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What is Wet Brain and Will Going to Rehab Help?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 15 million Americans aged 12 or older suffer from an alcohol use disorder.[1] When you are addicted to alcohol, the need to consume the substance begins to outweigh everything else, and you may continue to drink even when you are facing serious health concerns as a result of alcohol.

Research reported by the CDC suggests that “excessive alcohol use can lead to increased risk of health problems such as injuries, violence, liver diseases, and cancer.”[2]

However, other long-term consequences of alcoholism are less discussed. For example, one of the most concerning health conditions people can develop is known as “wet brain.” Wet brain is a neurological condition that causes symptoms similar to dementia, however, there are some physical effects associated with this disease as well.

What is Wet Brain?

Wet brain is a nickname for a serious neurological condition that develops in two stages, with the first being Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Without proper treatment, Wernicke’s encephalopathy can develop into Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Once someone has had Wernicke’s encephalopathy and develops Korskaoff’s psychosis, the condition is called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome or “wet brain” for short. This neurological disease is a type of alcoholic dementia that stems from a severe thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1).

Thiamine is a vitamin that is essential to maintaining the proper functioning of the brain. According to research from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), the early symptoms of thiamine deficiency can cause fatigue, irritability, poor memory, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss. However, long-term thiamine deficiencies can include more serious concerns like nerve, heart, and brain abnormalities.[3]

Thiamine deficiencies are not common, as this vitamin is found in many foods. The foods containing thiamine include:

  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Cereals
  • Asparagus
  • Eggs
  • Potatoes
  • Oranges
  • Kale
  • Cauliflower
  • Various types of rice and grains

While thiamine deficiency is not common among the general population, it is more likely to occur among people suffering from alcoholism. This is partially because people struggling with an alcohol use disorder do not eat healthy meals, causing them to lack a variety of important nutrients. However, thiamine deficiency can occur for several reasons, including excessive vomiting, loss of appetite, and alcohol causing the body to have trouble processing and storing thiamine.

Understanding Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a combination of two conditions: Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff Syndrome.

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disorder, meaning the structure and function of the brain become compromised. It is the first stage of wet brain syndrome. With proper treatment, you can recover from this condition.

The symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:[4]

  • Mental confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hypothermia
  • Coma

If Wernicke’s encephalopathy is left untreated, it will progress to Korsakoff syndrome. Once you reach this stage of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, all you can do is learn how to cope and manage your illness.

Korsakoff Syndrome

Unfortunately, Wernicke’s encephalopathy is often left untreated because people have a hard time identifying the symptoms due to their alcoholism. Up to 80 to 90% of people with Wernicke’s encephalopathy eventually develop Korsakoff’s psychosis.[5]

During this stage of wet brain syndrome, Korsakoff’s psychosis continues to attack your brain tissue. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Korsakoff’s syndrome damages nerve cells and supporting cells in the brain and spinal cord, as well as the part of the brain involved with memory.”[4]

The symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include:

  • Problems creating and storing memories
  • Creating false memories
  • Hallucinations
  • Bouts of anger and irritability
  • Significant personality changes
  • Tremors
  • Disorientation

How is Wet Brain Treated?

The treatment for wet brain syndrome varies depending on what stage of the disease you are in. If you have only begun experiencing the symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy, the symptoms are typically reversible by simply receiving thiamine supplements. However, if you have developed Korsakoff’s psychosis, treatment centers around symptom management and preventing the condition from worsening.

Even if you have developed Korsakoff’s psychosis, you will receive thiamine supplements, usually in an IV fluid bag. Thiamine supplements can prevent your brain from deteriorating any further and allow you to learn how to manage your symptoms.

It is important to note that the only way to successfully treat Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is to recover from alcoholism. Continuing to drink alcohol when you suffer from wet brain syndrome will only worsen your condition, possibly to the point of no return.

How Can an Alcohol Rehab Help With Wet Brain?

If you or a loved one has developed wet brain syndrome, you may feel defeated and start to believe that there is no point in recovering from your alcohol use disorder. While this is an understandable feeling to have, getting sober and attending alcohol rehab will substantially improve your chances of remission from the disease.

Alcohol rehab can help you recover from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome by:

Safe Detox

Recovering from wet brain syndrome is nearly impossible if you are continuing to consume alcohol. As a result, alcohol rehab programs can help you begin your recovery journey by providing you with a safe and comfortable detoxification process.

Instead of quitting alcohol cold turkey, alcohol detox centers prescribe medications to soothe your withdrawal symptoms and prevent you from experiencing cravings. Additionally, many detox facilities work with their patients to determine whether they have any vitamin deficiencies. If you are deficient in thiamine, the medical staff will begin thiamine replacement therapy.

Once you are successfully detoxed from alcohol, you can begin worrying about other aspects of recovery, like therapy, medical treatment for wet brain syndrome, and learning how to prevent relapse.

Medical Treatment

When you are in an alcoholism treatment program, you will have access to highly trained medical staff. Any conditions you may be suffering from will be treated promptly and efficiently, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

During alcohol rehab, your medical doctors might provide you with the following treatments for wet brain:

  • Intravenous or intramuscular thiamine replacement therapy
  • Oral thiamine supplements
  • Nutritional therapy to help you eat healthy and balanced diets
  • Medications to target and manage specific symptoms of wet brain

Learn How to Stop Drinking

Lastly, the main goal of alcohol rehab is to teach you how to live your life without feeling the need to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances. This is achieved through a variety of tactics, including behavioral therapy, learning emotional regulation skills, and discovering how to have positive relationships with others.

By helping you achieve and maintain sobriety, alcohol rehab centers can help you prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome from developing or worsening over time. Continuing to drink alcohol will only lead to a more severe form of this condition.

Find an Alcohol Rehab Center in Asheville, North Carolina Today

If you or a loved one suffer from alcoholism, attending a professional treatment center is of the utmost importance to your health. Long-term alcoholism can lead to and worsen conditions like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which can be fatal without proper medical attention. Whether you suffer from wet brain syndrome or not, receiving support from an alcohol rehab center in North Carolina can ensure that your health improves rather than declines.

To learn more about your alcohol rehab options in Asheville, North Carolina, contact Next Step Recovery today.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Alcohol Facts and Statistics, Retrieved March 2023 from
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Alcohol Use and Your Health, Retrieved March 2023 from
  3. Larry E. Johnson , MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Thiamin Deficiency, Retrieved March 2023 from
  4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS): Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, Retrieved March 2023 from
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease, Retrieved March 2023 from

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