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Wet Brain: End Stage Alcoholism



Wet Brain

There are many health concerns related to heavy alcohol consumption. One of the most debilitating illnesses is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome,also known as wet brain. Wet brain affects males more than females and the sufferer has a 10-20% chance of early death. Stopping alcohol use when the body and brain are dependent on alcohol can result in death. People who suffer from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome need to be medically monitored in an alcohol detox program followed by a long term residential treatment center for recovery.

What is Wet Brain?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (wet brain) has two stages of development and is named after the discovery by two psychiatrists, Dr. Wernicke and Dr. Korsakoff.  

Dr. Wernicke’s identified symptoms are the first stage of wet brain. He found that chronic use of alcohol over a long period of time will result in a thiamine (vitamin B-1) deficiency. Depletion of the B-1 vitamin disrupts the body’s nervous system, brain, heart, gastrointestinal system, and muscles. Wernicke’s symptoms are:

  • Paralysis of eye movement
  • Inability to coordinate muscle movements
  • Mental confusion
  • Holes and bleeding in the brain

Dr. Korsakoff, a Russian psychiatrist, wrote a series of articles that explored disturbance of memory in those who suffered from alcoholism. Korsakoff’s syndrome is the second stage of wet brain and develops when Wernicke’s symptoms are left untreated. Korsakoff’s symptoms are:

  • Disturbance in memory
  • Psychosis (visual and auditory hallucinations)

Alcoholics in end stage alcoholism present with poor hygiene, malnutrition and dehydration. This lack of self care combined with chronic alcohol abuse contributes to the development of Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome. Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome is a gradual process of brain damage and is most often irreversible.

Symptoms of Wet Brain

The disease of alcoholism is all consuming. The alcoholic’s body has become dependent on the alcohol for functioning and without alcohol he or she will go into withdrawal. Alcohol related thoughts and the compulsive use of alcohol are part of the cycle of addiction which continues to have a negative effect on the body and brain. In alcoholics who have reached end stage alcoholism, Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome may be present. Symptoms of Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome are:

  • Remembering things that haven’t happened (confabulation)
  • Staggering, irregular gait and other muscle coordination issues
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Double vision, eye lid drooping and abnormal eye movements.

Alcoholics who have wet brain are unaware that they have this condition. Family and friends are usually the ones who start to question the alcoholic’s peculiar behaviors related to this syndrome. At this stage of alcoholism, a person is less likely to agree to alcohol treatment and he or she may need an intervention by family and friends to pursue addiction treatment. Treatment for Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome must begin with alcohol abstinence.

Alcohol Detox

Quitting alcohol use is dangerous and sometimes deadly for alcoholics.  Alcohol detox is crucial if there is a possibility of brain recovery in the alcoholic who suffers from Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome. Continued use of alcohol in this condition will lead to death. An alcohol detox program should include:

  • A certified addiction physician who will monitor your withdrawal
  • 24 hour nursing supervision
  • Vitals monitored regularly
  • Smooth transfer to alcohol treatment

Confusion, a symptom of Wernicke-Korsaskoff syndrome, may create panic for the alcoholic who is unaware of their surroundings in detox. It is important to have family and friends insist that the alcoholic stay and comply with the alcohol treatment program.

Alcohol Treatment Programs

Addiction treatment for alcoholism will include counseling for reframing using thoughts and behavior patterns, teaching healthy coping skills for unwanted feelings and relapse prevention. For someone who suffers from Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome, alcohol treatment may also include reality orientation, memory exercises, and physical therapy.

At a comprehensive alcohol rehab program, therapists will be able to individualize treatment based upon the alcoholic’s specific needs. Basic components to alcohol rehab are:

  • Individual Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Relapse Prevention
  • Educational Lectures
  • Support Groups
  • Life Skills Training
  • Individualized Aftercare Plan

Wernicke-Koraskoff syndrome is irreversible so the alcoholic will need to develop new behavioral patterns in order to function. This requires an extended stay in a residential treatment center to give ample time for the alcoholic to  learn new life skills. Family and friends continue to play an important role in recovery during this time. In a quality alcohol rehab, family therapy will be provided for family and friends to offer support and education about the recovery process. 


Looking For Treatment?
If you have a loved one who suffers from alcoholism and would like more information about alcohol rehabilitation please call a Recovery Connection coordinator at 800-993-3869. Recovery Connection coordinators understand the importance of making that first step of attending alcohol detox and alcohol rehab as most of them are in recovery.
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