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What Is “Wet Brain?”

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, also known as “wet-brain,” was discovered by two psychiatrists, Dr. Wernicke and Dr. Korsakoff. It is caused by long-term alcoholism, and is one of the most tragic consequences an alcoholic may face. Alcohol does a number on the body, and over time, symptoms of illness progressively get worse.

Excessive alcohol use leads to severe malnutrition, and prevents the absorption of important vitamins and nutrients within the intestine. More specifically, a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency is the main cause of wet brain, causing an alcoholic to exhibit symptoms similar to a patient with Alzheimer’s disease.

There are two stages of development of wet-brain, the first, known as Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, presents symptoms of:

  • Mental confusion
  • Paralysis of eye movements
  • Ataxia (staggering gait)

The second stage, named Korsakoff’s Psychosis, has a sudden onset and can be brought on by a large amount of glucose in someone with a thiamin deficiency. At this stage, the individual suffers the loss of memory function in the brain. This is the reason why malnourished alcoholics should not eat a lot of sugary foods or foods with little or no vitamins. Even non-alcoholics (e.g., persons with bulimia) may incur wet-brain if they have a severe thiamin deficiency. If caught early on, an infusion of thiamine may be helpful in the Wernicke’s Encephalopathy stage, but once an individual progresses to the second stage it is not reversible.

People with wet-brain tend to shuffle around, not knowing where they are or what is going on around them. They are unable to carry on meaningful conversations. Loss of recent memory is commonplace, and they are typically in a continual state of confusion. Wet-brain patients may believe that imagined experiences are real, and are continually disoriented with regard to time and place.

The most unfortunate aspect of wet-brain, is that it is preventable. No one should have to go through pain and anguish that leads to wet-brain. Medical detox is the first step in prevention. Don’t let the disease of alcoholism progress any further, call us today. We are here to help you or your loved one detox safely and comfortably from alcohol. Recovery is possible, don’t put it off another day.


The Serenity Recovery Center stands as a landmark of the Encino Hospital Medical Center offering the best of detox. Committed to providing comfort and care, our private detox program supports the first foundational steps of sobriety. Contact us today for information: 866.294.9401