Wernicke – Korsakoff syndrome, commonly known as ‘wet brain’ is the result of brain damage due to severe thiamine or B1 deficiency, commonly seen in alcoholics.

This condition usually progresses in two stages if left untreated: Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff psychosis.  The first stage of encephalopathy usually manifests first and is characterized by bleeding in the brain that may cause the following symptoms: Mental confusion, difficulties walking, loss of balance, diminished reflexes, lack of co-ordination, muscle atrophy, lowered body temperature and involuntary or abnormal eye movements.

The main three symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy are mental confusion, abnormal eye movements, and ataxia (staggering gait).  All three symptoms are only all present in about 10 percent of patients which can make formal diagnosis extremely difficult, particularly if the sufferer is not completely honest about the extent of their drinking with a medical practitioner.  Wernicke encephalopathy is generally short-lived and current research shows that 80-90% of sufferers go on to develop stage two, Wernicke psychosis.

The second stage is can be debilitating and permanent if not treated properly and early. Korsakoff psychosis symptoms include disorientation and confusion, vision problems, memory loss, trouble learning new things, personality changes, quickly frustrated and forgetful, confabulation and in some cases hallucinations.

In addition to these symptoms, people who have chronically abused alcohol over a period of time may also suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can include tremors, sweating, and other unpleasant side effects. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may have a genetic component, making some people more susceptible than others.

Chronic alcohol abuse damages the cerebellum, which is the region in the brain responsible for coordination, movement, and even potentially some functions related to memory and learning. Depriving the brain of thiamine for a long period of time damages this region, and left untreated and unchecked, the brain damage can be permanent.

Wernicke encephalopathy doesn’t have to continue on to Korsakoff psychosis. It can be arrested and reversed if diagnosed and treated early on with thiamine supplements, healthy diet changes, and a reduction in alcohol consumption. Often, healthy lifestyle changes may include detoxification services and therapy in order to be effective long-term in reducing problem drinking.

At Step One Recovery, we have a team of medical professionals who are experienced in spotting the tell tales signs of this debilitating syndrome, to try and give our clients the very best chance of arresting the progress. If you think you or a loved one are showing signs of this syndrome, contact the Step One Recovery team today.