When someone is struggling with alcohol abuse, there can be several damaging physical side effects, such as increased risks of cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and pancreatitis. Another physical side effect of alcohol addiction that is not as well-known is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), or wet brain. While WKS only affects a small number of individuals struggling with alcohol abuse, it is worthwhile to understand what is wet brain in alcoholics.
What is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), sometimes referred to as wet brain, is a disorder that is the result of a deficiency in thiamin (vitamin B1), and often a consequence of long-term alcoholism. Thiamin is an essential vitamin that the body and brain need in order to function properly. When a deficiency occurs, the hypothalamus and thalamus can be damaged. In extreme cases permanent brain damage and memory loss are possible.
Why Do Alcoholics Develop Wet Brain?
Alcoholics are more likely to develop wet brain because the alcohol prevents the absorption of vitamin B1, creating a deficiency. In addition, even individuals who may not consider themselves alcoholics, but do binge drink frequently can also trigger vitamin B1 deficiency.
People addicted to alcohol often have poor diets because they are focused on drinking, not eating nutritiously. While many alcoholics still eat, they may eat a lot of junk-type foods, fried foods, and fast food. Furthermore, when alcoholism is accompanied by poor nutrition and excessive vomiting, it can further increase the risks of developing wet brain.
What is Wet Brain in Alcoholics: Signs and Symptoms
WKS appears in two stages. The first stage, called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, is often the preliminary diagnosis. Symptoms include:
- Muscle spasms and twitching
- Muscle atrophy and poor coordination
- Short-term memory impairment
- Compromised reflexes
- Uncontrollable eye movements (eyes may appear to be fidgeting)
Because Wernicke’s encephalopathy shares a great deal of similarities with being extremely drunk, addiction specialists assessing an individual for Wernicke’s encephalopathy will look for additional tell-tale symptoms:
- Extreme and rapid weight loss
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
The second stage of wet brain in alcoholics is Korsakoff’s psychosis. It is estimated that up to 90% of alcoholics diagnosed with Wernicke’s encephalopathy will progress to this stage. Korakoff’s psychosis damages the brain, causing symptoms that include:
- Personality changes; anger and mood swings
- Short-term memory issues
- False memories
- Central nervous system issues
A diagnosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome occurs when someone has progressed from Wernicke’s to Korsakoff and presents with symptoms of both disorders.
Can an Alcoholic Recover from WKS?
It is possible to achieve some level of recovery if the disorder is discovered while still in stage one or in the early development of stage two. However, if symptoms have fully progressed to stage two, complete recovery is not possible. Although, management of symptoms and partial improvement is possible, as long as the person remains sober the rest of their life.
How is WKS Treated?
Wet brain is treated by removing alcohol from the body and administering vitamin B1 supplements through injections. Additionally, in order to reverse some of the symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, full abstinence is necessary. As with any disease, the sooner it is diagnosed and treatment can begin, the better. Generally speaking, treatment plans will include:
- Alcohol detox and rehab treatment – Removing all alcohol from the body through supervised detox is crucial. Once detoxed, learning how to remain sober is vital to prevent WKS from worsening.
- Vitamin B1 injections – Addressing vitamin B1 deficiencies is essential to reversing and slowing the effects of WKS.
- A nutritious and well-balanced diet – Learning how to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals ensures the body gets the nutrients it needs, including plenty of vitamin B1.
However, alcohol addiction is a disease on its own. It can be very difficult for an alcoholic to admit they want help even after being diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The physical and mental dependence on alcohol can be too strong to stop. Yet, if family and friends are worried, staging an intervention with an interventionist could be necessary to get the alcoholic to think about their alcohol abuse, and how not getting help could lead to coma or death.
Alcohol Detox and Rehab Treatment in Atlanta
Whether you have been diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or are worried you could develop this condition because you are abusing alcohol, you do not have to take the first steps to sobriety alone. At Buckhead Behavioral Health in Atlanta, we offer custom-tailored treatment programs to address your concerns and immediate health needs, including treating wet brain.
Our luxury addiction rehab center provides a safe, secure, and supportive environment for you to lay a solid foundation to live sober now and maintain that sobriety in the future. To learn more about our web brain, alcohol detox, and rehab treatment programs, please do not hesitate to contact us or call us today!