What is Wet Brain Understanding Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

What is Wet Brain? Understanding Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 30 million people in the United States struggled with alcohol use disorder in 2022. 

When you suffer from alcoholism, you have a hard time controlling how much you drink. Heavy drinking over a long period can lead to a range of adverse health conditions. For example, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and heart disease.

Long-term alcoholism causes a condition referred to as a “wet brain.” Formally referred to as Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome, this condition can be fatal without treatment. While uncommon, wet brain syndrome can lead to symptoms like memory loss and permanent brain damage. 

Alcoholism treatment centers can help you prevent wet brain syndrome from occurring. They can also treat your symptoms and manage the condition if you have already developed it. 

What is Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a condition that has two stages: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. The condition is still treatable in the early stages. However, once you’ve reached the Korsakoff psychosis stage, there are only ways to manage your symptoms. 

Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome is a neurological disorder caused by a thiamine deficiency. Even though thiamine does not occur naturally in your body, your tissues need it to function. This is why eating foods like pork, beef, kale, or eggs is important. 

While it is possible to develop WKS from a poor diet, this is rare. Most people who have the condition develop it from alcoholism. Excessive drinking causes your body to be unable to absorb thiamine properly. Over time, this leads to symptoms of Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome. 

How Much Alcohol Consumption Causes Wet Brain Syndrome?

There is not a specific amount of alcohol that leads to wet brain syndrome. Keeping this in mind, people who engage in heavy alcohol consumption are at a higher risk of developing it. 

According to the NIAAA, heavy alcohol use is defined as:

  • Men- 5 or more drinks per day or 15 or more drinks per week 
  • Women- 4 or more drinks per day or 8 or more drinks per week

If you engage in this type of drinking, you are at an increased risk of developing WKS. Attending alcohol rehab can prevent you from developing long-term risks of heavy alcohol consumption. 

Understanding the Stages of Wet Brain

WKS occurs in two stages. If you receive treatment for Wernicke’s encephalopathy, you can recover. You will develop Korsakoff’s psychosis if you do not treat Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Each stage of WKS causes various signs and symptoms. Being aware of these symptoms can motivate you to stop drinking before it’s too late. 

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy 

Doctors use the term encephalopathy to describe a disease that affects brain functioning. In other words, your nervous system is not healthy. 

The symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:

  • Twitching 
  • Confusion
  • Short-term memory issues
  • Slowed reflexes 
  • Unusual eye movements 
  • Decreased muscle coordination 
  • Balance issues 
  • Blurry vision and drooping eyelids 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Weakness and muscle atrophy
  • Decreased body temperature 
  • Cognitive issues 
  • Weight loss and poor appetite 
  • Vomiting 
  • Anemia and malnutrition 

Doctors can treat wet brain syndrome despite serious side effects. Nurses and doctors can provide thiamine supplements to ensure your condition improves. In other words, you can prevent wet brain syndrome from becoming permanent. 

Korsakoff’s Psychosis 

You will develop Korsakoff’s psychosis if you do not treat the first stage of wet brain. Unfortunately, this condition causes severe memory issues, confusion, and changes in behavior. It is similar to dementia in this manner. 

Doctors can manage the symptoms of late-stage wet brain, but they cannot cure it. 

The symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include:

  • Severe memory issues 
  • Creation of false memories 
  • Hallucinations
  • Anger and frustration 
  • Changes in personality 
  • Chattiness 
  • Shaking and tremors 
  • Vision problems
  • Coma 

According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the average time between diagnosis and death is 3 years. The mortality rate is 7.4 per 100 people.

Due to the serious risks associated with late-stage wet brain syndrome, you should seek treatment as soon as possible. 

How is Wet Brain Syndrome Treated?

Early detection of wet brain syndrome is vital. The first stage of this syndrome is treatable, which means you could still have a good quality of life. If you develop late-stage WKS, you will experience personality changes, loss of coordination, and even coma or death.

As a result, anyone suffering from alcoholism should seek treatment as soon as possible. 

The first step in treating wet brain syndrome is receiving medical detox. You have to remove the alcohol from your system and overcome withdrawal before treatment can begin. Additionally, you cannot recover from WKS while you are still drinking alcohol. 

Once doctors determine you have wet brain syndrome, they will begin providing thiamine infusions. These infusions will resolve symptoms like confusion, delirium, and vision issues. 

If you have experienced brain damage from WKS, it cannot be reversed. However, doctors can manage the symptoms with therapies and medications. 

The most important aspect of recovery from wet brain syndrome is sobriety from alcohol. Alcohol rehab programs will offer evidence-based therapies, group counseling, and relapse prevention planning. These services will make it easier to maintain long-term recovery.

Find Help for Alcoholism 

If you or a loved one suffers from alcohol use disorder, it’s time to seek professional help. Alcohol rehab centers like Living Room can offer you the support and tools you need to recover long-term. 

The Living Room offers comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment programs tailored to help individuals overcome the challenges of alcohol addiction. Our goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment for those seeking recovery.

Contact us today to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment program.

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