Imagine a delicate network of pathways within your brain, responsible for your thoughts, memories, and coordination, slowly unraveling due to a condition known as wet brain. Out of all the bodily harm that alcohol abuse can cause, Wet Brain is among the most frightening. Wet brain is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), a neurological disorder primarily affecting individuals who have struggled with chronic alcohol abuse or severe malnutrition.
At GateHouse Treatment, we want addicts to be fully aware of the damage their condition can cause. A crucial part of beginning the recovery and healing process is realizing that a problem exists. Only then can an individual make positive steps toward improvement. Wet brain is one of these problems, standing out due to its propensity to affect someone’s personality and memories until the individual can no longer function and is no longer themselves.
Many have dealt with this condition, yet it remains under-discussed in addiction treatment. In 1933, a doctor told Bill W. he would die from alcoholism or spend the rest of his life locked up in asylums from wet brain, which was standard then. Five years later, Bill published Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-steps program.
This article aims to shed light on the intricate nature of wet brain, exploring its symptoms, available treatments, and the progressive stages that culminate in the challenging condition known as Korsakoff’s psychosis.
1. Cause of Wet Brain
Wet brain is a progression that often starts with alcohol abuse. In the late 19th century, researchers began to recognize the importance of thiamine (vitamin B1) in preventing neurological disorders. Scientists observed that individuals with poor diets, particularly those heavily reliant on alcohol, often developed symptoms related to thiamine deficiency.
Thiamine is an essential nutrient responsible for many of the body’s processes, including maintaining neurotransmitters that allow the brain to communicate. Millions of micro-interactions keep our brains healthy, and thiamine is closely related to many. For example, thiamine deficiency can disrupt the creation of the myelin sheath, the protective fiber around nerves that makes communication easier.
Alcohol interferes with thiamine absorption and utilization in the body. Before wet brain, thiamine deficiency is present, but no visible symptoms are apparent. However, the brain is already affected, emphasizing early intervention’s importance. Doctors must medically address this deficiency; otherwise, it progresses to the severe conditions we know as wet brain.
2. Wet Brain Stage One: Wernicke’s Encephalopathy
Wet brain combines two distinct stages: Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Wernicke’s encephalopathy can develop rapidly, often within weeks or days of severe thiamine deficiency. If an addict does not address their drinking and general health, the WE will progress into full-blown psychosis.
The following acute neurological symptoms characterize WE.
- Mental confusion and disorientation
- Ataxia (loss of muscle coordination)
- Abnormal eye movements (nystagmus)
- Tremors and muscle weakness
- Memory loss and short attention span
- Difficulty with balance and gait
Addicts suffering from WE struggle with simple tasks like walking out of a room or focusing on a work assignment. If it goes untreated, the damage caused to the brain will be irreparable.
3. Wet Brain Stage Two: Korsakoff’s psychosis
Around 84% of individuals who suffer from WE will not improve but progress into Korsakoff’s psychosis. By this point, the brain has faced thiamine deprivation for such a time that areas responsible for memory and emotional regulation have degraded. The development of Korsakoff’s psychosis can occur gradually over months or even years, depending on various factors, including metabolism, general health, and continued alcohol consumption.
Some common symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include:
- Anterograde Amnesia: This is a hallmark symptom of Korsakoff’s psychosis. Individuals with this condition have difficulty forming new memories or retaining further information. They often struggle to recall recent events or conversations or learn new skills. This memory deficit significantly impacts their ability to function in daily life. It’s common to have a conversation with someone suffering from Korsakoff’s only for them to forget every word just minutes later.
- Retrograde Amnesia: In addition to anterograde amnesia, individuals with Korsakoff’s psychosis may also experience retrograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia is the loss of previously formed memories, including past experiences and events. This memory loss can extend back in time, affecting different periods of an individual’s life. The most significant memory loss is typically for recent events that occurred shortly before the condition’s onset for months or even years. This amnesia can include essential life events, such as weddings, births, personal achievements, and relationships with family members, close friends, or significant others.
- Confabulation: Confabulation is a unique characteristic of Korsakoff’s psychosis. It refers to the tendency to fill memory gaps with fabricated or distorted information. Individuals with this condition may unknowingly create false memories to compensate for their memory deficits. Confabulation can manifest as storytelling or providing inaccurate details about past events.
- Executive Dysfunction: Korsakoff’s psychosis often involves executive dysfunction, which refers to difficulties in higher-level cognitive processes such as planning, organizing, problem-solving, and decision-making. Individuals may struggle with initiating and completing tasks, making decisions, or managing their daily activities effectively.
- Apathy and Emotional Blunting: Korsakoff’s psychosis can cause apathy, a lack of interest, motivation, or emotional responsiveness. Individuals may exhibit reduced initiative, diminished emotional expression, and a lack of engagement in previously enjoyable social interactions or activities.
Individuals who were otherwise cheery, happy people beforehand become unrecognizable to their friends and loved ones. This personality change devastates those close to an alcoholic suffering from this condition.
It’s important to note that even when treated and symptoms improve, Korsakoff does not go away immediately. That’s why controlling drinking and stopping wet brain in its early stages is crucial before it can completely devastate an addict’s life.
4. Wet Brain Treatment
Early intervention and treatment are vital in wet brain to prevent further neurological damage and maximize the chances of recovery or stabilization of symptoms. Thiamine replacement therapy is the cornerstone of treatment. The goal is to replenish thiamine levels in the body, addressing the deficiency that underlies the condition. Intravenous administration is often preferred in the acute stages to ensure the body absorbs it rapidly.
Alongside thiamine is a well-balanced diet rich in other essential nutrients crucial for recovery. Food sources rich in thiamine, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, pork, fish, and fortified cereals, are a big help. A nutritionist or dietitian may help develop an appropriate meal plan tailored to the individual’s needs and address any nutritional deficiencies.
Finally, there is professional help. Maintaining long-term abstinence from alcohol is essential to stopping the development of wet brain. Supportive measures like counseling, behavioral therapies, and participation in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can help individuals maintain sobriety.
Wet brain is a dangerous condition, and if you fear that you may be experiencing the first stages or know a loved one who is struggling, acting now might save a life.
GateHouse Treatment and Wet Brain
At GateHouse Treatment, we have everything you need to guarantee your recovery from alcohol or other drugs. Our team of experts understands that recovery is a challenging, individualized process and that therapists can’t treat addiction like a set of symptoms on paper. Instead, we focus on healing the whole person with various established and innovative therapies that let you take control of your life.
Contact our website for a free consultation, tell us what you are going through, or call (855) 448-3588. When it comes to wet brain, the sooner you seek help, the better.