Drug and Alcohol - Sobriety

Wet Brain Syndrome: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Guide

What is wet brain syndrome? One of the most tragic outcomes of untreated alcohol addiction, wet brain can be reversed...if it's caught in time.

Wet Brain Syndrome: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Guide

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

June 12, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Alcohol is widely consumed globally and plays a major role in many people’s lives, for better or for worse. It is produced through the fermentation of ingredients such as grains, sugar sources, and fruits.

With a history spanning thousands of years, alcohol has left traces in ancient civilizations like Egypt, China, and India. In Western countries, it played a vital role in religious practices, such as the Babylonians' worship of wine goddesses. In addition, the Greeks were fond of mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey and water. Notably, Greek literature includes warnings about the dangers of excessive drinking, indicating an awareness of alcohol's adverse effects.

Today, alcohol abuse and addiction is the biggest healthcare concern worldwide. One of the most tragic (yet preventable) symptoms of alcohol abuse is wet brain syndrome.

Wet Brain Syndrome: Statistics About Alcohol Abuse

Global data indicates that nearly 1.4% of the world suffers from alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder (AUD). The World Health Organization (WHO) says that 3 million people worldwide lose their life due to the harmful use of alcohol. The data also indicates that men are more likely to suffer from AUD than women. The deaths are not limited to health problems due to excessive consumption of alcohol. Instead, alcohol is a causal factor in millions of deaths. These casual factors include alcohol-induced crimes, accidents, brawls, violence, suicide, and more.

Additionally, several short-term and long-term side effects can lead to fatal results. These effects of excessive alcohol include liver damage, blurred vision, increased heart rate, blood pressure, vomiting, kidney failure, and cancer. 

Wet brain syndrome is one of the lesser-known side effects of excessive alcohol consumption. A dangerous complication of heavy drinking, wet brain syndrome is a tragic and potentially untreatable disease caused by alcohol abuse.

What is Wet Brain Syndrome?

Wet brain syndrome is a popular term for two conditions:

  • Wernicke encephalopathy

  • Korsakoff’s psychosis

Together, these two conditions are also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). Wet brain syndrome describes brain damage due to excessive alcohol drinking. This brain damage takes place because alcohol can create a deficiency of some essential nutrients like thiamine (vitamin B1).

Thiamine is a vitamin important for the proper functioning of the heart and nervous system. It also makes sure that our bloodstream has enough glucose. As you may have guessed, its deficiency can lead to many physical problems. People who indulge in heavy amounts of alcohol over a long period will see a decrease in the production of thiamine levels.

Why? Alcohol prevents our body from getting thiamine and depletes the thiamine stored in our liver. Some enzymes help turn thiamine into an active compound for our body. Alcohol prevents this process too. 

What Does Wet Brain Syndrome Feel Like?

As explained in the above section, thiamine is an essential nutrient for the functioning of the bodily system. Almost every part of our body requires vitamin B1. In addition, several crucial neurotransmitters need thiamine for proper brain functioning.

A lack of vitamin B1 can lead to wet brain syndrome, a type of brain damage. It also means the person suffering from WKS will have two health problems. One is Wernicke encephalopathy, while the other is  Korsakoff syndrome. The presence of both of these syndromes is collectively known as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome.

A person with Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome has neurological issues due to a lack of thiamine. The brain would suffer from lesions in this condition. On the other hand, Korsakoff's psychosis is the second stage of WKS, which is related to permanent memory loss. 

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What Causes Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome?

The main reason behind the development of the wet brain is the lack or deficiency of appropriate thiamine in the body. The defense of this vitamin severely impacts our health, especially our brain's thalamus, and hypothalamus. The deficiency also leads to food absorption problems leading to digestive issues.

Malabsorption is a condition that generally takes place after experiencing some chronic illness or going through weight loss surgery. For example, chronic alcoholics have inflamed digestive tracts. It prevents their body from absorbing food and related nutrients from it. 

Who is at Risk of Having Wet Brain Syndrome?

Wet brain syndrome can happen to anyone, but few people are at more risk. People with certain lifestyles are more likely to get affected by it. Since thiamine deficiency is the leading cause behind its development, people with lower consumption of vitamin B1 are at higher risk. People who are at higher risk may include:

  • Elders

  • People addicted to alcohol

  • Psychiatric patients

  • Homeless people

  • People living in isolation

  • Certain medical conditions can lead to thiamine deficiency. These individuals can include:

  • People with terminal cancer

  • Lack of balance because of starvation, anorexia nervosa, and limited diet pattern

  • People who are patients of bariatric surgery

  • People suffering from AIDS, uremia, and even tuberculosis

  • Bowel obstructions, inflammatory bowel problems, and more

  • Breastfeeding without supplements

What Are Wet Brain Syndrome Symptoms? 

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is not a very easily identified disorder. People can misinterpret the signs and symptoms of it, thinking of it as side effects of other complications. Instead, WKS makes itself known in two stages. 

The first, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, is treatable and reversible. Sadly, the second stage of wet brain syndrome, Korsakoff’s psychosis, is not.

Stage 1 Symptoms: Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

These include confusion, sudden decrease in cognitive abilities, lack of motor coordination, double vision, leg tremors, drooping eyelids, abnormal eye movement, withdrawal symptoms, and more.

