Substance Use

What is Wet Brain?

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Alcohol Use Disorder Link to Wet Brain Nutritional Deficiencies

Long-term, heavy drinking and alcoholism prevents essential nutrients from entering the body. If someone does not get enough Vitamin B1 they can develop Wet Brain also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

In this post, we’ll go over the details of Wet Brain, what causes it, and how to seek treatment.

Alcohol use disorder is a serious condition that affects around 6.2% of the U.S. adult population. When left untreated, alcoholism can cause numerous long-term, severe health issues, including cognitive deficits and cancer.

The following article will explore the dietary consequences of long-term, problematic alcohol use and whether these deficits can be reversed.

If you think you have an alcohol use disorder, it’s never too late to seek help. Call Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 to discuss treatment options.

What Is Wet Brain?

Wet brain is a form of brain damage from severe, long-term alcohol abuse.

In scientific terms, wet brain is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and the condition is directly related to a deficiency of B1 vitamins (Thiamine).

Who is At Risk of Wet Brain?

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.

There is a direct correlation between the level of brain damage from wet brain and how much and often a person drinks.

Genetics also plays a role in the development of wet brain.

Poor diet, anorexia, weight-loss surgery, HIV, and cancer can worsen wet brain symptoms and outcomes.

What Causes Wet Brain?

Alcohol abuse causes wet brain, because it 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.

Although alcohol abuse is the leading factor of Korsakoff syndrome, Wernicke’s encephalopathy and thiamine deficiency, other conditions are also associated with the syndrome.

  • AIDS, cancer, and chronic infections
  • Poor nutrition from eating disorders and other dietary deficiencies
  • Prolonged vomiting
  • The effects of chemotherapy
  • After bariatric weight loss surgery

Why Is Thiamine Important for Brain Health?

Thiamine is essential for many bodily systems and tissues to function correctly.

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.

Numerous enzymes in the brain need thiamine to perform, including many vital neurotransmitters.

When the brain cannot get the correct amount of thiamine over a long period, it experiences damage.

Thiamine is vital to many important bodily processes and systems, but it does not occur naturally within the body like other essential nutrients such as iron.

For someone to obtain the recommended daily amount of thiamine, they need to consume it either in food or drink.

A reduction in essential B1 vitamins is a natural consequence of a poor diet. A poor diet is a common occurrence in those who abuse alcohol long-term.

Although heavy, compulsive drinking prevents people from eating healthy food, alcohol also prevents the body from absorbing thiamine and leeches it from the body.

The liver is where thiamine is stored. The liver naturally releases thiamine into the body in an active state. Alcohol interferes with this process.

The thiamine stored in the liver is rendered inactive and unusable once a person begins to drink heavily and often.

Vitamin B1 deficiencies are rare occurrences in the U.S., except in people who regularly abuse alcohol or have a severe autoimmune disorder such as HIV or AIDS.

How Does Wet Brain Progress?

There are two distinct phases in the progression of wet brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

Each stage exhibits its own separate set of symptoms.

Stage 1 of Wet Brain – Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a condition where neurological symptoms become present in the patient due to biochemical lesions of the nervous system. Usually, the thalamus and the hypothalamus are most affected. These parts of the brain are crucial for memory recall.

Stage 2 of Wet Brain – Korsakoff’s Psychosis

With this part of the condition, symptoms tend to appear after Wernicke’s encephalopathy occurs and then disappear. Korsakoff’s psychosis happens because of permanent damage to parts of the brain that are responsible for memory recall.

What Are the Symptoms of Wet Brain?

The symptoms will vary on whether a person is in the stages of Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff’s psychosis.

During the encephalopathy stage, the following symptoms are present:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of brain activity that can lead to a coma or death
  • Ataxia
  • Problems with memory

Sometimes, people will experience abnormal eye movements and issues with vision, such as drooping eyelids or double vision.

Once wet brain reaches the second stage, Korsakoff’s psychosis, patients experience a marked decrease in the ability to form new memories.

They may also suffer significant memory loss. Also, visual and auditory hallucinations are common.

