Wet brain is known by other names such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, beri-beri, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and Korsakoff’s psychosis. But that’s not exactly accurate since Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis actually refer to different stages of wet brain. The condition is mostly associated with alcohol abuse. The problem is that the onset of wet brain won’t be gradual, which could have given some warning signs and allow the patient to go see the doctor immediately.

The condition is precipitated by a large volume of glucose due to the deficiency in thiamine. Malnutrition also seems to have contributed directly to the sudden influx of glucose into the system which can trigger wet brain syndrome.


In theory, this condition is reversible, although the patient will likely never be the same again. In practice, however, people with an alcohol use disorder with wet brain syndrome often go to the doctor too late. At that point, nothing could be done anymore.

How is Wet Brain Linked to Alcohol Abuse?

Research has shown how wet brain progresses due to the lack of thiamine in the brain. Thiamine is also known as Vitamin B1, which can be found in meat, nuts and beans, and grains. The vitamin is very good to prevent against beri-beri, digestive problems, ulcer, aging, heart disease, vision problems, canker sores, and kidney problems. The problem is that our bodies don’t naturally produce thiamine. You have to get it from an external source. In this regard, if you don’t have thiamine in your diet, you will also get wet brain.

Too much alcohol consumption will interfere with your body’s ability to absorb thiamine into the system. To make matters worse, people with an alcohol addiction do not really care about their diets in the first place as they substitute beer or liquor for food.

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  1. There are an estimated 15.1 million adults 18 years old and above with an alcohol use disorder. Of that total, 9.8 million are men

  2. More than 620,000 teens between 12 and 17 years old have an alcohol related problem

  3. Almost 9 in 10 of young people claim that they drank alcohol at some point in their lives. Of the total, 26.9 percent said that they engaged in binge drinking

  4. About 88,000 people die from alcohol overdose each year

  5. Alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of preventable death in the US, next only to tobacco use and lifestyle

Wet Brain and Brain Cells

The common misconception is that wet brain symptoms occurs when our brain cells die. The research by Jensen and Pakkenberg concluded that alcohol abuse won’t cause much damage to the gray matter of your brain. However, it was found to have some negative effects on the white matter of your brain. The white matter can be found in the deepest recesses of the brain.

So why does it matter that your white matter degenerates? In essence, the white matter acts as the transportation system that allows the different parts of the brain to communicate with each other, and the brain to link to the spinal cord.

You only have to look at the symptoms of white matter disease to get an idea:

  • Slow motor movement
  • Problems with the balance
  • Falling often
  • Inability to multi-task
  • Mood changes
  • Depression

Sounds familiar? They look eerily similar to how someone intoxication alcohol will act.

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When Alcohol Consumption Becomes Abuse

  1. The dietary guideline defines moderate drinking as one bottle per day for women and two bottles per day for men.

  2. Binge drinking is defined as five bottles for men and four bottles for women all drank in under two hours

  3. Heavy alcohol use is when you drink for five or more days in a month

  4. Women are allowed no more than seven drinks per week or no more than three drinks per day

  5. Men are allowed no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than four drinks per day

How to Know if You have Wet Brain?

Unfortunately, there’s no standard measure to determine if the patient has a wetbrain or not. But doctors are sure to look out for thiamine deficiency based on the indicators, like when they see your appearance, your way of walking, and your behavior.

When it’s determined that you are a heavy drinker, the doctor will then try to rule out wet brain as the cause. The test will involve the movement of your eye, the reflexes, strength of your muscles, presence of tachycardia or rapid heart rate, and malnutrition. The doctor will also rule out other conditions that may exhibit the same symptoms such as brain hemorrhage, tumor or stroke.

Symptoms of Wet Brain

When we talk about the symptoms of wet brain, we are actually talking about the stages. The first stage is reversible, especially if you managed to get a full shot of thiamine immediately, along with some therapy. The second stage is more difficult to treat.

Symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

  • Bleeding of the brain
  • Difficulty maintaining your balance
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weakened reflexes
  • Erratic body temperature
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Lack of coordination
  • Involuntary eye movements

One added complication is that some of the symptoms don’t really manifest themselves in people with wet brain syndrome. For instance, according to a Swiss study, confusion, ophthalmoplegia (paralysis of the muscles around the eyes), ataxia (lack of coordination of the muscle movements) only manifest in 1 in 10 cases.

Symptoms of Korsakoff psychosis

  • Loss of memory
  • Changes in personality
  • Hallucination
  • Loss of coordination
  • Issues with vision
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty learning new things

Once you develop Korsakoff psychosis, you are at the point of no return. The doctors can slow down the progression with medicines and therapy, but your quality of life won’t ever be the same.

What Can You Expect if You Have Wet Brain?

The study by Merck Manuals revealed that people who developed Wernicke’s encephalopathy face a fatality rate of around 10-20 percent. If you survive that, you are not out of the woods yet. About 8 in 10 of Wernicke’ encephalopathy survivors progress to Korsakoff’s psychosis. There’s no treatment. The doctors will only do their best to slow the progression and allow the patient to lead as normal of a life as possible. Eventually, you may fall into a coma and finally, death.

How is Wet Brain Treated?

Physicians will only adopt preventative measures as an option for treatment for wet brain. Of course, you are no longer allowed to consume alcohol. You should also watch your diet because malnutrition has been shown to aggravate the condition. Ensure that you have enough thiamine in your diet at least to replenish what you may have lost. But it’s a hit and miss situation. There is no standard study that shows the efficacy of the treatments. If one has shown marked improvements on one form of treatment, it doesn’t automatically apply to another individual. This is why wet brain is one of the most heartbreaking results of alcohol abuse. You will watch your loved one waste away and you can’t do anything about it.

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