Alcohol Addiction: What Is Wet Brain?

wet brain

There are many complications that arise from a long-term heavy drinking habit. Your body can only adjust to such a heavy intake for a little while before resulting in disorders. One of these is wet brain, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). This is a brain disorder that is related to the vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency that results from long-term heavy drinking.

When you have been a heavy drinker for a while, this can result in poor nutrition either because you aren’t eating a nutritious enough diet (and instead taking your calories in the form of alcohol) or it could be that your intestine isn’t able to absorb nutritions as efficiently as it was able to before.

Vitamin B1 can only get absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract from where it gets transported to the tissues of the body. And this absorption is greatly reduced in folks with chronic alcohol abuse.

Keep reading to find out more about wet brain, its symptoms, and any treatments that might be available.

Wet Brain Symptoms

The casual way of referring to WKS as wet brain is obvious since it is caused to years and years of abusing alcohol.

The first part of this syndrome consists of encephalopathy (brain function alteration). This can result in confusion, loss of muscular coordination, abnormal eye movements, difficulty tracking objects properly, and vision changes. These coordination issues will cause people with WKS to stagger when walking or even lose the ability to walk altogether.

But this is only part of it. The second aspect often follows these brain function and structure changes. At this point, the person affected will have a hard time with learning and memory, and the ability to function normally will be greatly altered.

If you have someone in your life who has been abusing alcohol for a long time, you might have noticed some of these symptoms in them. It’s not that they are forgetful or have a bad memory because of inebriation, but that their brain structure has been changed due to alcohol abuse.

Remember that an individual with WKS will demonstrate these symptoms when they are sober because medical complications or withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use can mimic WKS.

Family members can keep a lookout for these symptoms of WKS:

  • Frustration and irritability
  • Difficulty and resistance
  • Lies or making up stories

If WKS isn’t caught in time and is left untreated, it can result in reduced consciousness, coma, and even death in some cases.

The good news is that WKS is reversible! But it must be treated as quickly as possible to ensure proper recovery.

Getting a Diagnosis

The three hallmark signs mentioned (mental confusion, loss of muscular coordination, and vision disturbances) don’t need to be present in tandem for WKS to get diagnosed.

In fact, a lot of people with WKS didn’t get diagnosed in time because they didn’t manifest all three signs, but only one or two of them. So don’t let this get in the way of getting a diagnosis for your loved one.

It’s also important to catch WKS before it gets too severe and get the right treatment for them. If you have a loved one who’s suffering from alcohol abuse and you suspect they have WKS, then call (866)578-7471 to get help.

Thiamine Deficiency

The main reason for WKS is thiamine deficiency. 80% of people with alcohol use disorders will become deficient in thiamine.

Keep in mind that wet brain can develop in the general population as well without any alcohol abuse, but only 1-2% of the general population develops WKS, as opposed to 12-14% of the chronic drinker population.

When you have been drinking heavily for a long time, malnutrition is a huge problem. You might not eat a balanced diet, skip meals often, or eat fast food without sufficient nutrients in them.

Extreme alcohol usage over the years can result in a high level of inflammation in the body and particularly in the intestines. Your intestinal tract is then not able to absorb nutrients easily from the food you do consume.

Thiamine needs to pass through the gastrointestinal tract to be absorbed effectively by the body and pass into the cells that need this essential nutrient. In general, chronic drinkers consume lower levels of thiamine.

This deficiency of thiamine can be quite dangerous as it can cause damage to the brain, nerves, and heart.

Not only is your body consuming and absorbing less thiamine when chronically abusing alcohol, but it is also harder for your cells to process and utilize thiamine.

Korsakoff’s Psychosis

Among the folks who develop WKS, around 80-90% will go on to develop Kosakoff’s Psychosis. This is a form of neuropsychiatric dementia.

If the chronic drinker doesn’t have any loved one around them who can observe them and catch the signs of WKS or if they aren’t open to getting treatment, the symptoms of WKS will deteriorate further and Korsakoff’s psychosis will develop.

This condition is also known as alcoholic dementia or alcohol amnestic disorder.

Symptoms include:

  • Amnesia
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in behavior
  • Memory issues (both retrograde amnesia and anterograde amnesia)
  • Confabulation – formulation of stories to make up for memory gaps

Retrograde amnesia is when you have a hard time remembering past information, and anterograde amnesia is when you have a hard time forming new memories. These memory issues are caused in Korsakoff’s because the areas of the brain associated with memory are damaged.

It’s crucial that family members keep an eye on the chronic drinkers in their life because the person with this disorder will have no idea that anything is amiss. The alcoholics won’t notice their symptoms even though it will be obvious to anyone observing them from the outside and knowing them.

Thiamine Therapy

Even though WKS is a potentially reversible condition, too many chronic drinkers don’t get into treatment in time and therefore, a full recovery might not be possible in such cases.

Thiamine therapy is the most important treatment here, as the thiamine deficiency causing Wet brain symptoms needs to get alleviated first and foremost.

You will see varying levels of improvement in people with WKS after taking thiamine for 5-12 days.

Getting Treatment

Of course, WKS or Kosakoff’s aren’t the only complications of long-term alcohol abuse and that’s why it’s crucial to get your loved one who’s struggling with alcohol addiction into treatment or a rehab program as soon as possible. They might not be interested in getting treatment or rehab or might believe that they don’t even need it.

And that’s why it’s important to keep an eye on them and inform them of all the ways their normal day-to-day functioning is getting negatively affected by their alcohol abuse habit.

If you are unsure if your loved one has WKS or not, then the best thing you can do for them is to contact a treatment or rehab center. And ask an experienced medical professional to diagnose them rather than you trying to fumble your way through this.

It surely will be frustrating for you as you try to deal with your loved ones struggling with memory or coordination problems. It can’t be easy on you or anyone else in this situation. That’s why it’s better to share the burden here by finding experienced professionals who deal with these symptoms and syndromes daily in their clients.

Your loved ones are probably showing lots of different behavioral changes due to their alcohol abuse like becoming apathetic, irritable, and less or more emotionality than normal. This could be related to wet brain or some other syndrome resulting from alcohol abuse.

But you can’t be sure on your own. That’s why a diagnosis from an experienced professional is so necessary.

Alcohol Addiction Isn’t Easy to Deal With

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of a person with alcohol addiction or you really feel like they are suffering from wet brain and need treatment, then it’s important to get them into treatment as soon as possible.

An experienced professional can help them in ways you can’t on your own.

Contact us at (866)578-7471 to get more information on our programs, or get your loved one into treatment with us and get them the Thiamine therapy that they need to heal wet brain.

We are here to help in any way we can. Don’t hesitate and call us now.

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