Cirque Lodge > Blog > Addiction > What is Wet Brain?

Wet Brain, formally known as Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome, is a brain disease caused by alcohol abuse. This is a severe condition and is just one of the health risks brought by excessive alcohol consumption.

Wet Brain is caused by severe vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. Poor nutrition is a common side effect of chronic alcohol abuse and can result in a thiamine deficiency. Wet Brain is treatable with early intervention; however if left untreated, can lead to permanent brain damage, poor muscle coordination, and hallucinations.

Understanding Wet Brain Syndrome

So, what is Wet Brain? Wet Brain is a severe brain disorder which is made up of two associated conditions: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is the initial temporary condition where the individual will experience confusion, loss of muscle coordination, and eye twitches and vision changes.

This is usually followed or accompanied by Korsakoff’s psychosis which is a long-term disorder which can result in severe learning and memory difficulties, as well as interfering with a person’s normal functioning.

The name 'Wet Brain' refers to a condition that is typically seen in individuals who have a long history of alcohol addiction.

The syndrome develops due to a deficiency in thiamine which can be caused by a number of underlying health issues such as malnutrition or eating disorders, but most commonly, chronic alcoholism. Research shows that up to 80% of the individuals living with alcohol addiction are thiamine deficient. Around 1-2% of the general population will develop Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome, with this number rising to between 12-14% in those who abuse alcohol.

The Role of Alcohol Abuse

Thiamine is acquired through our diet. It is one of our essential nutrients and is important for a number of bodily functions. The deficiency of thiamine can cause brain damage, and impact the nervous system and cardiovascular system.

Thiamine is a crucial component in building enzymes in our body that process and convert sugar into energy. It also creates brain chemical messengers and genetic material in the cells. Without thiamine, our body's ability to function is greatly reduced.

This syndrome is linked to chronic alcohol abuse due to the fact that individuals who abuse alcohol tend to have a poor diet. The research found that people with alcohol use disorder consume less thiamine. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies, including thiamine deficiency.

Additionally, some individuals living with alcohol addiction experience malabsorption of vitamins and minerals. Absorption of thiamine happens after it passes through the gastrointestinal system and is transported throughout the body. Alcohol use can cause inflammation in the digestive system, making it difficult for the process of absorption to happen.

Symptoms of Wet Brain

Diagnosing Wet Brain syndrome is complex due to some of the symptoms overlapping with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, individuals must be sober and through their withdrawal phase before a diagnoses can be made.

Additionally, the common symptoms of Wet Brain syndrome can resemble those of severe alcohol use or binge drinking, however the symptoms of Wet Brain persist longer. For this reason, it's crucial to seek expert medical advice if you suspect a case of Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome.

Typical physical symptoms could include the following:

  • Poor muscular coordination
  • Eye twitches
  • Blurred or double vision

Behavioral and psychological symptoms could include the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Changes in behavior
  • Aggression
  • Restlessness
  • Dishonesty
  • Resisting communication or support

Severe cases of Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome can lead to unconsciousness, coma, and in some cases, death.

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome is comprised of two parts. The first is Wernicke's Encephalopathy. This is a short-term condition which is characterized by confusion, disorientation, apathy, loss of muscular coordination, and eye twitching. Some of these symptoms can have serious consequences for the individual.

The eyes can be severely impacted by this condition. In some people, the nerves controlling them may become paralyzed, which can lead to twitching, drooping eyelids, and difficulty scanning with the eyes.

Loss of muscular coordination can cause individuals to walk with a stagger or a limp, or in some cases, lose the ability completely to walk.

In diagnosing Wernicke's Encephalopathy, an individual does not have to be experiencing all three of these symptoms to be considered. Many individuals will only exhibit one or two symptoms. This is why seeking advice from a medical professional early is crucial, and a holistic evaluation should be made before a diagnosis.

