Receiving Treatment for “Wet Brain”
In 2019, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 14.5 million Americans aged 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder. By taking a closer look, they found that this included 5.5 million women and 9 million men. Of these, only 6.9% of men and 7.8% of women received treatment for their disorders. When people obtain treatment, they have the best chances of overcoming their substance use disorders and living their best lives. There is always hope, and getting help at a treatment center is what is going to help these people turn their lives around.
What Is Wet Brain?
“Wet brain” is the colloquial term for Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It is a brain disorder related to chronic vitamin B1 deficiency. Vitamin B1 is also known as thiamine, and it is a substance that assists the body in obtaining energy from the foods that we eat. Thiamine is needed to help children grow, but it also causes your cells to develop and helps them function.
Ordinarily, people get enough thiamine from the foods that they eat, but when people are not eating balanced meals on a regular basis, they can become malnourished. This is what often occurs when someone drinks heavily for a sustained period of time. The symptoms of wet brain do not necessarily have to be permanent if the condition is diagnosed early, but if it isn’t, the symptoms of hallucinations, lack of muscle coordination, and confusion can be irreversible.
If your loved one is not exhibiting symptoms right now, they can be prevented. If you or a loved one have already noticed some of these symptoms, a physician can effectively treat them.
Wet Brain Explained
Wet brain is a very severe condition, and it can be hazardous to your health. The first portion of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, or WKS, is Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which causes serious symptoms such as changes in your vision, abnormal eye movements, lack of muscular coordination, and confusion. It is a very serious condition, but it is also temporary.
The second portion of this condition is Korsakoff’s psychosis, and it shows up after symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy present themselves. Sometimes, Korsakoff’s psychosis shows up at the same time as Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Korsakoff’s psychosis is a chronic condition that can cause you to experience significant memory and learning impairment. You may also lose the ability to function as you normally do. Scientists began to call this condition “wet brain” because it is related to the long-term, heavy use of alcohol.
The first symptoms to present themselves are those of a thiamine deficiency. Malnutrition or other diseases can cause this condition, but the long-term and heavy use of alcohol is also known to cause it. In affluent countries like the United States, most people with WKS are found to be alcoholics. Before they can be diagnosed with this condition, however, they must be sober. That is because alcohol withdrawal symptoms and the complications of alcoholism can mimic the symptoms of WKS.
Thiamine Deficiency and Wet Brain
Thiamine is an essential nutrient that the body needs to function, but it cannot create it on its own. That’s why you must get your thiamine from the food that you eat. If you are not getting enough thiamine, it can damage your heart, nerves, and brain.
Heavy alcohol use over several years causes the body to absorb thiamine inefficiently, which eventually leads to a thiamine deficiency. On top of that, heavy alcohol users do not always ensure that they are consuming a balanced diet, so this exacerbates the situation even further. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that people experiencing alcohol use disorder obtain less thiamine than people without the disorder.
When a person uses alcohol, the substance can cause the digestive tract to become inflamed, which makes it harder for your body to absorb thiamine. Normally, the body sends thiamine to the digestive tract so that it can be absorbed. Then, the digestive tract can send the thiamine to the other portions of your body.
In addition to making it harder to absorb thiamine, heavy drinking can also make it harder for the body to process the thiamine that it receives. Furthermore, it is also harder to effectively use the thiamine that does get through to the cells. Thiamine is very important to bodily functioning. For example, it helps the body build enzymes that convert sugar into energy. It also helps the body create genetic material in your cells and assists in creating the brain’s chemical messengers.
The Symptoms of Wet Brain
The symptoms of wet brain are like those that you experience when you are intoxicated. In this case, you experience these symptoms when you are not drinking. Symptoms of wet brain include the following:
• Changes in behavior
• Loss of memory
• Double vision or other vision changes
• Abnormal movements of the eyes
• Lack of coordination of the muscles
In addition to the symptoms listed above, you may also notice that your loved one appears to be frustrated and irritable or has developed a habit of making up stories. Your loved one’s mental and physical deterioration can last a long time, but WKS can also lead to more serious symptoms, such as coma, a reduction in consciousness, or death.
What Is Wernicke’s Encephalopathy?
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a temporary neurological disorder, and it can cause you to experience difficulties with your muscle coordination while you are walking or standing. It also causes visual disturbances, eye movement dysfunction, apathy, and confusion. Eye movement dysfunction occurs because of the paralysis of the nerves that control your eyes. This leads to the difficulties that you may have in tracking items with your eyes. It may also cause your eyelids to droop and the involuntary eye movements mentioned above. You may have trouble walking when you have WKS, but some people lose the ability to walk altogether.
