Substance Use

Wet Brain & Alcohol Substance Abuse

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glass of wine with brain

Wet Brain and Alcohol Substance Abuse

Long-term heavy drinking and alcoholism can have devastating side effects. One of them is known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, or “wet brain.” In this post, we’ll go over the details of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, what causes it, and how to seek treatment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, Zinnia Healing is here to help. We offer a variety of ways to help both adults and adolescents tackle addiction and maintain a healthier lifestyle. Click here to learn more.

What Is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a degenerative brain disorder caused by a thiamine deficiency (or lack of vitamin B1), which damages the brain’s thalamus and hypothalamus.

Other names for the condition include the following:

  • Wernicke’s encephalopathy
  • Wernicke’s dementia
  • Wernicke’s disease
  • Korsakoff’s psychosis
  • Wet brain
  • Wet brain syndrome
  • Alcohol dementia

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s syndrome are technically two separate issues. But, since they generally occur together, they are often used interchangeably and referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Some researchers refer to it as two parts of the same condition. These researchers believe that Wernicke’s encephalopathy is the acute stage of the disease — these symptoms are the first to appear and cause brain damage. In contrast, Korsakoff’s syndrome is the chronic stage — these symptoms are caused by permanent brain damage that impacts the brain’s nerves and cells.

What Causes Wernicke’s Encephalopathy?

There are several potential causes of Wernicke’s encephalopathy, including the following:

  • Poor nutrition from eating disorders and other dietary deficiencies
  • Alcohol abuse, which can make it hard for the body to absorb thiamine — up to 80% of people with alcohol use disorder become thiamine deficient, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • Prolonged vomiting
  • The effects of chemotherapy

There is a direct correlation between the level of brain damage from wet brain and how much and often a person drinks. Therefore, people who start drinking early on in life and drink heavily are at a higher risk of developing wet brain than those who drink moderately or don’t start missing alcohol until later in life.

Why Is Thiamine Important for Brain Health?

Thiamine plays a key role in helping brain cells produce energy from sugar. When thiamine levels drop too low, brain cells are unable to generate the energy needed to function properly.

Although alcohol abuse is the leading factor of Korsakoff syndrome and thiamine deficiency, other conditions are also associated with the syndrome. These conditions include AIDS, cancer, and chronic infections. Korsakoff syndrome can also occur after bariatric weight loss surgery.

Symptoms of Wet Brain

The most common symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy are similar to the symptoms of being intoxicated. But the symptoms of wet brain can appear even without alcohol ingestion. The symptoms include the following:

  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Abnormal eye movements, such as drooping eyelids
  • Eye muscle weakness
  • Vision changes, including double vision
  • Hypothermia
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Changes in behavior
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased frustration and irritability
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Coma

When left untreated, wet brain will escalate to Korsakoff’s psychosis, the stage of the disease that can be fatal. Symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include the following:

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, get in touch with Zinnia Healing today at (855) 430-9439. Our compassionate and caring admissions team is available 24/7 to discuss treatment options for alcohol addiction, mental health, and other types of substance abuse.

Can You Reverse Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

The good news is that WKS is a potentially reversible condition. There are a few factors that influence how reversible WKS is based on each person. These factors include the severity of symptoms, how soon people start treatment, and the type of treatment received.

The earlier you can catch WKS and seek treatment, the better your chances of making a full recovery are. But some symptoms of wet brain are irreversible, especially when they are not treated immediately. These symptoms include confusion, muscle coordination problems, and hallucinations.

Treating Wet Brain

Although there is no one-size-fits-all cure for wet brain, there are some things that can help mitigate and, in the best cases, reverse most of the symptoms of the condition. Treatment options include thiamine therapy to restore the person’s thiamine levels to get the brain functioning normally again. Other vitamins and supplements are also administered to help the body start effectively producing and using thiamine. However, this treatment works best in the early stages of the disease. Once the condition progresses to Korsakoff’s psychosis, thiamine supplementation does not do much because it can’t help reverse memory loss.

Here are other things that people can do to mitigate the symptoms of wet brain:

  • Stop drinking: Abstaining from alcohol while receiving treatment for wet brain is critical in order to fully recover. Alcohol use should not resume once treatment is over.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Eating a healthy diet full of nutrients and vitamins will ensure the body gets enough thiamine while also helping it absorb any thiamine supplementation that’s given during treatment.
  • Eating thiamine-rich foods: Once treatment is over, it’s vital to keep eating a high-thiamine diet to avoid malnutrition. Some thiamine-rich foods are oranges, spinach, pork, and soybeans.

Zinnia Healing Can Help

There is hope if you or a family member is suffering from wet brain or any other effects of alcoholism. Zinnia Healing offers substance abuse treatment and detox services at a wide range of treatment facilities around the country.

To learn more about addiction treatment with Zinnia Healing, contact us today. Help is standing by 24/7, and recovery is possible.