Alcoholism has health consequences that extend far beyond the liver. Many people understand it can cause heart disease, liver damage, high blood pressure, stroke, and some types of cancer, but many are not familiar with another consequence called “wet brain syndrome.”
What Is Wet Brain?
Wet brain syndrome is a disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine), most commonly because of years of alcohol overuse (although other conditions can cause B1 deficiency). Wet brain is serious, but fortunately, it is treatable and reversible if caught early enough.
Wet brain syndrome has two stages:
1. Wernicke’s Encephalopathy. Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is a neurological disorder caused by a deficiency of thiamine, also known as vitamin B1. Thiamine plays a crucial role in energy metabolism in the brain, and without it, the brain can’t function properly. This deficiency is most commonly seen in people who abuse alcohol, but it can also occur in people with malnutrition, anorexia, or other underlying medical conditions. The symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy include:
- Difficulty walking
- Problems with eye movements
- Loss of muscle coordination
If left untreated, the disorder can progress to a more severe stage known as Korsakoff syndrome, which can cause long-term memory loss and other cognitive impairments.
2. Korsakoff’s Psychosis. Korsakoff’s Psychosis is a severe and chronic neurological disorder that can develop as a result of untreated Wernicke’s Encephalopathy. This condition is characterized by significant memory loss, particularly of recent events, and an inability to form new memories. Patients with Korsakoff’s Psychosis may also experience confabulation, which is the unintentional fabrication of events or situations to fill in gaps in memory. The condition can be particularly debilitating, as it affects a person’s ability to perform daily activities and maintain social relationships. Unfortunately, Korsakoff’s Psychosis is often irreversible, and treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing the condition from progressing further.
Why Does Wet Brain Occur?
Wet brain occurs because of a thiamine deficiency in the brain. Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in the metabolism of glucose, the primary energy source for the brain.
Chronic alcohol abuse is the most common cause of thiamine deficiency, as alcohol interferes with thiamine absorption and can also lead to poor dietary intake. Alcohol also causes inflammation in the digestive system, making it more difficult to absorb thiamine. Over time, thiamine deficiency can cause damage to the brain’s cells, particularly in areas responsible for memory and learning, resulting in the neurological symptoms seen in Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Psychosis.
While alcoholism is the leading cause of wet brain, other things can cause thiamine deficiency, including:
- Kidney failure
- High thyroid hormone levels or hyperthyroidism
- Heart issues treated with diuretics
- Liver disease
- Severe anorexia
Symptoms Of Wet Brain
Wet brain, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, can cause a range of neurological symptoms that can vary in severity. Here are some of the common symptoms.
Symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty with balance and coordination
- Involuntary eye movements (nystagmus)
- Weakness and fatigue
- Impaired memory and learning abilities
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Impaired reflexes
- Impaired physical coordination/loss of balance
- Blurred/double vision
- Uncontrollable eye movements or drooping eyelids
- Impaired short-term memory
- Increased heart rate
- Low body temperature
Symptoms of Korsakoff’s Psychosis:
- Severe memory loss, especially of recent events
- Confabulation (unintentional fabrication of events or situations)
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Difficulty with daily activities and self-care
- Lack of insight into their condition
- Mood changes, including apathy and depression
- short and long-term memory problems/amnesia
- Personality changes
- Possible coma and death
In some cases, individuals with wet brain may also experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as tremors, anxiety, and seizures. The symptoms of wet brain can vary depending on the severity and duration of the thiamine deficiency, as well as other underlying factors.
The long-term effects of wet brain range from difficulties with personal interactions to injuries caused by lack of coordination to coma or even death.
How Is Wet Brain Diagnosed?
Wet brain, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, can be challenging to diagnose, as the symptoms may not always be present or may be mistaken for other conditions. However, there are several methods that healthcare providers use to diagnose wet brain, including:
- Medical history: The healthcare provider will review the patient’s medical history, including any alcohol or substance abuse, nutritional deficiencies, or other medical conditions that may be contributing to their symptoms.
- Physical exam: The provider will perform a physical exam to assess the patient’s overall health, neurological function, and any signs of thiamine deficiency, such as dry and cracked lips, pale skin, and muscle weakness.
- Laboratory tests: Blood tests can be used to measure thiamine levels, as well as liver function and other markers of alcohol abuse or malnutrition.
- Brain imaging: Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be used to evaluate the brain for signs of damage or atrophy.
- Neuropsychological testing: Neuropsychological tests can be used to assess memory, attention, and other cognitive functions that may be affected by wet brain.
Can Addiction Recovery Programs Help Improve Wet Brain?
An effective addiction recovery program will be able to resolve many wet brain symptoms, or at least slow the progression if things have gone too far. The severity of symptoms, how early treatment begins, and the type of treatment all have an impact on reversing wet brain. However, for any treatment to be successful, the person must stop drinking.
How Is Wet Brain Treated?
Treatment will increase the intake of thiamine through a diet high in B1. Thiamine-rich foods include pork, beef, grains, asparagus, eggs, potatoes, kale, cauliflower, and oranges. Vitamin supplements can be added. Once the brain’s B1 levels return to normal — generally after a week or two — symptoms begin to decline and recovery begins. Treatment should be monitored by a doctor and might require hospitalization. Many patients can fully recover from the first stage of wet brain if treatment starts early enough.
Complete recovery from wet brain requires the following:
- Abstaining from alcohol — not only during treatment. Abstinence should continue after full recovery.
- Maintaining a balanced diet that provides the daily recommended levels of all essential nutrients to help the body more effectively absorb and use thiamine.
- Eating thiamine-rich foods after thiamine supplementation ends to maintain proper B1 levels.
- Working with a doctor to determine a proper nutrition and overall health plan.
Unfortunately, no treatment will improve cognition or memory in wet brain patients that have progressed too far. People who reach the second stage incur permanent brain damage and experience irreversible symptoms. Advanced wet brain can be fatal as it progresses in a manner similar to dementia.
The best way to prevent wet brain is to get help with alcohol addiction. Eliminating alcohol, eating a balanced diet rich in B vitamins, taking vitamin supplements, getting regular exercise, and taking part in brain-stimulating activities will all help keep your brain and body healthy.
Consider Bridges Of Hope
Wet brain is a serious issue that can make dealing with everyday life difficult, uncomfortable, or downright impossible. The good news is early detection can slow the progression of the disease, alleviate symptoms, or reverse it entirely, but treatment is only effective if a person stops drinking.
That’s why you should consider Bridges Of Hope. Our program is designed to achieve long-term recovery. We leave nothing to guesswork but use therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices.
Contact us today to learn more.