What Is Wet Brain

What Is Wet Brain

Authored by Jane Squire MSc

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

The heavy consumption of alcohol can cause a variety of bodily harm. Alcoholism has been found to be a cause of angina, increased heart failure, liver disease, and high blood pressure. These are not the only health issues that can result from alcoholism. Brain damage can occur in individuals who consume too much alcohol on a regular basis.



Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome1https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Wernicke-Korsakoff-Syndrome-Information-Page takes place when an individual suffers brain damage due to heavy and repeated exposure to alcohol. Also known as wet brain, the problem occurs due to a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine). The wet brain stem does not receive enough vitamin B1 resulting in brain function loss.

Vitamin B1 does not form in the body naturally and individuals must consume the vitamin to take on enough of it each day through foods. A poor diet often results from a person suffering from alcoholism. The lack of nutrients and vitamins a person needs on a daily basis is reduced from the constant consumption of alcohol and this greatly affects the brain.

Not only does alcohol prevent an individual’s body from absorbing vitamin B1, but it reduces the body’s reserves of it. Vitamin B1 is stored in the liver, an organ that alcohol can harm if consumed in large quantities. Alcohol can also affect the enzyme that transforms vitamin B1 into an active state in the body causing harm.

Importance of Vitamin B1


As previously stated, vitamin B1 is not produced naturally by the body. To get the recommended daily amount of vitamin B1, a person must consume the vitamin through a variety of foods.

Vitamin B1 can be found in:


  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Liver
  • Oats
  • Nuts
  • Peas
  • Oranges
  • Yeast


Eating these foods is not the only way to take on vitamin B1. Foods are fortified with vitamin B1 allowing a person to receive the daily amount of the vitamin needed to live healthily. Some of the foods fortified with vitamin B1 include:


  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Cereal
  • Flour
  • Bread


A person suffering from alcoholism does not eat a balanced diet and often eats very poorly. Their alcohol addiction overtakes the body and mind. Rather than concerning themselves with eating nutritious meals, addicts may skip meals altogether to spend more time drinking.

The entire body needs vitamin B1. The tissue in the body absorbs the vitamin and uses it for development and functions. Vitamin B1 is needed by some of the enzymes that are vital for the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain. When these enzymes do not receive the vitamin B1 they need due to a person’s alcohol intake, the brain becomes damaged affecting the memory.

Symptoms of wet brain


There are two syndromes to wet brain: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Wernicke’s encephalopathy often affects certain portions of the brain. The thalamus and hypothalamus, two areas that are important to memories, are specifically targeted. Meanwhile, Korsakoff’s psychosis is long-lasting and typically occurs after Wernicke’s encephalopathy symptoms end. Korsakoff’s psychosis is usually a result of permanent brain damage to areas that manage memories.

Wet brain symptoms may vary depending on the person. Each person is different when it comes to wet brain and the condition can depend on their experience with Wernicke’s encephalopathy2https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/794583-overview or Korsakoff’s psychosis.


Wernicke’s encephalopathy can cause symptoms including:


  • Confusion
  • Loss of mental activity that results in coma or death
  • Loss of muscle coordination that can lead to a slow or unsteady gait
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Speech impediments
  • Difficult to understand when speaking
  • Loss of muscle memory
  • Muscle weakness


Issues with vision can also result from Wernicke’s encephalopathy. These issues include:


  • Change in vision power
  • Fast back-and-forth eye movements
  • Double vision
  • Droopy eyelids


Once Korsakoff’s psychosis occurs, a person can lose the ability to produce new memories. Extreme memory loss can also take place. Other Korsakoff’s psychosis symptoms can be visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, and the creation of stories to explain missing memories.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism worryingly claims that around 80% to 90% of individuals who suffer from alcoholism and develop both Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis.

How do doctors diagnose wet brain?


