Select Page

What is Wet Brain Syndrome and How Can You Get It?

by | Last updated Jun 4, 2021 at 2:19PM | Published on Jun 15, 2020 | Alcohol Addiction

Wet brain and alcoholism

The term “wet brain” is relatively common in AA meetings. Most people don’t understand the meaning behind the name. So, let’s explore what this standard term means in the world of drug and alcohol recovery.

What Is Alcoholic Wet Brain?

Wet brain a neurological condition onset by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1). Its scientific name is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) after the scientists discovered it.

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a deficiency of thiamine. However, contrary to popular belief, symptoms of encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome aren’t exclusive to alcoholics. Neither are symptoms caused by alcohol killing brain cells.

There’s certainly debate about the long-term side effects of alcohol on an individual’s ability to think clearly. Still, we need more research to prove alcohol affects gray matter, which is the part of the brain responsible for cognition.

What Does It Mean?

The wet brain doesn’t take time to develop. It’s sudden and devastating. Medically, large amounts of glucose entering an already thiamin-deficient brain cause the condition. Glucose is one of the significant chemicals produced when our bodies break down sugar-rich alcohol.

There are two primary phases to this condition. The first is known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy. This is an acute and severe thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency in the brain.

At this stage, thiamine therapy can help reverse the symptoms. An individual who receives these injections can still return to normal.

The second stage, named Korsakoff’s psychosis, is not reversible. When people develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, vitamin deficiency is present, and sudden, heavy intake of glucose occurs—resulting in what’s commonly known as the wet brain.

However, linking the condition to alcoholism can be challenging. Symptoms of WKS mimic those of alcohol withdrawal or intoxication. Many alcoholics lack the support system they need to seek treatment and receive a formal diagnostic.

The Link with Alcoholism

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains that 86.8 percent of American adults consumed alcohol at some time in their lifetime. While drinking alcohol in moderation is not a bad thing, alcohol abuse can have dangerous health problems. The same report estimates that close to 16.6 million American adults struggle with alcohol use disorder and roughly 700,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 struggle with alcohol abuse. The condition primarily affects those in the 30 to 70 years old bracket.

Heavy drinkers often follow a poor diet as a result of nausea and other lifestyle choices. In this malnourished state, those with an alcohol use disorder are at extreme risk for developing wet brain symptoms. This risk increases exponentially when there’s a sudden influx of glucose.

Those in late-stage alcoholism should avoid eating sweet foods. It’s important to note that a wet brain is a result of malnourishment rather than alcoholism itself. Bulimia, diets that lack thiamine, and morning sickness are all precursors to this condition.

While statistics about this brain condition are limited, around 10-20 percent of people who have it die. Of those who survive, 80 percent will go on to develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. Without treatment, this condition can continue to worsen and lead to a coma or death.

Wet Brain Symptoms

Symptoms of wet brain mimic those of brain damage. This is to say, those suffering from this condition are mentally impaired. In severe cases, they may be unable to care for themselves. While symptoms range in severity, they often include:

  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • False memories
  • Abnormal vision

Some people refer to this brain disorder as “alcohol-related dementia” since brain damage causes difficulties with memory and learning functions. According to a study by Oxford University Press, between 10 to 24 percent of brain damage and dementia cases could be alcohol abuse. Additionally, Alzheimer’s Society estimates that WKS affects about 2 percent of the general population.

Wernicke Encephalopathy Symptoms:

The first stage of this condition often causes bleeding in the brain that might result in:

  • Twitching
  • Confusion
  • Poor reflexes
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Increased heart rate
  • Weakness and muscle atrophy
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Problems with mental processing

Korsakoff Psychosis Symptoms:

If the condition is left unattended, permanent symptoms can appear, including:

  • Memory loss
  • Problems with vision
  • Hallucinations
  • Anger and frustration
  • Dementia-like symptoms
  • Poor coordination
  • Inability to form new memories or learn new things
  • Confusion, disorientation, and cognitive processing issues
  • Diminished problem-solving skills
  • Personality changes
  • Uncharacteristic behaviors

Is Wet Brain Reversible?

There’s very little that can help an alcoholic in the second stage of the disease. Sadly, when left untreated, the condition can lead to lifelong consequences. Like any form of brain damage, it completely alters a person’s ability to think.

Depending on the severity, it can also render alcoholics incapable of caring for themselves. Even when someone stops drinking, the symptoms of Wernicke syndrome will remain.

The only form of treatment is early detection. Various treatments can help with the disease and slow or stop the progression. However, symptoms like memory loss aren’t always reversible. Early detection is the only way to reverse some of the damage, which is why if someone suspects they have the condition, they should seek treatment immediately to prevent further brain damage and permanent consequences.

It’s essential to understand the role of thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1. Thiamine helps the body to function correctly, assisting in breaking down sugar molecules. Vitamin B1 is also responsible for maintaining your brain’s neurotransmitters operating correctly. Part of the treatment process includes changing dietary choices and supplementation.

However, our bodies don’t produce Vitamin B1, which means you need to eat thiamine-rich foods and supplements to get this nutrient. Some Vitamin B1 rich items include:

  • Pork
  • Beed
  • Asparagus
  • Eggs
  • Oranges
  • Potatoes
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Oranges
  • Beef

While these foods might maintain healthy thiamine levels, they won’t reverse permanent brain damage. It’s essential to get an accurate diagnosis to understand how developed the condition is.

Treatment Options

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we understand there’s no simple solution to substance abuse. We’ve been there. We’ve felt the hopelessness of active addiction and found a way out. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and alcoholism, seek treatment today.

Depriving the thiamine brain for a long time can damage the cerebellum, which is the region responsible for coordination, movement, and memory. If left untreated, the brain damage can be permanent.

Dual-Diagnosis Programs & Lifestyle Changes

When diagnosed and treated early, using thiamine supplements, implementing a healthy diet, and treating alcohol addiction. Most people benefit from alcohol detox programs, followed by alcohol addiction treatment and long-term aftercare programs to manage their drinking problem and prevent long-term consequences.

Dual-diagnosis problems can also be useful. People can find recovery by treating alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Many people struggling with substance abuse often struggle with mental health disorders, and a dual-diagnosis program can help them improve their lives.

Recovery is possible and within reach of everyone.

Call us today at 1-844-I-CAN-CHANGE. Let us help you or your loved one recover. Let us help you break the chains of addiction. If you or someone you love suffer from alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to contact us.



Jessica is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Clinical Director. She has a Master’s Level Certified Addiction Professional, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and has a Masters in Behavioral Science. Jessica’s education allows her to elaborate in-depth on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Narrative Therapy approaches to addiction treatment.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

Related Articles

Need Help? Start here!

find your insurance sidebar

Find Your Insurance

*Lighthouse Recovery Institute is not affiliated with any insurance.

Get Help During COVID-19

Within days, you can get clean and sober, start therapy, join a support group, and learn ways to manage your cravings.

Ready to Start? We're here for you.