You will not necessarily exhibit all of the symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy to be diagnosed with the condition. In the past, physicians failed to diagnose some people with the condition because these clients didn’t have all of the symptoms. It is crucial for people with this condition to be diagnosed so that they can receive treatment. With early treatment, a thiamine deficiency can be reversed, and you are very likely to completely recover.
What Is Korsakoff’s Psychosis?
If your loved one has been abusing alcohol for a long period of time, he or she is likely to develop Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and 80% to 90% of this population also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. Korsakoff’s psychosis is a type of neuropsychiatric dementia, and it presents itself after Wernicke’s encephalopathy is left untreated. The symptoms that develop at this point can make it increasingly difficult for your loved one to function. The condition is also known as “alcoholic dementia” and “alcohol amnestic disorder.” Symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include behavioral changes, hallucinations, and amnesia
When people begin to experience Korsakoff’s psychosis, they may have difficulties forming new memories and may have trouble remembering memories from the past. This is what causes them to make up stories that replace the memories they can no longer access.
Korsakoff’s psychosis damages the areas in the brain that control memory, but the effect the condition has on memory will not necessarily be known to the affected person. When they are experiencing symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis, you may notice that they aren’t as emotional as they used to be, they may be irritable, and they may be apathetic.
Can WKS Be Cured?
WKS can be cured, but this will depend on how severe the symptoms are, how quickly the affected person gets into treatment, and the type of treatment that the person receives. These factors will determine whether or not the condition can be relieved entirely or at least minimized.
How Does the Medical Community Treat Wet Brain?
The medical community will treat WKS by giving people with the condition thiamine supplements. The best way to make sure that this treatment has the desired effect is for the person to refrain from drinking alcohol. When someone has WKS, it means that this person is deficient in thiamine, so this person is highly likely to see improvements in his or her symptoms after he or she receives supplementation with thiamine. This is also the best way to keep someone from developing the condition.
People diagnosed with WKS may receive an oral supplement, or they may be given thiamine injections. They may also receive supplementation of other vitamins to help the body process the increased amount of thiamine. When the body has an increased level of thiamine, symptoms of confusion, lack of coordination, dysfunction of the eyes, and problems with memory often decrease.
Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of WKS, the medical community recommends that you stop drinking alcohol. This can be impossible for you to do because, when you are experiencing a substance use disorder, highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms present themselves if you suddenly stop ingesting your drink of choice. After you have been drinking alcohol heavily for a long period of time, your body begins to expect you to ingest more alcohol the next day, and if you don’t, it will send withdrawal symptoms that you may not be able to tolerate.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include the following:
• Unclear thinking
• Mood swings
• Shakiness or jumpiness
You may also experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome that is known as “delirium tremens,” which causes the following symptoms:
• Severe confusion
Because of the danger of experiencing the most severe withdrawal symptoms, the medical community would not recommend that you or your loved one go through the withdrawal process on your own.
At First City Recovery Center, we can place you or your loved one in our medical detox program. Medical detox is the first step in any substance use treatment center, and it may be necessary if your withdrawal symptoms are moderate to severe. When you are in medical detox, we can administer medications that will alleviate the withdrawal symptoms and also reduce your cravings for alcohol. This is the time when we address your physical addiction to alcohol. Once we get you past this hurdle, we will be able to move on to treat your psychological addiction as well.
The Alcohol Rehab Program at First City Recovery Center
The medications that we may use to help ease your withdrawal symptoms include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. Naltrexone eliminates the positive feelings that drinking alcohol causes so that you have less of a desire to drink alcohol. Acamprosate balances the chemicals in your brain so that you will no longer experience the cravings that you had for alcohol. Disulfiram causes you to feel nauseous when you consume alcohol, so it reduces your desire to do so.
To treat your psychological addiction to alcohol, our staff will determine the best type of therapy for you. We will introduce you to group counseling that will offer the support of your peers, which is essential to overcoming your addiction. Because it is important for you to see a counselor in a one-on-one session to discuss your individual problems and goals, you will also have individual therapy sessions.
If you are searching for a place where you or your loved one can receive treatment for an alcohol use disorder, contact us at First City Recovery Center for more information today.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.