What Is Wet Brain and Can It Be Cured?

Alcoholism is one of the most common substance use disorders in the world, as alcohol is not only readily accessible, but its use is also socially accepted throughout many different cultures. While some people are capable of consuming alcohol responsibly, others are not. According to a survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2015, 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder. Additionally, 623,000 young individuals between ages 12 and 17 had alcohol use disorder, according to the same survey.

With alcoholism being one of the most prevalent mental health conditions in the country, millions of people are susceptible to experiencing the effects of this type of substance use disorder. Some of the most commonly discussed effects of alcoholism include liver damage and failure, cancer, depression, and hypertension. However, there is a multitude of other effects that can occur when someone is addicted to alcohol, including experiencing wet brain.

What is Wet Brain?

Wet brain, which is clinically known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a type of brain damage caused by excessive alcohol use. This condition is characterized by three specific symptoms:

  • Mental confusion
  • Ocular disturbances, including paralysis of eye movements
  • Unsteady gait (known as ataxia)

This condition occurs in response to a deficiency of thiamine in the body. Thiamine is an important vitamin that the body does not produce on its own, so it needs to be consumed. Most people consume enough thiamine through their everyday, healthy diets, however, the abuse of alcohol makes it difficult for the body to properly absorb this vitamin. As a result, the brain suffers significantly. For example, a lack of thiamine causes tissues, enzymes, and neurotransmitters in the brain to become damaged, leaving an individual with wet brain.

There are two different types of wet brain: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Wernicke’s encephalopathy causes changes to the brain’s nervous system and impacts areas of the brain that control memory. Korsakoff’s psychosis occurs in response to permanent brain damage caused by drinking.

Symptoms of Wet Brain

The symptoms that an individual can experience when he or she has wet brain will depend on whether or not he or she has Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff’s psychosis. Symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include the following:

  • Changes in vision (including double vision, abnormal eye movements, drooping of the eyelids)
  • Confusion
  • Lack of mental activity that can cause coma and/or death
  • Ataxia, which is a loss of muscle coordination that can lead to unsteadiness

The symptoms associated with Korsakoff’s syndrome are as follows:

  • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Making up stories that are not true
  • Problems developing new memories
  • Loss of memory


Prevalence and Risk Factors Associated with Wet Brain

Even though wet brain is not usually one of the first effects that are mentioned when discussing alcoholism, it is something that affects several people. The National Organization for Rare Diseases reports that upwards of 2% of the country’s population has wet brain.

An individual’s chances of experiencing wet brain in response to his or her alcohol abuse is going to depend on a number of different factors. For example, the development of this condition is directly related to how much alcohol an individual consumes, how often he or she is drinking, and his or her age and gender. Additionally, if an individual was exposed to alcohol while in utero or has a family history of wet brain, he or she is more likely to experience this devastating effect of alcoholism, too.


When wet brain is suspected, several different tests can be conducted to determine if this condition is occurring within an individual. A medical professional will examine one’s nervous system and muscles to see if he or she is struggling with this condition. If so, he or she will likely notice the following symptoms:

  • Strange eye movements
  • Poor coordination
  • Odd reflexes
  • Atrophy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low body temperature

In the event that an individual looks in poor physical health due to lack of proper nourishment, a doctor will perform a number of tests to check on the individual’s vitamin B1 levels (thiamine), transketolase activity in red blood cells, and levels of serum albumin.

Treatment for Wet Brain

Wet brain is known as being one of the most upsetting effects of alcoholism because even if an individual stops drinking, he or she might be left with this condition. And sadly, wet brain cannot be cured. In fact, there are few things that can be done to improve upon wet brain and its symptoms, but there are methods of care that can help lessen the effects.

In most cases, individuals with wet brain will receive thiamine (vitamin B1) injections, or have it administered by mouth. This can help improve troubling symptoms including confusion, delirium, problems with abnormal eye movements, and ataxia, however, it cannot cure them.

If an individual’s condition has progressed to the point where he or she is in a coma or unconscious, he or she can receive consistent medical monitoring to help improve overall comfort.

Additionally, having wet brain can also lead to a number of other complications, including experiencing falls and neuropathy.

Being diagnosed with wet brain does not translate into a death sentence. Immediately stopping alcohol abuse can stop the progression of this condition, as can some medical treatments such as those discussed above.

The Importance of Addiction Treatment

Wet brain is merely just one of many different dangerous effects that can develop in the face of alcoholism. This condition, like many others that can develop because of alcoholism, is not curable. However, it can be prevented.

The most important thing that an individual can do for him or herself is seek treatment to stop his or her alcoholism in its tracks. Doing so will not only help him or her salvage his or her personal and professional lives, but also keep his or her health in as best condition as possible. Wet brain does not have to occur at all, especially if alcoholism is treated prior to its development.

Comprehensive treatment that includes care for the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of addiction can help an individual end his or her abuse and begin a life of recovery. Even if an individual has already begun experiencing symptoms of wet brain, it is possible to slow down the progression of those symptoms by ending alcohol use for good.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism and wants to stop, make the decision to reach out for help right now. There is nothing more important than taking care of your physical and psychological well-being. Contact us today. We can help.