Wet brain is used to describe the chronic brain disorder, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or Korsakoff’s psychosis. The wet brain is caused by Thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency and typically occurs among people suffering from alcohol addiction. The wet brain from alcohol damages the lower parts of the brain known as the thalamus and hypothalamus and may also result in permanent brain damage and memory problems.

Wet Brain is the result of long-term, heavy alcohol use.
Permanent brain damage and memory problems.

When your brain and nervous system don’t get what they need, they don’t work as well. Wernicke Encephalopathy typically comes on suddenly, and treatment is recommended right away. Symptoms include confusion, loss of muscle coordination, and trouble with your vision. Korsakoff syndrome happens more slowly. It’s a long-term, ongoing problem that damages the part of your brain that handles memory.

Who is at Risk for Wet Brain?

People who regularly abuse alcohol for long periods are more likely than others to get a wet brain. However, it can also be caused by intense periods of vomiting or poor nutrition. In addition, alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin B1, so people who binge-drink regularly or consume large amounts of alcohol frequently may develop a wet brain.

Signs and Symptoms of Wet Brain

Wet Brain behavior may not always be immediately recognizable as the symptoms of the damp brain may be misinterpreted as other health problems.

However, unlike many of the other harmful effects of alcohol abuse that develop over time, the wet brain occurs very suddenly and presents itself in two distinct stages of Wet Brain Symptoms.

Stage 1:

The first stage of the wet brain is called Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:

  • A sudden decrease in mental ability
  • Confusion
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Leg tremors
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Double vision
  • Eyelid drooping
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Coma
  • Death

*According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 80 to 90 percent of alcoholics with Wernicke’s encephalopathy develop Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Stage 2:

The second stage of the wet brain is called Korsakoff’s psychosis or Korsakoff’s syndrome. Symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis:

  • Memory loss
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Making up stories
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Staggering
  • Confusion
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Leg tremors
  • Making up stories (” remembering” events that didn’t happen)
  • Minor or severe memory loss
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Hallucinations (auditory and visual)
  • Double vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Abnormal eye movements

Can You Reverse Wet Brain?

Stage one of the wet brain is entirely reversible, but only if treated immediately with Vitamin B1 injections. However, if left untreated, it will progress to stage two of the wet brain, which is only partially reversible. Stage two (Korsakoff’s psychosis) can improve over time with Vitamin B1 and abstinence from alcohol, but it can never fully be reversed.

Wet Brain in Alcoholics

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, wet brain occurs in one to two percent of the U.S. population. Wet brain in alcoholics may occur for a few different reasons:

  • Poor Nutrition: People who suffer from alcohol addiction or abuse alcohol regularly are more likely to have poor diets and nutrition deficiencies, such as a B1 deficiency. Vitamin B1 doesn’t occur naturally in the body. Instead, it must be ingested by eating nutritious foods like poultry, whole grain cereals, nuts, and dried beans, among others. Alcohol also irritates and damages the tissues of the digestive tract, making it difficult for the body to absorb and digest nutrients from food.
  • Additional Health Problems: Alcoholics are also more likely to suffer from other health problems such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart failure, or long-term dialysis. These conditions may increase their risk of developing wet brain, as they also can cause Vitamin B1 deficiency.
  • Increased Vomiting: Episodes of vomiting can also severely deplete the body of essential nutrients and vitamins, like Vitamin B1. People with alcohol use disorder may vomit more than someone without the illness because hangovers, alcohol overdose, and poisoning are much more likely to occur regularly.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Symptoms

The main signs of Wernicke encephalopathy are:

  • Balance and Movement Issues. You might have leg tremors, and your walk might become slow and unsteady, with a wide stance and short steps. You may need help standing and getting around, and your arms and legs might feel weak.
  • Confusion. You may feel out of it and lose interest in what’s happening around you.
  • Eye Problems. You may have double vision, your eyelids might droop, or your eyes may move around quickly.

You also may have problems with your heart and blood vessels that can lead to:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fainting
  • A faster heartbeat than normal
  • Low blood pressure when you stand up
  • A lack of energy

If you aren’t treated for Wernicke encephalopathy quickly, it can lead to Korsakoff syndrome.

Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome usually begin as the signs of Wernicke encephalopathy start to go away. The telltale sign is the loss of short-term memory. Unfortunately, that also makes it hard for you to learn anything new or make new memories.

You might talk to someone and seem like yourself. But a minute or two later, you won’t remember anything about it, not even who you spoke with.

You May Also Have:

  • Some long-term memory loss
  • The urge to make up stories without knowing it to fill in any gaps
  • Hallucinations
  • A hard time putting words into context
  • Trouble understanding or processing information

Do I Have a Wet Brain?

You may have a wet brain if you have experienced some of these early symptoms:

  • Consistent vomiting
  • Anemia and nutritional deficiencies
  • Poor diet high in carbohydrates that are not whole grains
  • Rapid weight loss/reduced BMI

You may have Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome if you have experienced some of these early symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Giddiness (for no apparent reason)
  • Difficulty concentrating

The best way to find out if you have a wet brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is to see a doctor. Your doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis and help you find treatment for alcohol addiction once your physical health has recovered.

Treating Wet Brain

It’s ideal for treating the wet brain immediately because waiting until it progresses to stage two could be more harmful and potentially fatal. According to MedlinePlus, the primary goals of wet brain treatment are to control the symptoms of wet brain and prevent the disorder from worsening. There are several different methods for achieving these goals, including:

  • Vitamin B1 injection
  • Complete abstinence from alcohol
  • Implementation of a well-balanced and nutritious diet

Suppose a person with a wet brain is unconscious or in a coma. In that case, they will need special care in a medical environment, and potentially, for a more extended period, depending on the severity of their symptoms.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Causes and Risk Factors

In many cases, the lack of vitamin B1 is caused by heavy, long-term alcohol use. Over time, alcohol affects how well your body absorbs, stores, and uses it. It can also happen if you don’t get enough nutrients from your diet or have specific health problems. These other causes include:

  • Some diseases that affect your whole body, like cancer, AIDS, or serious infections
  • Eating disorders, like anorexia
  • Serious kidney problems
  • Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
  • Some stomach conditions
  • Throwing up often and over a long period
  • Weight loss surgery, also known as gastric bypass

Men get Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome a little more often than women, and it typically happens in people ages 45-65. It’s also more common in:

  • People who are homeless
  • Older adults living alone
  • People with severe mental health conditions

These groups are more likely to abuse alcohol or not eat well.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Diagnosis

Typically, it’s based on a physical exam, your health history, and some tests. Your doctor will also want to rule out other problems that could cause your symptoms.

You May Get:

  • Blood tests to see how much thiamine is in your system and how well your liver and kidneys are working
  • Imaging scans of your brain to rule out problems like a tumor or stroke
  • An eye exam to check your eye movement
  • Mental Health Exam
  • Tests to check your brain and nervous system
  • Tests to look at changes in how you walk

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Complications

Korsakoff syndrome typically can’t be reversed. But, in severe cases, it can cause brain damage and lead to problems with memory and your walk that don’t go away. 

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Treatment

The first step is to get plenty of vitamin B1. You’ll probably have it put directly into a vein through a needle in your hand or arm (an IV). You might need to have this every day for several months.

From there, it’s essential to stay away from alcohol and eat a balanced diet. That’ll help keep symptoms from coming back.

If it affects how you walk, you’ll likely need physical therapy.

Alcohol Detox and Rehab Treatment

Even if a person is diagnosed with a wet brain, it may still be challenging to abstain from consuming alcohol. This is especially true if the person is addicted to alcohol or physically dependent on it, which can be difficult for friends and family members to accept. However, it’s important to remember that alcohol addiction is a chronic and powerful disease, and the way an alcoholic behaves won’t always make sense to loved ones.

Once the immediate or life-threatening symptoms of the wet brain have been treated, the affected person can begin to focus on preventing further memory loss and brain damage by eliminating alcohol from their lifestyle. Getting sober and quitting alcohol for goodwill avoid the loss of additional brain functions and eliminate further nerve damage.

We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. We work as an integrated team providing information about the wet brain and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.


[1] NIAAA – https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/134-142.htm

[2] Medlineplus – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000771.htm

[3] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16117048