People with Korsakoff’s psychosis may even fabricate stories to fill in gaps in their memory.

Up to 90% of people with Wernicke’s encephalopathy will develop Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Wet Brain Stage 1 Symptoms Summary

Someone in the first stage of wet brain may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Hallucinations (visual and auditory)
  • Rapid eye movements that appear to be tremor-like
  • Changes to the sense of smell
  • Feeling or acting drowsy and paralyzed eye movements
  • Acting confused and agitated
  • Acting inattentive to the world around them
  • Shaking (also known as delirium tremens)
  • Unsteadiness, often appearing clumsy and finding coordination difficult

Wet Brain Stage 2 Symptoms Summary

Someone with alcohol addiction and displaying stage 2 wet brain symptoms may appear to others to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They may show the following symptoms:

  • Hallucinations (visual and auditory)
  • Distorted memories, or false memories
  • Seeming disassociated from the present time or place
  • Dementia
  • Memory loss, which may be mild or severe
  • Fabricating information to offset poor memories
  • Falling into a coma in advanced stages
  • An inability to retain information and learn new tasks

Is Wet Brain Reversible?

Yes, in some instances, it may be possible to reverse the symptoms of wet brain.

How to Treat Wet Brain

Heavy drinkers at risk of wet brain can reverse some of the symptoms and halt the process of brain damage with thiamine supplements.

People exhibiting signs of Wernicke’s encephalopathy with a history of heavy alcohol use can be given injectable thiamine to reverse some of the damage and ease symptoms.

Abstaining from alcohol is another effective way to prevent symptoms from turning into Korsakoff’s psychosis.

For those with Korsakoff syndrome, 20% can recover from wet brain with supplemental treatment.

However, half of all Korsakoff syndrome patients will not be able to improve even with treatment.

With treatment, a full 25% will experience no relief in symptoms. Those who recover will be able to live a normal life if they abstain from alcohol.

Abstaining from alcohol is the only way to reverse the course of wet brain or stop it from getting worse in the severest of cases.

Get in touch with Zinnia Healing today if you or a loved one are suffering from the effects of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Call us at (855) 430-9439.

Is Wet Brain a Dangerous Condition?

Yes, left untreated, wet brain will continue to worsen and can be life-threatening.

Vision difficulties and balance issues can lead to dangerous falls and head injuries.

Permanent memory loss and cognitive deficits can lead to permanent disability and shortened lifespan.

Caught early, the condition can be slowed or stopped altogether. But abstaining from alcohol is the key to recovering from wet brain.

If a person exhibits signs of wet brain, they will need to be treated for nutritional deficiencies in a hospital.

IV injections of B vitamins and magnesium can help reverse the symptoms of wet brain.

Patients may also need to stay in the hospital for a period of time, so medical professionals can adequately monitor their condition and prevent adverse health problems from alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Getting Help with Wet Brain

Because of the nature of the condition, it can be difficult for someone with wet brain to recognize that they have it. Although seeking professional help is essential in recovering from the condition, it is often up to loved ones to recognize the symptoms and reach out for help. Someone with wet brain may struggle with remembering basic information, such as what has been said to them. They may also find it difficult to navigate the world around them, even potentially forgetting their way home.

If you have experienced any of the symptoms listed above, then it’s vital that you reach out for help as soon as possible. If you can recognize wet brain in yourself, then you must seek help before the condition progresses. Alternatively, if you have recognized any of the symptoms above in a loved one, you should reach out for help on their behalf as soon as you can.

Wet brain is a distressing disease for those who suffer from it and the loved ones around them. To stand the best chance of recovering from the disease, someone with wet brain must receive treatment. Heavy drinkers with wet brain nutritional deficiencies must obtain medical detox and inpatient rehabilitation to stand a chance of recovering. Abstaining from alcohol can give sufferers the best chance of fighting the disease, but this isn’t enough on its own. Addiction professionals such as those at Zinnia Healing understand the complexities of wet brain and alcoholism.

If you or a loved one are suffering from an alcohol use disorder or are experiencing symptoms of wet brain, contact Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 for more information on available treatment options.

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