Wet Brain: Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

by pgh

What Is Wet Brain? Wet brain (also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome) is a form of brain damage. It’s often a tragic consequence of years of alcohol abuse.

What Causes Wet Brain?

Contrary to popular belief, brain damage from alcohol abuse isn’t due to alcohol killing brain cells. Studies suggest that wet brain is actually caused by thiamine deficiency. Because alcohol affects the body’s ability to absorb thiamine (also known as Vitamin B1), chronic alcohol abuse often results in wet brain. However, thiamine deficiency and wet brain isn’t always caused by alcohol abuse – severe malnourishment or constant vomiting (for example, as a result of bulimia) can also cause wet brain.

Thiamine is essential for allowing glucose to be converted in the brain. For this reason, those with thiamine deficiencies should not take large amounts of sugar or carbohydrates.

Overtime, a deficiency in thiamine leads to brain cell death and can cause structural damage to certain areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, the brain stem, and the pons.


The best way to avoid wet brain is to avoid heavy drinking and eat a healthy, balanced diet. But for alcoholics, this is easier said than done. Chronic alcohol abusers may find it hard to get all the nutrition they need due to nausea. Since alcohol blocks the absorption of thiamine, alcoholics need to be especially careful to take vitamine supplements.


Symptoms of wet brain include:

  • Staggering or an irregular gait (wide stance and short steps)
  • Lack of muscular coordination
  • Confabulation – remembering things that never actually happened
  • Confusion – this often manifests as an apparent apathy to surroudings and unresponsiveness to verbal communication
  • Difficulty forming new memories
  • Dementia
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of control over eye movements – strange eye movements, double vision, drooping eyelids


Overall, wet brain has a mortality rate of around 20%. According to the current medical literature, there are 2 stages of wet brain. In the first stage – known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy – the individual can still be treated if they’re given prompt thiamine injections.

However, if Wernicke’s encephalopathy goes untreated, the disease can progress to the 2nd stage known as Korsakoff’s psychosis. Once wet brain reaches the 2nd stage, the damage is permanent and generally irreversible – though the condition can be ameliorated through treatment and some symptoms can be managed.

The goal of treatment for wet brain is to manage symptoms as much as possible, and prevent the patient’s condition form worsening. If wet brain is treated early enough, patient’s can be expected to make a full recovery.

Please note: None of the above is medical advice, and I am not a medical doctor. If you experience any of the symptoms above, please consult a qualified medical professional as soon as possible.

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