What is Wet Brain?

MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY KAYLA LOIBL | LAST EDITED:  SEPTEMBER 09 ,
2020 
| 4 SOURCES

Wet Brain

Wet brain is a type of brain damage that is also known as the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine) which is typically caused by the heavy consumption of alcohol. This is because when it comes to alcoholism and the brain, the alcohol makes it more difficult for the brain to absorb thiamine.

Symptoms of Wet Brain

When an individual suffers from this condition, the most common symptoms include ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), confusion, memory loss, dementia, hallucination, and a loss in the control of eye movements. If left untreated, the symptoms may progressively get worse and lead to coma or even death.

Symptoms also include, but are not limited to:

  • Confusion or loss of mental acuity. 
  • Hallucinations (particularly visual). 
  • Ataxia (lack of muscle coordination). 
  • Muscle tremors at rest or without stimulation.
  •  Hypothermia or hyperthermia. Lack of coordination. 
  • Nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eyes). 
  • Headache. Reduced awareness and responsiveness to surroundings.

What Causes Wet Brain?

Alcoholism is one major cause of wet brain disease because it makes it harder for neurons to absorb vitamin B1 which causes damage to the brain cells over time, thus leading to an irreversible decline in mental function.

Though it is rare, it is possible for this condition to be caused by reasons other than alcoholism and the brain. For example, it can also occur when an individual experiences vomiting episodes that go on for several days. Typically, it is caused because of bulimia or serious morning sickness.

Keep in mind; it is extremely rare for either of these medial issues to cause this condition. In fact, the vast majority of the time both bulimia and serious morning sickness are brought to your health providers attention and controlled long before the risk of this condition surfaces.

As you can see, regular alcohol consumption is the number one cause of this condition. Thus, even if you don't drink to excess it's important that people understand that they might still end up with the symptoms listed above if they aren't careful about their alcoholic intake.

Who Is At Risk?

People who regularly engage in heavy drinking are at risk for developing wet brain. If you are unsure as to whether or not you might be at risk for developing wet brain, then it is recommended that you speak with your doctor about it just in case they want to run some tests on your brain function.

These tests can tell them exactly where things stand so that they can start treatment immediately if necessary.

Prevention

Naturally, the number one way to prevent this condition is by not drinking. Alcoholics suffer from thiamine deficiency due to their poor eating habits as well as the destruction the alcohol causes to their intestinal system. This is because the damage makes it more difficult for your intestinal system to absorb nutrients. The damage that alcohol consumption causes to the liver also plays a role in the deficiency because it reduces the amount of thiamine that the body is able to process.

If you are someone who is going to consume alcohol regularly it is important that you take care of yourself in order to prevent wet brain. This means that you should always eat well-balanced meals and you should be taking daily multivitamins. This will ensure that your brain is getting the proper about of thiamine it needs to avoid the condition.

The unfortunate truth is that heavy drinkers usually feel sick to their stomach a great portion of the day and as a result, they do not want to eat anything. This is why it is important to make sure that you consume vitamin supplements (especially B1) if you do not eat very much because of alcoholism.

Treatment

Individuals who are suffering from early stages of wet brain have been known to react well to big doses of thiamine. When large doses of thiamine are issued early enough it is possible for the person to see noticeable improvements.

Unfortunately, people who suffer from the long term effects of alcoholism and the brain are not usually responsive to any form of treatment.

Approximately 20 percent of all individuals who suffer from this condition pass away. Only 20 percent of individuals who receive proper treatment will fully recover mentally. Approximately 40 percent will recover from ataxia and 60 percent will recover from irregular eye movement.

Alcoholism is the number one cause for this condition. Individuals who heavily consume alcohol for a number of years are at high risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The rate at which the condition occurs within the general population is not currently known.

However, it is known that the elderly and the homeless have higher rates of this condition than any other group. If you or anyone you know shows signs or symptoms of wet brain, it is imperative that they seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Conclusion:

Wet brain is not very common and it is pretty much always the result of alcoholism. If someone in your family has a history of heavy drinking then you might want to take additional precautions when it comes to their diet, such as ensuring they are getting large doses of thiamine each day.

If you know anyone who is struggling with this condition please know that help is available. There are treatment providers who can guide them through the ideal treatments and programs for alcoholism.


More than wet brain on our alcoholism stages page

Alcoholism home page

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More