Cirque Lodge > Blog > Addiction > What Is Wet Brain? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Wet brain syndrome occurs through prolonged heavy drinking and can have devastating effects on a person's quality of life. This condition is a lesser-known side effect of alcohol abuse but is still a real possibility that you should be aware of.

Knowing early signs and symptoms could be the wake-up call you need to get help for your drinking problem. Long-term successful recovery from alcohol addiction is possible through a medical detox and ongoing professional support.

What Is Wet Brain?

'Wet brain' is formally known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This occurs through thiamine deficiency and is commonly seen in those with a history of alcohol abuse. It is a life-threatening disorder, although it is possible to halt the progression of the illness with immediate treatment.

There are two wet brain stages: Wernicke's encephalopathy and Korsakoff psychosis. Wet brain is rare among the general population but a possible outcome for anyone who engages in long-term excessive alcohol consumption.

The disorder produces neurological symptoms such as memory problems. It is similar to dementia and sometimes known as alcoholic encephalopathy or alcoholic dementia. Without immediate treatment, effects can be hugely detrimental to a person's health and wellbeing.

An addiction to alcohol, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a disease. While wet brain is caused by heavy drinking, often, a person is trapped in a cycle of drinking by their addiction.

The most effective way to prevent wet brain is to avoid alcohol addiction. Addiction often occurs over time through prolonged drinking. It is recommended to only drink in moderation. If you need help with your drinking, talk to someone about addiction treatment today.

How Is Alcohol Abuse Connected To Wet Brain?

Technically anyone can develop wet brain, which occurs when a person is severely deficient in vitamin b1, also known as thiamine. This can happen through poor nutrition, for example, or certain illnesses such as eating disorders. However, wet brain is more common in people who have a history of alcohol abuse. In the united states, alcohol abuse is the leading cause of thiamine deficiency.

One reason for the link between alcohol abuse and wet brain is people with alcoholism tend to have poor diets, leading to nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of vitamin b1. Another reason is alcohol abuse reduces the body's ability to absorb thiamine through the digestive tract.

In addition, alcohol depletes the body's thiamine stores found in the liver collected from foods we eat, such as meat, eggs, potatoes, and cereals. Thiamine does not occur naturally in the body, but it plays an essential role in our health.

If you have an alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), you must seek help as soon as possible. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is challenging to overcome but possible to achieve with professional help and ongoing support, such as at a treatment center where you can safely detox under supervised care.

Signs and Symptoms of Wet Brain

The signs of wet brain can be hard to spot, especially if you have chronic alcoholism. This is because early symptoms of wet brain are similar to those of intoxication. However, if you experience these symptoms when not intoxicated, you might be experiencing wet brain.

The early stages of wet brain are known as Wernicke encephalopathy. Wernicke encephalopathy causes brain damage in the lower parts of the brain called the thalamus and hypothalamus.

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Poor reflexes
  • Twitching
  • Double vision or blurred vision
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Low body temperature
  • Memory loss
  • Mental confusion

Friends and family may report noticing behavioral changes such as irritability. A person experiencing a wet brain may also make up stories to replace memories, known as confabulating. It can be challenging to recognize wet brain yourself, especially if an alcohol addiction grips you.

It is essential to seek a diagnosis as soon as possible. Early intervention is critical to halting the effects of wet brain, as is quitting alcohol. To detox from alcohol safely, always consult a specialized rehab center.

How Is Wet Brain Treated?

When caught early, it is possible to treat wet brain.

Wet brain treatment typically consists of minimizing existing symptoms.

When untreated, Wernicke encephalopathy causes death in up to 20 percent of cases. Eighty-five percent of survivors develop the final stage of wet brain, which is called Korsakoff's psychosis.

Although there is no official life expectancy for someone with wet brain,

Can You Reverse Wet Brain?

Wet brain is reversible, particularly in the early stage. Recovery depends on how early the condition is detected, the severity of symptoms, and what treatment is given.

Thiamine replacement therapy, where vitamin b1 is administered intravenously, can help reverse some cognitive decline and halt the condition from progressing. Other treatments may focus on minimizing existing symptoms.

Alcohol cessation is essential in treating wet brain. Quitting alcohol requires a medical detox under specialized and supervised care, such as addiction treatment facilities. Long-term successful recovery from alcohol is possible with ongoing support from professionals and family members.

What Is Korsakoff's Psychosis?

When Wernicke's encephalopathy is left untreated, and a person continues to abuse alcohol, they will likely develop Korsakoff's psychosis. At this stage, wet brain cannot be reversed. Korsakoff's psychosis is permanent brain damage.

This is the end stage of wet brain syndrome and can be fatal. Most people with Korsakoff's psychosis cannot live independently, and their symptoms are likened to that of dementia.

Symptoms of Korsakoff's psychosis include:

  • Severe memory loss
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Hallucinations

With treatment, studies show that about 25 percent of those who develop Korsakoff syndrome eventually recover, about half improve but don’t recover completely, and about 25 percent remain unchanged.

In this case, prevention is better than cure. If you have a drinking problem, help is available to quit alcohol and improve your health and wellbeing.

What Does Alcohol Do To The Brain Long Term?

Alcohol is a mind-altering drug that has both short and long-term effects.

Alcohol is a depressant that slows down messages sent to the central nervous system from the brain. Short term effects of alcohol on the brain can include:

  • Mood changes
  • Slurring words
  • Delayed reactions
  • Loss of coordination
  • Blurred vision
  • Memory loss
  • Risky behavior
  • Poor decision making

Short-term effects disappear when alcohol content leaves your body. The danger of alcohol, even in the short term, includes alcohol poisoning and accidents or injury occurring due to being intoxicated, such as falls or driving under the influence.

Over time, prolonged alcohol abuse can cause various long-term health problems, including wet brain.

What Is Considered Heavy Drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking as more than four on any day or more than 14 per week for men and more than three drinks on any day or more than seven per week for women.

Most people engage in heavy drinking on rare occasions. Although this is not recommended, occasional heavy drinking will not cause wet brain. The danger is that when this kind of drinking becomes more and more frequent, it turns into an alcohol addiction. No one intends to develop an addiction, but it can occur without you realizing what is truly happening.

What Is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction is a type of substance abuse. Although legal to consume, alcohol is a powerful drug that can ruin your health and wellbeing. Addiction is where a person will continue taking a substance despite adverse consequences. It is all-consuming and very detrimental.

Alcohol cessation requires a medical detox under supervised care, such as in a specialized rehab center. This is because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and fatal in rare cases. It is also tricky to detox without support.

If you are concerned about your drinking, talk to someone.

How Do I Avoid Developing Wet Brain?

Consider avoiding heavy drinking and maintaining a balanced diet with essential nutrients or vitamin supplements. It is better to drink in moderation only, or not at all. If you are concerned about your drinking, you can find help at our addiction treatment center.

For confidential advice, talk to our admissions team here at Cirque Lodge. Our experts design bespoke plans for your unique circumstances so you can get the best out of treatment.

Read more: How long does cocaine stay in your system

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