What Is Wet Brain Syndrome

And Can Alcohol Detox Cure It?

Of all of the drugs that there are to abuse, alcohol is one of the harshest on the human body, but it is the only drug available that you can legally use or abuse.  When abused, alcohol is one of the few drugs that attacks every vital organ system in the human body.  Many people are familiar with the connection between heavy drinking and liver damage (or failure), but what many people don’t know is that prolonged, heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to heart damage, brain damage, gastrointestinal diseases, nutritional problems, and alcohol detoxeven reproductive impairments.

Liquor companies promote their products with warm and fuzzy images of people getting together, drinking alcohol, and having fun, but the most common image associated with a heroin user is a broken down, zombie-like creature with needle tracks on both arms and a completely disheveled appearance.  The sad truth is that the legal drug (alcohol) inflicts more damage on society than the illegal drug (heroin).   More than 100,000 people die in the United States every year from alcohol-related causes making alcohol the third highest cause of preventable mortality.

One of the most common results of prolonged, heavy drinking is a condition known as wet brain syndrome, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, Korsakoff’s psychosis, or beri beri.  Contrary to popular belief, wet brain syndrome is not caused by damage to the brain from heavy, prolonged use of alcohol.  Rather it is a result of a deficiency of thiamine, also known as vitamin B1.  Because alcohol interferes with the absorption of thiamine, prolonged, heavy consumption of alcohol will lead to a deficiency of thiamine.  Additionally, most chronic heavy drinkers (alcoholics) usually do not eat very much or very well.  So it is not uncommon for long-time heavy drinkers to be malnourished and therefore vitamin deficient.

The symptoms of wet brain include the following:

  • Staggering, irregular gait (AKA Ataxia), and other muscular incoordination
  • Confabulation – remembering events that never happened
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Loss of memory–this can be severe
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Vision changes – including double vision, eyelid drooping, and abnormal eye movements

A sudden influx of sugar (glucose) in someone suffering from severe thiamine deficiency can also precipitate an immediate onset of wet brain syndrome and its symptoms.  This is why it is potentially dangerous for someone going through an alcohol detox that is probably malnourished to consume large amounts of sweets without out also consuming vitamins or other food.

In most alcohol detox programs, clients are provided with proper meals, vitamins, and other nutritional items that the body needs to restore balance.  Sort of like rebooting a computer, the nutrients provided to alcoholics during alcohol detox allows their body to rest itself.  Over the 5 to 10 day period of the alcohol detox process, the body’s levels of vitamins and minerals will be raised to a level that is within normal parameters.  This is why after a proper alcohol detox most clients no longer exhibit “the shakes”, slurred speech, confusion, or experience auditory or visual hallucinations.

To keep wet brain syndrome at bay after going through an alcohol detox, the alcoholic must abstain from alcohol and probably continue with thiamine supplements to completely cure the effects of wet brain syndrome.  If left untreated and allowed to progress, however, wet brain syndrome can cause permanent damage to the brain system and be a lifelong condition.  When this has occurred, even an alcohol detox, long term abstinence, and thiamine supplements will not lead to total recovery from wet brain syndrome.

Don’t let prolonged alcohol abuse cause permanent damage to you or someone you love, contact Pathways Recovery to discuss our alcohol detox program.