Alcoholic Wet Brain Syndrome

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wet brain

When an alcoholic develops wet brain syndrome it is a sign of late stage disease. Learn more about wet brain and how to get help for alcohol dependence.

Alcohol can have a serious long-term impact on the brain and even damage cognitive functions. One of the more devastating effects of chronic alcohol abuse is something referred to as wet brain. It is actually two diseases under the term “wet brain syndrome,” with each disease caused by alcohol-related thiamine deficiency.

If allowed to progress, a wet brain can prove fatal. The only way to arrest its progression is to stop drinking and receive treatment for thiamine deficiency. Read on to learn more about this severe health condition, and how to get help for alcoholism.

What is Wet Brain?

Wet brain is the term used for Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome (WKS). This refers to Wernicke’s encephalopathy and the subsequent Korsakoff’s psychosis that follows if the disease is allowed to worsen.

Vitamin B1, or thiamine, deficiency is the cause of this serious disease. When someone consumes alcohol it blocks the absorption of thiamine by causing inflammation in the gut. Also, in late stage alcoholism, the person may prefer to drink instead of eating a healthy diet. This means the person ingests less thiamine in their diet.

The condition begins with the Wernicke’s. This includes the severe symptoms of mental confusion, loss of coordination, paralysis of the nerves around the eyes, and vision changes. These symptoms are reversible to a large extent if the disease is caught in the early stages.

If wet brain is not treated, it will progress from Wernicke on to Korsakoff’s, and can be fatal in 20% of those afflicted. Korsakoff’s is a chronic condition that features memory impairment, learning problems, and even hallucinations.

Wet Brain Symptoms

In the early phase of the disease, WKS may mimic the signs of being drunk. This may cause a doctor to ignore the signs instead of following up with blood tests to check thiamine levels.

The symptoms of wet brain may include:

  • Mental confusion.
  • Balance problems.
  • Abnormal eye movements.
  • Double vision.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Leg tremors.
  • Irritability
  • Eyelid drooping.
  • Memory problems.
  • Drowsiness
  • Easily frustrated.
  • Telling lies.
  • Changes in behavior.
  • Coma
  • Death

The severity of the symptoms helps determine whether the disease can be reversed or not.

Wet Brain Syndrome Treatment

Sadly, the longer it takes to diagnose and treat wet brain, the harder it is to reverse or limit the damage to the brain. If caught early on, the disease can be halted and reversed to a large extent.

When WKS is diagnosed, the person will be placed on IV thiamine infusion therapy. Serious cases may remain in the hospital for a lengthy time while they receive the infusions. Less serious cases will begin taking thiamine supplements in pill form.

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None of the treatment will help the person, though, if they do not quit drinking. This is why rehab must be a part of the treatment plan when someone has been diagnosed with wet brain.

Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal

To begin the journey back to health, alcohol recovery will start with the detox and withdrawal stage. During detox the body expels the remaining toxins. When someone who was in the late stages of alcoholism, such as someone with wet brain, the detox process can become risky.

To minimize health risks, detox should only be attempted under close medical supervision. The detox team will provide the needed treatments to help reduce withdrawal symptoms as they emerge.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Headache
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Rise in blood pressure.
  • Hand tremors.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Mental disorientation.
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Treatment for Alcoholism

As serious as end stage alcoholism is, it can still be treated and managed if the person is committed to recovery. Just as important to recovery success is the presence of a strong support system.

Someone with severe alcohol use disorder will require a residential program for at least six months. Residential programs, like inpatient rehabs, provide housing and meals during the treatment period. A daily schedule of treatment and related activities keeps the person fully immersed in their recovery efforts.

Treatment for alcoholism includes these elements:

  • Therapy. Talk therapy helps the person to examine emotional issues or past traumas that may be a factor in the alcoholism.
  • CBT. Therapy that guides the person toward adopting healthy thought and behavior patterns when faced with cravings or triggers.
  • Peer sessions. Group therapy offers fellow peers in rehab to share with and support each other.
  • Family therapy. Family-focused therapy helps family members process their pain and fears and to begin healing. They also learn how to support their loved one.
  • Coping skills. Relapse prevention planning involves listing triggers that might disrupt recovery and lead to relapse, and actions that would follow.
  • 12-step program. A.A. themes provide structure to recovery plus group support.
  • Holistic. Activities like yoga classes, massage, equine therapy, mindfulness training, and art therapy can enhance the effects of traditional therapy.
  • Health and wellness. The importance of meal planning and fitness are taught. This can help the person restore health after having wet brain, and promote the brain’s healing process.

How Sobriety Helps Restore Brain Health

Chronic alcohol abuse damages brain cells and takes a heavy toll on brain health. Alcoholism can not only cause wet brain, but can cause brain shrinkage, impair memory, concentration, and other brain functions. However, after achieving sobriety there is a good chance that brain functioning can be restored, at least mostly.

In only a few short weeks, as recovery progresses, the brain structures that were impacted by alcoholism begin to recover. Brain tissue volume is restored, cognitive function improves, and memories return. Most damage to the brain can be reversed by the five-year mark of recovery.

Wet brain is a serious health event caused by late stage alcoholism. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, reach out for help now.

Journey Hillside Tarzana Provides Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Journey Hillside Tarzana is dedicated to providing the most effective evidence-based treatment for alcoholism. Breaking the grip of alcohol addiction is the only way to avoid or heal wet brain syndrome. For help, reach out to the Journey Hillside team today at (877) 414-1024.