Unfortunately, at this time, there is no specific test that can be given in all wet brain cases. The most common way that a diagnosis for wet brain can be given is through a doctor finding a vitamin deficiency.3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernicke%E2%80%93Korsakoff_syndrome This is usually diagnosed by a patient’s behavior, appearance, and gait. Further tests can be conducted if the patient’s doctor is aware of alcohol abuse.

Physical examinations will be conducted along with tests on the neurological system.4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551444/ There is no standardized wet brain test to diagnose the problem. Therefore, testing can take some time as a doctor must examine a patient’s reflexes, eye movements, and other physical aspects.

Doctors can look at a person’s appearance and give a diagnosis. Patients can have reduced muscle mass, weakness, and be suffering from malnutrition. However, additional tests are typically run to confirm the diagnosis.

Can wet brain be treated?


There is no treatment to improve a person’s memory or intellect who is suffering from wet brain. There are prescription medications to control and possibly improve some symptoms. Patients can take vitamin B1 injections or medication to increase their thiamine levels.5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3545191/ An increase in a person’s vitamin B1 levels can improve symptoms involving confusion and/or delirium. Vision can also be improved with increased levels of vitamin B1.

It should be noted that if caught early, the vitamin B1 injections can improve a person’s muscle strength and brain function. However, a person suffering from wet brain should seek help with their alcohol addiction. If individuals have not stopped their alcohol consumption, then they need to get help to stop drinking. Individuals can slow down or stop the advancement of wet brain by ending their alcohol consumption.

Can alcoholic wet brain be fatal?


During the first stages of wet brain symptoms can be with intravenous thiamine if the condition is caught immediately. Treatment must occur swiftly, and in a hospital conditions where a critical care team can monitor for any adverse reactions. If treatment is delivered swiftly and correctly, Wernicke encephalopathy can be helped and symptoms can be reversed. Upon recovery from first stage wet brain a patient must address their alcoholism immediately and it would be medically unwise for them to return to alcohol. Many patients will consider a spell in alcohol rehab at this stage.

If treatment is not conducted at this stage, or if resumes alcoholic drinking, Wernicke encephalopathy will usually progress to Korsakoff psychosis, a fatal condition.

References: What is Wet Brain

1. CRAVIOTO H, KOREIN J, SILBERMAN J. Wernicke’s encephalopathy. A clinical and pathological study of 28 autopsied cases. Arch Neurol. 1961 May;4:510–519. [PubMed] []

2. Naidoo DP, Bramdev A, Cooper K. Wernicke’s encephalopathy and alcohol-related disease. Postgrad Med J. 1991 Nov;67(793):975–999. [PubMed] []

3. Joyce EM, Robbins TW. Frontal lobe function in Korsakoff and non-Korsakoff alcoholics: planning and spatial working memory. Neuropsychologia. 1991;29(8):709–723. [PubMed] []

4. Jacobson R. The contributions of sex and drinking history to the CT brain scan changes in alcoholics. Psychol Med. 1986 Aug;16(3):547–559. [PubMed] []

5. Hata T, Meyer JS, Tanahashi N, Ishikawa Y, Imai A, Shinohara T, Velez M, Fann WE, Kandula P, Sakai F. Three-dimensional mapping of local cerebral perfusion in alcoholic encephalopathy with and without Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 1987 Feb;7(1):35–44. [PubMed] []

6. Reuler JB, Girard DE, Cooney TG. Current concepts. Wernicke’s encephalopathy. N Engl J Med. 1985 Apr 18;312(16):1035–1039. [PubMed] []

7. McEntee WJ, Mair RG, Langlais PJ. Neurochemical pathology in Korsakoff’s psychosis: implications for other cognitive disorders. Neurology. 1984 May;34(5):648–652. [PubMed] []

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What is Wet Brain
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What is Wet Brain
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome takes place when an individual suffers brain damage due to heavy and repeated exposure to alcohol. Also known as wet brain, the problem occurs due to a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine). The wet brain stem does not receive enough vitamin B1 resulting in brain function loss.
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