What is ‘Wet Brain’ and How Does Alcohol Cause It?

Wet Brain – The Little-Recognized Disease Caused by Alcohol Abuse

While cirrhosis of the liver is widely known as a disease related to alcoholism, little is known by the general public about an even more alarming alcohol-linked condition called wet brain. This condition, clinically referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a type of dementia that develops from a deficiency in vitamin B1, or thiamine. With news covered a story this year about U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi leaving her judicial seat and going to rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, followed by assisted living, after her diagnosis of this brain disorder, more attention is being called to what was once only a problem typically seen in developing nations where nutritional deficiencies are commonplace.

The Connection Between Thiamine and Alcohol 

Unlike vitamin D, which the human body gets 90 percent of from sunlight exposure, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that thiamine must be ingested in order for people to deliver this vitamin to the tissues in their body. However, alcohol overuse interferes with thiamine intake for three reasons. First, an overwhelming number of alcohol abusers do not eat a well-balanced diet due to lack of motivation from intoxication. Second, alcohol blocks the absorption of the liver’s thiamine, preventing the body’s enzymes from activating neurotransmitters. Finally, study results indicate that alcohol metabolism releases glucose in the body, and an increase in glucose raises the risk of developing wet brain when the body is deficient of thiamine; therefore, those who have alcoholism are more likely to suffer from this condition.

Wet Brain Was Recognized by Researchers Over 100 Years Ago

Countless research studies that span more than one century have discussed and explored thiamine deficiency’s effects on the brain and the connection between a lack of thiamine and alcoholism. In 1873, Dr. Sergi Korsakoff identified the symptoms of what is now known as Korsakoff’s syndrome while studying a trend in memory loss and memory disturbances in people who abuse alcohol. Around the same time, Dr. Carl Wernicke noted that damage sustained by the left posterior of the brain resulted in language comprehension deficits. In 1971, researchers noted that while Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s syndrome were separate, their underlying neuropathology overlaps.

Alcohol-Caused Wet Brain Starts as Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Wet brain starts as an acute disorder called Wernicke’s encephalopathy. While treatable at this stage if addressed early enough, these biochemical lesions affect parts of the brain that are responsible for retaining and making memories. Classic signs of this life-threatening disease are mental confusion, oculomotor disturbances and limb coordination problems. However, most people who have WE only present with one or two of these signs. Several other signs and symptoms indicate that an alcohol abuser may have WE:

– Confusion.
– Blurred vision.
– Decreased body temperature.
– Drooping eyelids.
– Loss of balance.
– Poor reflexes.
– Muscle atrophy.
– Tachycardia.
– Twitching.

The Majority of People Who Have WE Develop Wet Brain

Left untreated, 80 percent to 90 percent of Wernicke’s encephalopathy sufferers will also develop Korsakoff’s syndrome, which is the second-stage of wet brain. This long-term neuropsychiatric condition is often fatal, and it is characterized by certain abnormalities in behavior and impairments in memory, such as anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia. People who have Korsakoff’s syndrome will experience certain signs and exhibit specific symptoms of this condition:

– Auditory and visual hallucinations.
– Decreased problem-solving skills.
– Diminished executive functioning.
– Disorientation.
– False memories.
– Inability to create new memories.
– Memory loss.
– Poor coordination.
– Visual disturbances.

Wet Brain Has a Significant Mortality Rate

In a 1998 study conducted by Harper and accompanying researchers, wet brain from alcohol was found in 13 percent to 20 percent of autopsy reports. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy states that the mortality rate in people who have wet brain is as high as 20 percent. Once people develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, they cannot be cured of it. However, thiamine injections and supplements along with abstinence from alcohol can slow or stop the disorder’s progression. Treatment can also reverse some of the signs and symptoms of wet brain, such as confusion, delirium, visual disturbances, muscle coordination issues. However, treatment cannot reverse the damage done to sufferers’ memory or intellect.

Wet brain is an unfortunate results of too much alcohol consumption, the quicker you enroll in a California alcohol treatment program, the better your chance of reversing its effects and getting healthy again.

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