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Signs Of Wet Brain And How To Prevent It

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Key takeaways:

  • Wet brain syndrome, also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is caused by thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency.
  • It starts with Wernicke’s encephalopathy, marked by mental confusion, abnormal eye movements, cognitive impairment, and lack of muscle coordination.
  • If untreated, Wernicke’s encephalopathy can progress to Korsakoff’s Psychosis, leading to critical anterograde amnesia and memory issues.
  • Wet brain symptoms include loss of muscle coordination, confusion, and vision disturbances.
  • The main cause of wet brain syndrome is alcohol addiction, as alcohol impairs thiamine absorption and leads to deficiency.
  • Treatment options include thiamine supplements and complete abstinence from alcohol.
  • Lantana Recovery is a specialized alcohol rehab center that provides treatment for alcohol addiction.
  • Preventing wet brain involves early intervention for chronic alcoholism and a balanced diet.

It’s no secret that heavy drinking or alcohol addiction can take a toll on the body, but what you may not know is that it can also impact your brain. Heavy drinking can lead to a condition known as wet brain syndrome, which is marked by a number of neurological symptoms. If you’re concerned that you or someone you love may be suffering from wet brain syndrome, read on for information about the condition and how it can be treated.

What is wet brain syndrome?

Wet brain syndrome is a commonly used term for a neurological disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome caused by thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency. Since the human brain requires thiamine to create enzymes that break down the sugar molecules into glucose; the fuel of our nervous system. Therefore, the deficiency of Vitamin B1 leads to a lack of glucose for the brain to function properly.

Wet brain starts as a temporary condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a critical disorder of the central nervous system that results in mental confusion, abnormal eye movements, cognitive impairment, and lack of muscle coordination. If left untreated, the disorder can aggravate a permanent brain disorder called Korsakoff’s Psychosis.

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a life-threatening, degenerative brain disorder that is marked by changes in vision, including double vision and reduced eyesight. It also causes ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), confusion, and difficulties with other physical activities.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy often called the early stage of wet brain is reversible and can be treated through the ingestion of Vitamin B1 which is why early recognition of this acute neurological syndrome is important. This mental illness is very common among individuals with prolonged alcohol addiction as it can result in thiamine deficiency.

“WE is characterized by the classic triad of ataxia, eye movement disorders, and mental status change” (Preventing Wernicke Encephalopathy After Bariatric Surgery, Oudman et al., 2018.) Other common symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:

  • A decline in mental ability
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Leg tremors
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Double vision
  • Eyelid drooping
  • Rise in Body temperature
  • Mood Swings
  • Coma
  • Death

Korsakoff’s Psychosis

For individuals with severe alcohol abuse, Wernicke Encephalopathy if left untreated, is often followed by Korsakoff’s Psychosis, due to the lack of thiamine. Korsakoff’s Psychosis is critical anterograde amnesia that happens slowly but can permanently damage several parts of the brain.

The second stage of the wet brain is characterized by disorientation to person, place, time, or situation; delusions; memories hallucinations, forgetfulness, poor judgment, and the inability to learn new things. People afflicted with Korsakoff’s Psychosis frequently make up stories to compensate for their short-term memory loss.

A few early symptoms of Korsakoff’s Psychosis are:

  • Memory loss
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Making up stories
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
wet brain signs

What are the symptoms of wet brain syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is characterized by three warning signs; loss of muscle coordination, confusion, and vision disturbance. However, most often the disease remains undiagnosed as the patient doesn’t necessarily have to exhibit all three symptoms. But what leads to these three wet brain symptoms?

  1. Since the deficiency of Vitamin B1 affects the cerebellum, a part of the nervous responsible for motor control during movement, the main symptom of a wet brain is the loss of balance or muscle coordination. Other wet brain symptoms from damage to the cerebellum include difficulty maintaining balance while moving, leg tremors, and staggered walking.
  2. The damage to the lower part of the brain, including the thalamus and hypothalamus, is linked to confusion and memory loss.
  3. As brain stems are responsible for controlling eye movements, therefore thiamine deficiency also results in vision problems. That is why, patients suffering from this disorder often complain about rapid eye movement, eyelid drooping, double vision, etc.