Early symptoms of Wet Brain include the following:

  • Poor coordination
  • Eye twitches
  • Slow reflexes
  • Raised heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Weakness and muscle loss
  • Severe fatigue
  • Disorientation and mental confusion

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that an individual with Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome is at risk of going on to develop Korsakoff syndrome.

Korsakoff Psychosis

Around 80-90% of individuals with an alcohol disorder living with Wernicke Encephalopathy go on to develop Korsakoff’s Psychosis. Korsakoff’s Psychosis is a memory disorder that typically emerges (although not exclusively) following an episode of untreated Wernicke's Encephalopathy.

The symptoms of this condition can result in a range of debilitating symptoms that impact an individual's ability to function in everyday life.

The predominant impact of Korsakoff’s Psychosis is on memory and behavior, while some individuals may also experience hallucinations. The memory can be impacted in a number of ways, including difficulty recalling past information, and difficulty forming new memories. This often results in individuals fabricating stories in the place of real information. This condition is often referred to as alcohol dementia or alcoholic dementia.

Typical symptoms of Korsakoff Psychosis include the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty forming new memories
  • Hallucinations
  • Frustration
  • Coordination difficulty
  • Confabulation
  • Sight problems
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Personality and behavior changes
  • Difficulty regulating emotions

Individual's who experience Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome due to alcohol addiction are likely to experience co-occurring alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as: shakes and tremors, excessive perspiration, and headaches.

Can You Recover from Wet Brain?

Prevention is always better than treatment. If you or somebody you know is consuming alcohol at high levels or engaging in binge drinking, seek help today. The good news is, with the support of a medical professional, symptoms of Wet Brain can be treated.

The earlier somebody seeks Wet Brain treatment and the kind of support they access can impact the success of their recovery and prevent permanent brain damage.

How is Wet Brain Treated?

Wet Brain is treatable with early intervention. Treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms and your medical history. You can expect the following components as part of your treatment process.


Usually, individuals will initially be prescribed with thiamine supplements. This treatment is most effective if the individual is sober during treatment. Thiamine supplementation is found to be one of the most effective treatments for the reversal or prevention of Wet Brain symptoms, especially in the first stages of recovery.

Thiamine can be administered as a tablet or as an intravenous injection to restore normal thiamine levels in the body and reduce distressing symptoms.

Vitamins and supplements

Additional vitamins may also be prescribed, which can effectively support the process of thiamine in the body. Patients with Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome have responded to the increased presence of thiamine with reduced confusion, increased coordination, improved eye function, and reduced memory problems.


In the early days of treatment, individuals are likely to be given hydration support. Adequate hydration should be encouraged throughout treatment and made an ongoing healthy habit, particularly for individuals who have alcohol liver damage.

Alcohol Detox

Abstaining from alcohol is crucial during treatment. Successful recovery is only possible through sobriety. For some people, the most effective method is a supervised medical detox. Continuing to consume alcohol can perpetuate thiamine deficiency and result in relapsing into addiction. It's possible to develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome after recovering. Anyone in recovery from Wet Brain should work with a treatment team to develop strategies for sobriety.

Good Nutrition

Malnourishment plays a significant role in thiamine deficiency. A comprehensive treatment package will incorporate nutrition education. Maintaining a healthy and balance diet is key to staying in good health. During treatment, you can expect to work with a nutritionist to ensure you are getting a rounded diet with all of your vital nutrients, especially vitamin B1.

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

At Cirque Lodge, we understand that seeking addiction treatment is not easy, but recovery should not be uncomfortable. We offer a exceptional, comprehensive rehabilitation process with extensive treatment facilities.

We employ a number of therapy modalities to suit your recovery goals. You can expect any of the following:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Equine therapy
  • Outdoor activities

Our experienced medical staff is on hand to support you through every step of the journey and ensure you comfortably and safely detox.

If you would like to discuss the facilities at our treatment center, get in touch with us today on (800) 582-0709.

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