Josh Chandler | November 10, 2023

Wet Brain Symptoms and Treatment: Understanding the Risks and Recovery

Recognizing the Symptoms of Wet Brain Syndrome

Wet Brain Syndrome is a brain disease typically caused by years of frequent alcohol consumption, binge drinking, and malnutrition. Only 1-2% of the adult population suffers from Wet Brain, and men are at heightened risk due to their higher levels of alcohol consumption. Also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), Wet Brain is caused by alcohol depleting the vitamin B1 (thiamine) reserves in your brain. Thiamine is vital to our physical functions including our nervous system and muscle functioning, the production of hydrochloric acid for proper digestion, electrolyte balance in nerve and muscle cells, enzyme processes, and carbohydrate metabolism.

While Wet Brain Syndrome is a serious condition that develops over time, it can be treated by a medical health professional and even reversed if it is addressed during the first stage of the syndrome. Once symptoms progress to the second stage or Korsakoff Psychosis, they are permanent and eventually fatal. It’s extremely important to seek support and treatment as soon as possible if you begin to experience the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Cognitive decline
  • Leg tremors
  • Fevers
  • Eyelid drooping
  • Vision changes
  • Balance problems
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of mental coordination
  • Dementia

When Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome progresses to Korsakoff Psychosis, symptoms become more extreme and worsen to a second stage including:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Dementia
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Trouble walking

While symptoms from the first stage of Wet Brain Syndrome can be reversed, damage caused by the second stage is irreversible. Seeking treatment for your symptoms as soon as possible dramatically increases your likelihood of full recovery.

The Impact of Wet Brain Syndrome on Mental and Physical Health

Wet Brain Syndrome significantly impacts both mental and physical health. Vitamin B1 deficiency weakens brain tissue and first leads to Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Encephalopathy is a group of conditions that cause brain dysfunction including compromised memory and motor function. Confusion, cognitive decline, loss of mental coordination, and disorientation often follow.

Your physical health is also impacted by symptoms that may reduce your ability to care for yourself, work, be active, care for others, and enjoy basic comforts. Fevers, leg tremors, droopy eyelids, vision changes, balance issues, drowsiness, and fatigue may occur in the first stage of Wet Brain Syndrome. If your condition progresses to Korsakoff Psychosis, you experience permanent cognitive and physical damage that impacts every area of your functioning. You may lose your mobility, memory, control over your movements and behavior, and your sense of reality. With Wet Brain Syndrome, waiting for treatment is risky. The sooner you seek medical treatment, the more likely it is that your mental and physical symptoms will be resolved. 

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Diagnosing Wet Brain: When to Seek Medical Help

wet brain syndrome

It’s vital to seek medical help from a professional to diagnose Wet Brain as soon as you can. Once your doctor diagnoses you with Wet Brain Syndrome, they will guide you to the most effective treatment for your condition. While there isn’t a specific test to diagnose this syndrome, your doctor will likely:

  • Rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms
  • Evaluate your history of alcohol use through discussion
  • Test your blood alcohol content (BAC)
  • Conduct mental examinations similar to those used to evaluate dementia
  • Assess how your eyes function
  • Observe the way you walk
  • Evaluate how quickly you respond to certain stimuli

Treatment Options for Wet Brain Syndrome

The treatment options for Wet Brain Syndrome are most likely to be effective if your condition is discovered in its earliest stage. The first step is to find support in withdrawing from your alcohol use so that you will not do further damage, worsen your symptoms, and delay your recovery. Since the process of detoxing from alcohol alone can be uncomfortable and risky, it’s important to find support to do so safely. 

Next, Vitamin B1 injections are administered in a medical setting to reverse the thiamine deficiency that is deteriorating your health. Hospitalization may be required if symptoms have become severe, until you are stable enough to manage them at home. Being under-nourished compounds thiamine depletion from alcoholism and is a common additional risk factor for those who develop Wet Brain Syndrome. Modifying your diet to insure that you get the nutrients you need supports your recovery. You may continue to take Vitamin B1 as well as other supplements prescribed, depending on your level of depletion. A nourishing, balanced diet will help you build the healthy foundation you need to heal from Wet Brain Syndrome. Dietary sources of thiamine include:

  • Legumes such as beans and lentils
  • Beef
  • Nuts
  • Milk
  • Rice
  • Whole grains
  • Wheat
  • Yeast
  • Oats
  • Oranges
  • Pork 
  • Seeds

Can Wet Brain Syndrome Be Reversed?

It’s possible for Wet Brain Syndrome to be reversed, and for you to fully recover when your symptoms are treated in the first stage. Unfortunately, progressing to the second stage of Wet Brain Syndrome means that brain damage is permanent and life expectancy at that point is 6 months to one year; like dementia, it is degenerative and fatal. Immediately seeking treatment and working with your doctor and recovery professional will help you avoid that outcome.

Exploring Recovery Possibilities

Withdrawing from alcohol use is a necessary step to recovering from Wet Brain Syndrome, and is also a complex process to manage alone. Your likelihood of full recovery is much higher if you engage with an inpatient or outpatient program that includes detox support. Substance abuse professionals are adept at providing physical and mental health support through this process. They may offer medication, counseling, and other comfort measures while you withdraw. Group support, individual and/or family counseling, medication management, and nutritional support are likely to be part of your long-term recovery plan. Continuing to follow up with these professionals and a recovery community is the most effective step you can take in avoiding the most dangerous effects of alcohol use in the future.

Identifying the Warning Signs of Wet Brain

During the first stage of Wet Brain Syndrome, Wernicke-Korsakoff’s encephalopathy, and neurological and motor decline become evident. You may have tremors, notice your vision worsening, feel fatigued, lose coordination, and experience confusion and disorientation. As the first stage worsens, you’re at increased risk of having your judgment impaired to the point that you don’t realize you need to seek treatment. Seeking diagnosis and treatment at this stage can help you avoid dementia and further physical decline.

Seeking help once you notice any of these symptoms is important because progression to the second stage of brain disease in Wet Brain Syndrome is debilitating, irreversible, and fatal. Korsakoff’s Psychosis eventually results in immobility, dementia, and death. Your doctor can treat your thiamine deficiency as well as prescribe medications to treat cognitive decline before you progress to the second stage. Recovery professionals can help you create a plan to restore your health and avoid the effects of alcohol use in the future.

The Importance of Seeking Help for Wet Brain Syndrome

If you have symptoms of Wet Brain Syndrome, you can take immediate action to treat it with the help of your doctor and recovery professionals. There is hope for you to live a full and healthy life by withdrawing from alcohol use, receiving medical treatment to restore your thiamine level, following nutritional guidelines, and making a long-term recovery plan.

Addiction Treatment Center,Alcohol Abuse,Alcohol Addiction,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.
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