What is Wet Brain? Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

What is a “Wet Brain”? How does alcohol create the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?

The term “Wet Brain” refers to a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic brain damage most commonly caused by chronic alcohol consumption. Individuals with this syndrome often act like they are drunk when they are not. Symptoms include:

  • mental disturbance
  • memory loss
  • confusion and disorientation
  • incoordination
  • unsteadiness or a staggering gait
  • paralysis of eye movements
  • drowsiness
  • telling imagined experiences as truth

How does alcohol cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is caused by thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiency. Thiamine is essential for proper function of brain nerve cells, also called neurons. Without thiamine, the neurons can become damaged or die. Heavy drinkers typically lack thiamine because alcohol interferes with the proper absorption of nutrients.

Can wet brain be reversed?

Prompt thiamine replacement after an early diagnosis can relieve some symptoms, such as coordination problems and confusion, but it will not do much to help with memory loss and cognition.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a lasting, permanent condition. There is no full recovery; therefore, it is one of the most tragic consequences of alcoholism.

Can Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome be prevented?

Not drinking or drinking in moderation and getting enough nutrition significantly reduce the risk of getting Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. If a heavy drinker does not quit, thiamine supplements and a good diet may reduce the chance of getting this condition, but it does not eliminate the risk. How much alcoholic content is in my drink?

This blog post is part of our Commonly Asked Question series. Each post attempts to answer commonly asked questions about addiction, drugs, alcohol, recovery, and treatment.