Wet Brain and Alcoholism
Wet brain is another way of describing a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This is a type of dementia that people going through end stage alcoholism might have to deal with. It is caused by a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine). If wet brain is allowed to progress too far, it will not be possible to recover from it. Untreated Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome always leads to death.
The Symptoms of Wet Brain
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is actually a combination of two separate conditions; Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff psychosis. These two disorders combine to produce a variety of symptoms including:
- Changes to vision
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Difficulty swallowing
- Speech problems
- Loss of memory
- Confabulation (occurs as the individual makes up stories to compensate for their memory loss)
- Inability to form new memories
- Inability to make sense when talking
The final six symptoms on the list are due to Korsakoff psychosis. It is possible for the alcoholic to develop either Korsakoff psychosis or Wernicke’s encephalopathy independently.
It is usual for the effects of Wernicke’s encephalopathy to become noticeable first of all. These symptoms tend to come on suddenly. The first sign that something is wrong will be that the individual appears confused. This can be hard to diagnose in a person who is habitually intoxicated. This confusion differs from drunken confusion because it lasts even when the individual hasn’t been drinking. Later the symptoms of Korsakoff psychosis will also become noticeable. In the beginning, only the ability to form new memories will be damaged so the individual can still appear quite lucid. The end stage of wet brain is coma and death.
The Causes of Wet Brain Syndrome
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is not directly caused by consuming alcohol. Instead it occurs due to typical lifestyle of the alcoholic where good nutrition is neglected. The individual will have poor diet habits and over a long time this will lead to nutritional deficiencies. Lack of Thiamine in the diet interferes with glucose metabolism, which can then lead to atrophy in the brain. Wernicke’s encephalopathy occurs due to damage to the thalamus and hypothalamus. Korsakoff psychosis occurs because of damage to those parts of the brain where memories are managed.
The Treatment of Wet Brain Syndrome
If wet brain syndrome has been allowed to progress too far, there may be little that can be done to reverse the effects. Thiamine injections can improve things greatly and may restore the individual back to full recovery. Those who have developed the chronic form of wet brain will be far less likely to recover. In some cases, the best that can be done is prevention of any further deterioration.
The only possible cure for wet brain syndrome is complete abstinence from alcohol. If this does not occur the condition will eventually kill the individual. Most of those who do find their way into recovery will be able to regain all functioning that was lost due to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Other individuals will have to deal with lingering effects of the damage, but should be able to adapt and find a good life away from alcohol. Eighty percent of those who develop chronic Korsakoff amnesia will always have problems with forming new memories. Medications used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease can prove beneficial by helping to improve memory.
Many of those who develop wet brain live on the fringes of society. Homeless people are particularly at risk as the development of wet brain can go unnoticed and thus untreated. If such people can be identified early enough, it will be possible to provide treatment. Even if these individuals refuse to give up alcohol, they may still be helped by thiamine supplements.
How to Prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
The best way to avoid wet brain is to not drink alcohol or only drink in moderation. The safe levels of alcohol usage are 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Those individuals who only occasionally go above the recommended limits are unlikely to develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. It only tends to be chronically heavy drinkers that are in danger. Such people may be able to reduce their risk of developing wet brain by taking regular thiamine supplements. Of course, such people will still be at risk from all the other negative effects of heavy drinking.