will lead to death in 20% of cases, and it will develop into Korsakoff syndrome in 85% of people who survive.4
The Dangers of Korsakoff Psychosis
According to Alzheimer’s Association, “severe thiamine deficiency disrupts several biochemicals that play key roles in carrying signals among brain cells and in storing and retrieving memories”.4 Once someone develops Korsakoff syndrome, also known as Korsakoff psychosis, they start having trouble learning new information. They will develop an inability to remember events that just took place, and they can develop long-term memory gaps.4
People with Korsakoff syndrome can carry normal conversations for the most part, but moments after, they might be unable to recall any aspect of the conversation or whom they were speaking with. People with this syndrome might also make up information to replace the gaps in memory. The individual can also struggle with hallucinations.
The Dangers of Memory Loss and Confusion
There are several dangers to memory loss and confusion. If a person does not seek treatment, they could put themselves in harm’s way. For example, they could start cooking something and forget about it, leading to a fire. Those who struggle with memory loss are also more at-risk to develop loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Those with memory loss could become more fearful and distrustful of others.5 There could be anxiety due to worry about the future. They could develop a sense of loneliness because they might forget that they have had interactions with loved ones.
Hallucinations and confusion can be another danger. Because people with Korsakoff syndrome can hallucinate, they might hear or see things that aren’t there. Although some hallucinations could be harmless, there is always the risk that hallucination provokes them to do something dangerous or harmful. Confusion could lead the person to put themselves in a physically harmful situation or feel depressed and frustrated.
Wet Brain Symptoms
When someone begins the first stage of wet brain, or Wernicke Syndrome, they will develop confusion and disorientation, which can happen over a few days or a few weeks.6 The individual may develop:
If wet brain goes untreated, the person could “develop stupor or loss of consciousness.”6
As the disease progresses, a person can develop Ataxia. Ataxia causes:
Slow, unsteady steps
Inability to walk without assistance
Rapid eye movement
Drooping upper eyelids6
Nervous and Cardiovascular System Issues
Eventually, wet brain will affect the nervous and cardiovascular systems. This can cause:
Arm and leg weakness
Low blood pressure
A loss of consciousness6
If left untreated, wet brain will advance to its second stage, Korsakoff syndrome.
Normally, the original symptoms of Wernicke syndrome lessen as the symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome advance. In the second stage of wet brain, the person suffers from severe memory impairment. The person will develop short-term memory loss, which will make them incapable of learning new things or remembering conversations or interactions after they took place. They can also suffer from the loss of some long-term memories. In some cases, people will replace gaps with imaginary memories to help make sense of things.6
Alcoholism and Wet Brain
Although wet brain can be caused by things such as HIV, cancer, chronic infections, kidney dialysis, anorexia, or the inability of a body to absorb nutrients, most people develop wet brain from alcohol abuse.7 Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to inflammation of the stomach lining inside of a person and reduce their ability to absorb vitamins.
A person can recover from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome by stopping alcohol use. However, it is an often underdiagnosed disease. Doctors may misdiagnose it as something else until it is too late.
In the United States, wet brain is almost entirely associated with alcoholism. Approximately 12-14% of people who struggle with alcohol use disorder will develop wet brain in their life (Heerema, 2020). Wet brain is a disorder that should be taken very seriously. If you or a loved one starts to develop symptoms of wet brain, please seek medical attention right away.
Treating Wet Brain
There are ways to treat wet brain. The earlier you seek medical attention and are properly diagnosed, the better of a situation you will be in.
Alcohol use disorder is the primary cause of wet brain, so recovery should start as soon as possible. The first step is detox, which is ceasing alcohol consumption, so the substance works its way out of the body. This can be a dangerous process, especially if you have developed wet brain. Detox should happen under medical supervision.
Residential treatment centers are a good way to start the recovery process. Alcoholics Anonymous groups can be found almost everywhere in the country. Ultimately, you must seek a loving community and find others to support you through this process.
Are you or a loved one struggling with symptoms of wet brain or alcohol use disorder? Please seek medical attention right away. Intervention is key to reversing the effects of wet brain and starting the path to successful recovery.
Can You Reverse Wet Brain?
It is possible to reverse Wernicke syndrome, the first stage of wet brain. Normally, this is treated with thiamine injections or having vitamin B1 directly put into the body through an IV (Bhargava, 2020). The sooner that someone seeks treatment, the easier this process will be.
However, if the person develops Korsakoff psychosis, they can never fully reverse the damage. Doctors will still do vitamin B1 injections to improve symptoms, but the person will never fully recover. At all stages, abstaining from alcohol is essential to improvement.