What is Wet Brain?

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  • Written By: Matt Brady
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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Wet brain, also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is caused when the body has a deficiency in thiamine, also known as vitamin B1. Without sufficient levels of thiamine, the brain can't function normally. Individuals suffering from wet brain can exhibit a wide range of symptoms: they may appear confused; have ataxia, or a lack of muscle coordination; or even experience hallucinations and confabulations. Early stages of wet brain are treatable, although not completely reversible. If the syndrome is too advanced, symptoms may be permanent and can prove fatal.

The deficiency is often a result of alcoholism, which over time decreases the liver's ability to process nutrients. It can also be caused by bad dieting as well as by any condition affecting the body's ability to absorb nutrients. In non-alcoholics, wet brain symptoms may be easy to quickly identify—an irregular gait, confusion and faulty memories would surely seem conspicuous in someone with no prior health problems. In alcoholics, however, symptoms might go unnoticed for a while, mistaken as signs of drunkenness.

Apart from seeming confused, those affected by wet brain can also show severe signs of dementia. They may exhibit confabulations, which are false memories that the individual believes and builds upon. Confabulations can become so ingrained that individuals might invent entire scenarios based upon an event that never happened. Individuals may also experience hallucinations as well as an increasing separation from reality.


Wet brain can also affect eye function. An individual might lose some control over their eye movement. The eyes may become increasingly unresponsive to light, with slow tracking abilities. The size of the pupils may begin to appear unequal as well.

Wet brain syndrome is so damaging because the brain needs thiamine to help convert one of the brain's most essential nutrients: glucose. The brain is unable to store emergency supplies of glucose, and thus needs a steady supply from the body. Therefore, without sufficient levels of thiamine, the brain can't receive the amount of glucose it needs and functions begin to go awry.

If identified early enough, wet brain can be partially reversed with large doses of thiamine. This is more likely in individuals who developed the syndrome from poor eating habits or a treatable gastrointestinal issue. In alcoholics, however, the situation may be more grim. Alcoholism wreaks havoc upon the liver, which plays a large role in processing thiamine. Severe alcoholism causes enough damage as to render thiamine deficiencies irreversible. In such cases, wet brain syndrome, along with other alcohol-related complications, can be fatal.


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Post 4

I quit drinking about five weeks ago, after drinking a lot for about eight years, I am a 61 year old female. I know it's crazy. but I started drinking in my early 50s.

I was really, really tired for about four weeks and had a hard time even functioning. I thought I was going to die. Also, ever since then, I've had really bad short term memory loss. Other than that, I have no other neurological complaints. Does anyone have any idea what's going on with me?

Post 3
I had Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome a few years ago, from extreme dieting. My issue was memory loss -- I couldn't remember anything. I was give a huge dose of thiamine at the hospital and recovered quickly. I haven't dieted since.
Post 2

@fBoyle-- I'm not a doctor and each individual's condition is a little bit different. So it's best for you to speak with your aunt's doctor about it.

But as far as I understand, wet brain from alcohol abuse is permanent, especially when the alcohol was consistent for many years. Just think about it, if the liver is damaged and can't process thiamine, how will the brain possibly recover? It won't be able to.

That being said, our liver has the capacity to regenerate itself. So if the damage is not very bad and if your aunt can quit alcohol, some recovery might be possible. But there's no guarantee.

Like I said, it depends on the individual and how bad things have gotten.

Post 1

Is there a way to reverse wet brain caused by alcoholism?

My aunt has just been diagnosed with wet brain and the things that the doctors said sounded pretty grim.

So is she stuck with this for the rest of her life? Will she always have symptoms like difficulty understanding and speaking and issues with motor functions?

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