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Wet Brain: A Tragic Consequence of Alcoholism

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After years and years of drinking, the constant alcohol abuse takes a serious toll on your body and overall health. By far, alcohol-related brain damage is one of the most devastating results of alcoholism. This unique form of brain damage is known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also referred to as “wet brain.”

What is Wet Brain?

One of the most persistent myths about alcoholism is that alcohol kills healthy brain cells. In truth, the alcohol itself does not destroy neurological cells. Instead, studies suggest that wet brain is caused by a deficiency of thiamine, better known as Vitamin B1. Alcohol blocks the absorption of thiamine, sending brain cells into a state of chaos.

A Look at Thiamine

Left untreated for extended periods of time, a deficiency in thiamine ultimately leads to the death of brain cells. Thiamine is an essential component of mental and physical wellbeing. This vitamin plays a crucial role in the conversion of glucose within the brain. Without enough Vitamin B1 in the body, large amounts of sugar and carbohydrates can no longer be turned into usable sources of energy. Left untreated for extended periods of time, a deficiency in thiamine ultimately leads to the death of brain cells. This neurological loss can quickly cause structural damage in several vital areas of the brain.


After an extended period of Vitamin B1 deficiency, symptoms of wet brain begin to appear. Some of the most common symptoms are:
  • Staggering or an irregular gait
  • Lack of muscle control
  • Delusions, particularly “remembering” events that never occurred
  • Apathy, becoming unresponsive
  • Uncontrollable eye movements including rapid horizontal twitches, double vision, and drooping eyelids
  • An inability to form new memories, generalized loss of short-term memory

Treatment Options

There are actually two different stages of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Treatment is dependent on the progression and severity. Unfortunately, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome kills around 20 percent of those who develop the condition. During stage one, known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy, time is of the essence. In order to reverse the damage, an alcoholic must be given multiple injections of thiamine. If caught in time – and detoxed from alcohol  – a full recovery is possible. During stage two, known as Korsakoff’s psychosis, the options for treatment no longer exist. When allowed to progress to stage two, the damage is permanent and irreversible. Medical professionals can only try to manage the symptoms.

Avoiding Wet Brain

From a preventative standpoint, the gold standards are avoiding alcohol and eating a healthy diet. For an alcoholic, however, this is easier said than done. Quitting cold turkey is not only difficult; the detox process and withdrawal symptoms are potentially life threatening. On top of that, the alcohol-related nausea and gastric issues that chronic drinkers experience usually sabotage any kind of balanced diet. As with any addiction, it is vital to seek professional help. Finding a quality rehab facility and committing to lasting recovery is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of alcoholism. Learn more about choosing the best alcohol detox clinic for your needs.