Stage 2 Symptoms: Korsakoff’s Psychosis

This stage includes signs like hallucination, both auditory and visual, memory loss, trouble forming new memory, and false memories. 

Additional symptoms include atrophy, increased heart rate, low body temperature, muscle weakness, slow reflexes, coordination problems, and more. 

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How is Wet Brain Syndrome Treated?

Early diagnosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is crucial as it allows medical professionals to address some of the damages and symptoms associated with this condition. The primary treatment method for early-stage wet brain syndrome involves the administration of high-dose thiamine, considering that WKS often leads to a severe deficiency of brain nutrients, including thiamine.

Patients need to refrain from consuming alcohol throughout the treatment process. In the initial stages, thiamine supplements have demonstrated significant efficacy and can be administered orally or intravenously.

In addition to thiamine, other vitamins, and supplements are provided to enhance the natural production of thiamine in the body. While increasing thiamine levels can help reduce confusion, improve eye function, and enhance coordination, it cannot reverse the memory loss associated with Korsakoff's psychosis.

Wet Brain Syndrome: Treating Alcohol Addiction

Consumption of high amounts of alcohol regularly can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). It constitutes a person who continues drinking alcohol despite being fully aware of the negative consequences. One of the first steps here is acknowledging and accepting that they have this condition. After this, seeking medical help is the way to go forward.

The treatment of alcoholism includes:

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detoxification is a medical process in which the patient's body is monitored as alcohol leaves the system. Patients are most likely to experience withdrawal symptoms that are managed with the help of medication. Also, alcohol detox is much safer when done with professionals. The "cold turkey" approach is never a safe option.

Treatment Plan

The rehab, alcohol specialist, and the patient work together to create a detailed treatment plan. It includes planning psychological counseling sessions, medications, and aftercare plans. 

Behavioral Counseling

Behavioral counseling for addiction treatment includes individual or family therapy, 12-step programs, and more. Its primary purpose is to address the mental health of the patient. 

Medication

Medication given during alcohol addiction treatment includes oral and intravenous medications. Oral medications like disulfiram and Naltrexone are given to the patients. Similarly, injectable medications include Vivitrol. 

Aftercare Support

Alcoholics Anonymous, alumni groups, and relapse prevention programs are there to support former addicts. 

How to Cope With Wet Brain Syndrome

Wet brain syndrome is dangerous and will lead to fatal results if left untreated. This is why it is essential to have an early diagnosis and treatment. Only then can one hope to reverse all the damage that had been done by alcohol.

There are a few techniques and tips that can help patients of WKS to cope with their condition. A few of them are mentioned below. 

Some coping techniques for Wet Brain Syndrome:

Stop Drinking

Quitting alcohol is the cornerstone of wet brain treatment. Abstaining from alcohol is very important since the condition happens due to abuse of alcohol. Therefore, the patient has to remain sober during the treatment and even after fully recovering.

Diet Changes

Diet is another factor that has to be taken seriously. Most people do not care about what they eat. This has to change for people suffering from WKS. Since this disorder leads to a lack of nutrients in the brain, a balanced diet would greatly help. In addition, it will help in restoring the lost thiamine level. 

Vitamin Therapy

Thiamine is a vital component of wet brain syndrome. Treating wet brain syndrome includes consuming thiamine-rich food to have a natural source even after the supplementation course ends. These foods include pork, beef, eggs, cereal grains, cauliflower, kale, and more. 

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Wet Brain Syndrome: Why Seeking Treatment for Alcoholism is Important

Alcoholism is a very concerning phenomenon in our country today. Most people do not even consider alcohol addiction as a major health problem. Like many forms of addiction, it’s easy to miss unless it directly affects a person.

However, millions of people worldwide suffer from its adverse side effects. The effects and symptoms of alcohol addiction range from physical complications such as high blood pressure, stroke, digestive issues, cancer, liver problems, and other symptoms to mental health disorders like antisocial behavior, depression, anxiety, psychosis, aggression, and more.

Wet brain syndrome is one lesser-known side effect among all these well-known ones. You must contact a drug rehab center if you or someone you care about suffers from alcohol or drug addiction. Drug rehab centers are medical facilities designed to help patients with addictive disorders. They are operated by highly skilled and experienced specialists and rehab staff. 

Don’t Risk Wet Brain Syndrome! The Forge Recovery Center Treats Alcoholism Effectively

Addiction centers help people move away from alcoholism. They carefully plan out a recovery program while considering all their needs like addiction intensity, underlying condition, family history, and personal & professional life.

The Forge Recovery Center uses evidence-based, proven techniques to free people from alcohol abuse. We’ll help you find an effective alcohol detox so your first step into recovery is the best possible. Then, we’ll help you explore addiction, treating alcoholism at the root to make sure you have a full recovery. Finally, The Forge’s robust alumni program will help you ensure the healthy coping mechanisms you learned in rehab serve you throughout life.

Wet Brain Syndrome is untreatable if it advances far enough. We’ll stop that from happening. If you want to learn more about our effective alcohol addiction programs, reach out to The Forge Recovery Center today.

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