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  • Wet brain syndrome is a vitamin b1 or thiamine deficiency in the brain caused by chronic alcohol abuse. Depending on the patient’s symptoms, wet brain may also be called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, WKS, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, or Korsakoff’s amnesic syndrome.

    Wet brain can cause memory loss, chronic disorientation, and other serious side effects. It can also be seen with other effects of alcohol addiction, such as liver damage.

    Early stages of wet brain syndrome are reversible, and patients can go on to live healthy lives if the condition is caught in time. If not, wet brain can lead to permanent brain damage, amnesia, coma, and even death.

    How Drinking Alcohol Can Cause Wet Brain Syndrome

    Wet brain syndrome likely starts due to a lack of vitamin B1, or thiamine. People with a drinking problem often do not get enough vitamins and minerals in their diet, including thiamine.

    Alcohol can suppress appetite and get in the way of how the body breaks down food. Over a long period of time, the effects of alcohol on how you eat can become serious.

    Along with thiamine, people who struggle with alcohol abuse often have low levels of zinc, magnesium, selenium, and other important vitamins and minerals in their body. Malnutrition can increase your risk of many health problems, including wet brain syndrome.

    Risk Factors For Wet Brain

    Aside from chronic alcohol consumption, other factors can put you at a higher risk of getting wet brain syndrome.

    Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is also seen in patients with a poor diet, including patients with eating disorders.

    Symptoms Of Wet Brain Syndrome

    Low thiamine levels in the brain mostly affect the thalamus and hypothalamus. These parts of the brain are involved in motor control and parts of the nervous system, respectively. Damage to these parts of the brain can cause significant impairment over time.

    In later stages of wet brain, lesions (unusual growths) may appear on some parts of the brain. Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome center around memory and muscle coordination problems, such as:

    • abnormal eye movements
    • double vision
    • disorientation
    • ataxia (decreasing of the body’s ability to control itself)
    • confusion
    • impairment
    • low blood pressure
    • memory loss
    • confabulation (making up false memories)
    • coma

    Symptoms will likely get worse the further wet brain has progressed.

    Wernicke’s Encephalopathy Vs. Korsakoff Syndrome

    Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a brain disorder, can often lead to Korsakoff syndrome. There is still debate over them being separate conditions or two parts of the same condition.

    Korsakoff’s syndrome affects more of the nervous system than just the brain. 

    Symptoms of Korsakoff’s syndrome can extend to the spine. The extent of brain damage may keep getting worse, and patients may struggle to form new memories and may also make up old ones (confabulation).

    Some scientists have suggested Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis is two parts of the same disorder, Wernicke-Korsakoff’s or wet brain syndrome. Wernicke’s stage is the first stage of brain damage, while Korsakoff’s syndrome is the second, long-lasting stage.

    Life Expectancy For Patients With Wet Brain

    A 2017 study on patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome stated that about 50% of patients studied died within 8 years of the study. Other patients may recover and live normally, but memory loss and other symptoms may remain.

    Due to the brain damage and memory loss wet brain causes, it can be difficult to determine each patient’s outlook or life expectancy. The studies that are available have small sample sizes, and further research is likely needed.

    Treatment Options

    Fixing the thiamine deficiency is usually the highest priority for wet brain patients. Treatment options involve putting patients on a healthy diet and teaching them alcohol abstinence. Other symptoms of alcohol abuse, such as withdrawal, may be treated as they appear.

    Addressing Alcohol-Related Health Problems

    Wet brain is a rare but serious health problem caused by alcohol abuse. It may be only one of many problems caused by a long-term alcohol use disorder, where patients cannot stop drinking despite continued problems.

    Alcohol dependence and alcohol withdrawal symptoms are also common in people who drink heavily for a long time. These problems, along with wet brain syndrome, can be difficult or even impossible to treat on their own.

    A professional treatment center surrounds you with professionals whose focus is on helping you recover. To find the best treatment available, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 30, 2022
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