Long-term alcohol abuse can cause considerable harm in virtually every part of a person’s life. One potential negative effect is a little-known but potentially devastating development called wet brain. In today’s post, we answer a variety of questions about this condition, including what is wet brain, how does it impact people, and can it be treated?
What Is Wet Brain?
Wet brain (which is also sometimes referred to as wet brain syndrome) is an informal name for a medical condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS). As described by the National Institutes of Health, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a neurological condition that occurs in two stages or phases:
- Wernicke encephalopathy
- Korsakoff amnesia syndrome
Wet brain is associated with cognitive deficiencies, memory impairments, and movement problems. People who have this condition can struggle to form new memories, while also having difficulty retrieving information that they had previously stored. They may also experience diminished mobility.
What Causes Wet Brain?
In addition to knowing what is wet brain, it can also be valuable to know what causes this condition. The primary cause of wet brain is a lack of thiamine. Often referred to as vitamin B1, thiamine can be acquired by eating certain foods or taking supplements. The human body does not naturally produce thiamine, nor does it store it for very long. This means that people need to ingest thiamine on a regular basis in order to maintain an appropriate level in their system.
Natural sources of thiamine include fish, beef, pork, asparagus, cauliflower, and whole grains. Thiamine is also present as an additive in many types of cereal and bread, as well as in several brands of baby formula. Among several functions, thiamine helps the body convert carbohydrates into glucose, which the body then uses as fuel. Thiamine can be vital for the healthy functioning of muscles, various organs, and the central nervous system.
Among people whose thiamine levels drop to the point that they develop this condition, two of the most common causes are chronic alcohol abuse and malnutrition. In addition to making it unlikely that a person will follow a nutritious diet plan, alcohol use disorder can also cause damage in the digestive tract. This damage can prevent the effective absorption of thiamine and other essential nutrients.
What Are the Symptoms of Wet Brain?
One of the best ways to understand what is wet brain is to review the symptoms that this condition can cause. These symptoms can change as a person progresses from the initial stage (Wernicke’s encephalopathy) to the second stage (Korsakoff amnesia syndrome).
At first, a person who has wet brain may exhibit challenges such as the following:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty with voluntary movements
- Problems walking or maintaining their balance
- Muscle weakness
The first stage of wet brain can also cause a person to struggle with low blood pressure and body temperature. They may also begin to experience sight-related impairments, which can include drooping eyelid, double vision, and paralysis of the muscles that control the eyes.
During the second stage of this condition, a person may have the following types of symptoms:
- Diminished capacity for learning and retaining new information
- Inability to recall moments from their past
- Problems focusing and concentrating
- Uncharacteristic outbursts of anger and/or agitation
- Persistent fatigue and lethargy
People who have advanced cases of wet brain may also begin to engage in what clinicians refer to as confabulation. This means that they may unintentionally create false memories or make up stories from their past as a means of replacing what they can no longer recall. People who do this are not attempting to deceive others. They may not even be aware of what they have done.
Who Is at Risk for Wet Brain?
People who have been engaging in heavy alcohol abuse for an extended period of time are among those who have the greatest risk of developing wet brain. Other risk factors for this condition include:
- Bowel obstructions
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Anorexia and other eating disorders
- Breastfeeding (especially if not taking supplements)
- Bariatric surgery
- Gastrointestinal tumors
Can Wet Brain Be Treated?
Wet brain can be treated – but the harsh reality is that by the time many people receive treatment, it is too late for them to make a full recovery. This is why it is so important to know what is wet brain and to be aware of what the symptoms of this disorder are. The earlier a person receives care, the more likely they may be to make sustained progress toward improved health.
For people whose struggles with wet brain are related to alcohol abuse, their ability to recover depends in part on their ability to remain sober. In these cases, alcohol rehab in Atlanta can be a vital part of their care for this condition.
Begin Alcohol Rehab in Atlanta, GA
Peachtree Recovery Solutions is a premier provider of life-affirming care for adults in the Atlanta, Georgia, area who have become addicted to alcohol. Features of treatment at our center include multiple outpatient options, gender-specific care for both men and women, and a robust aftercare program to promote long-term progress.
It’s no secret that untreated alcoholism can be devastating. In some cases, it can even be deadly. But when you get the care you need at Peachtree Recovery Solutions, you can start living the healthier life you deserve. To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.