What Is Wet Brain
You told him you weren’t going to do it any longer. Your dad was a long-time alcoholic, and no matter how much you and your mom begged him, he wouldn’t stop drinking. He chose alcohol every day and night, even after your mom passed when you were 16. At 19, you had enough. You moved out and told him he could kill himself on his own.
Ten years later, out of the blue, you get a phone call. There is a man on the other end of the line, mumbling and slurring. He says he needs help and you need to come home. You hear clanging in the background and immediately know where you have to go. When you get to your old house, everything smells foul and is filthy inside and out. You open the door and bottles and cans are piled to the ceiling. You see your dad, a frail skeleton of the man he used to be, on the floor. As you go to him, he winces. He looks you in the eyes and you can see the confusion haunting his face. Does he know where he is or who you are? You take him to the nearest hospital, knowing the doctors will tell you his alcohol use has caused lasting damage.
In Florida, 6.7 per one million people died of alcohol poisoning in 2019. Clean Recovery Centers understands that alcohol is readily available, and it can seem impossible to stop drinking right now. Our unique, three-phase approach to alcohol use disorder treatment addresses every area of the addiction: physical, mental, spiritual, and social. Our blog is an educational tool to show loved ones the different challenges and conditions surrounding alcohol addiction. Today’s blog discusses what wet brain syndrome is, and what to do if you suspect it.
What is Wet Brain Syndrome?
Wet brain syndrome is a condition medically known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a brain condition that stems from a severe and prolonged lack of vitamin B1 – also known as thiamine. The vitamin deficiency leads to memory problems and eventual brain damage if left untreated. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is nicknamed wet brain syndrome because it is most seen in those living with alcohol use disorder. Malnourishment from poor nutrition is seen in the later stages of alcoholism and contributes to the development of wet brain.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Alcohol affects different regions of the brain including the frontal cortex, cerebellum, and hippocampus. The frontal cortex controls judgment and inhibition, and alcohol works by suppressing these functions. The cerebellum controls gait and balance, which is why those who drink heavily are unsteady on their feet. The hippocampus is one of the most important parts of the brain when it comes to memory. Alcohol makes it difficult for this area to create new memories and store them for recollection. Binge drinking often results in a blackout, where memories from the night before are fuzzy or do not exist. It will be as if the night did not happen, and the memories may never be recalled.
Experiencing alcohol poisoning can not only prevent memories from being stored, but it can also cause damage to the brain. Too much alcohol in the system can cause breathing to slow to a stop. If left untreated, oxygen cannot get to the vital organs, leading to damage that may be permanent. If alcohol poisoning is ever suspected, seek medical attention immediately.
Signs and Symptoms of Wet Brain
Wet brain syndrome develops gradually, but certain signs may be noticeable. Alcohol wreaks havoc on the body, and can cause changes in behaviors, personality, and motor functions. Symptoms of wet brain syndrome include:
- Worsening or changes in vision
- Low blood pressure
- Lack of muscle coordination
These symptoms are progressive, and the longer the person keeps drinking, the worse they will become. The brain can repair itself to an extent, but if permanent damage occurs, there is no way to fix it. The person may try to taper off of alcohol, but it is still best to stop drinking completely under medical supervision to stop any further damage.
The Stages of Wet Brain
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is named after German neurologist Carl Wernicke and Russian psychiatrist Sergei Korsakoff. The two actually presented their findings of wet brain separately, but it was discovered that their research overlapped and showed the same vitamin B1 deficiencies. It was found that an acute and chronic phase of the condition exists, now called Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome.
What is Wernicke Encephalopathy?
Wernicke encephalopathy is the acute stage of wet brain. The thiamine deficiency causes noticeable symptoms at this stage, affecting areas of the brain that control temperature regulation, vision, and movement. With proper vitamin B1 replacement therapy, a healthy diet, and stopping alcohol use, the brain can recover in this phase of the condition. However, it may take years before the brain is back to fully functioning.
A key symptom of Wernicke encephalopathy is confabulation. This refers to the person making up information to cover memory loss. It is not the same as misremembering, the person does not have a memory to recall. The brain tries to bridge the gap by creating information that seems to fit with what is being said.
What is Korsakoff Syndrome?
Korsakoff syndrome is the chronic stage of wet brain, and symptoms at this point have become severe. Nerve cells within the brain have begun to die off, and they will not be able to be repaired. Cells in the spinal cord may also be affected, leading to further movement and balance problems. B1 replacement therapy will still be utilized, but at this stage of the condition, it may not provide any help. Seizures may result from alcohol withdrawal during the treatment process. The person can end up in an irreversible coma.
Can Wet Brain Be Reversed?
If detected early and treatment is started and followed, the brain can heal from wet brain syndrome. However, we only have one brain, and there is no option to replace it. If the damage has progressed into Korsakoff syndrome, there is no way to reverse it. There is no way to cure Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, either.
The best way to detect wet brain syndrome is to see a doctor. Be honest about alcohol use and any other substances used. If memory and movement are becoming difficult, ask a trusted family member to take you. The doctor will perform tests such as a blood test or CT scan to confirm if the condition is present.
The Potential Risk of Developing Wet Brain
It does not matter if you are a high-functioning alcoholic or a habitual binge drinker, poor nutrition paired with prolonged drinking will lead to the development of wet brain syndrome. Other conditions can result in the development of wet brain such as those with eating disorders, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS. This is due to the body not being able to absorb nutrients properly, leading to a thiamine deficiency.
Seeking Treatment for Wet Brain in Florida
The brain controls every aspect of our body, and seeing it begin to fail is not something to leave alone. Seeking help for wet brain can help open the door to treatment for alcohol use disorder. Rediscovering yourself and learning new, healthy coping skills can help heal your mind and get you back to feeling like yourself again. Don’t wait until it’s too late, your brain is too precious to risk.
If you or someone you love is experiencing signs of memory trouble related to alcohol, now is the time to seek help. Clean Recovery Centers has full spectrum alcohol use disorder treatment programs throughout our Suncoast locations. We offer wellness programming to help teach our clients about nutrition and healthy meal choices to promote proper vitamin and mineral intake. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our program.
What does a wet brain feel like?
Wet brain does not have a certain feeling, it is a combination of symptoms including balance problems, vision changes, low body temperature, low blood pressure, and memory loss. The mind may feel cloudy or hazy as moments in time become lost.
What is the life expectancy of a person with a wet brain?
The life expectancy of a person with wet brain syndrome is not affected by the condition. However, the quality of life can be severely affected the longer it is left untreated, as disability and coma may result.
What are 5 signs of Korsakoff’s syndrome?
Five signs of Korsakoff syndrome include amnesia, behavioral changes, unsteady gait, delusions, and confabulation.