In the case of someone exhibiting wet brain symptoms, only a blood test can provide a diagnosis. This test measures the level of thiamine inside the body.

What are the causes of wet brain syndrome?

The human brain requires thiamine to produce the cofactors that convert sugar into Glucose. Any disruption in its supply can affect the peripheral as well as the central nervous system. Moreover, a persistent decrease in the quantity of thiamine in the body can lead to permanent brain damage. But what leads to thiamine deficiency?

Our body cannot produce thiamine and the only way to acquire these essential nutrients is through food. So a poor diet can somehow be linked to this neurological disorder. However, its proper intake alone is not sufficient, as in order for our body to absorb thiamine it has to pass through the gastrointestinal tract. As a result, any gastrointestinal disorder or inflammation results in reduced thiamine absorption by bodily tissues. So poor nutrition paired with inflammation in the digestive tract can impact the body’s ability to absorb thiamine.

Most individuals who develop wet brain, have alcohol suffer from the disorder and substance abuse as both conditions are associated with developing nutritional deficiencies.

Does alcohol addiction lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?

Yes, alcoholism is often the leading cause behind the development of this syndrome. According to a study by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 80% of alcoholics develop thiamine deficiency. As ethanol present in alcoholic drinks impairs intestinal absorption of thiamine due to inflammation. So if a person drinks regularly or if their diet consists predominantly of heavy foods, such as meat and potatoes, they can develop Vitamin B1 deficiency without even realizing it. The result is wet brain syndrome otherwise known as “Alcoholic Dementia” – a chronic neurological disorder that can lead to memory loss or permanent brain damage.

In addition to this, heavy drinkers often make unhealthy lifestyle choices such as long periods of inactivity or consuming a diet low in nutrients. So, chronic alcoholics are at a much higher risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome than the general population.

What are wet brain treatment options?

Luckily, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can be reversed at early stages with proper treatment. The most common treatment options are consuming thiamine supplements and complete abstinence from consuming alcohol. Therefore the first step towards recovering from this mental illness should be to seek treatment for excessive alcohol consumption at a treatment center like Lantana.

Patients with Wernicke’s encephalopathy are usually treated with injection or oral thiamine supplements to help them overcome thiamine deficiency. Sometimes, doctors also prescribe additional vitamin supplements to wet brain patients, in order to improve their gut health and metabolism.

As mentioned earlier, alcohol use is usually the main cause behind developing wet brain, so addiction treatment becomes necessary to prevent further brain damage. Besides negatively impacting physical health, alcohol abuse disorder is detrimental to a person’s mental health. So seeking addiction treatment become inevitable in order to recover from this neurological disorder.

Does Lantana Recovery treat people addicted to alcohol? 

Yes, Lantana Recovery treats people addicted to alcohol. If you or your loved one is looking for a nationally recognized and respected addiction treatment center in South Carolina, Lantana Recovery is a specialized alcohol rehab in Charleston. Lantana Recovery provides part-hospitalization rehab services and outpatient rehab services to people struggling with addiction.  Lantana Recovery extends its alcohol rehab services to Greenville residents. And they extend their alcohol rehab services to Columbia residents and surrounding towns.

How To Prevent Wet Brain

In developed countries, populations with alcohol use disorder are at a high risk of developing this condition. Early intervention for chronic alcoholism and a balanced diet can prove effective to prevent Korsakoff’s Psychosis, which can be life-threatening in some cases.

In the process of overcoming alcohol abuse, the biggest challenge is coping with severe and deadly withdrawal symptoms. That is why, medical detox under the supervision of professionals at a rehab facility like ours, is the safest option to reverse the brain damage caused by this disease.

Bottom Line

Wet brain syndrome can be a debilitating and life-changing disease, but it is also treatable. If you or someone you know is suffering from wet brain syndrome, please seek medical attention immediately. With the right treatment from us and support from family members, those affected by wet brain syndrome can make a full recovery and return to their normal lives.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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