Wet Brain Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Doctor talking to patient in bed

Wet brain syndrome is a name given to alcohol-related brain damage. You may also see wet brain syndrome referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

If you’ve never heard of wet brain syndrome before, or you’re keen to learn more, this informative guide will cover wet brain syndrome life expectancy, symptoms and treatment options. 

If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol addiction, talk to us and see how we can help you. Rehab or detoxing are usually the most recommended action. Call us today.

What is wet brain syndrome?

Brain scan illustration

Wet brain syndrome, also known as wet brain disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a form of brain damage, which is caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

It is similar to dementia in terms of the symptoms displayed. Wet brain syndrome is caused by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1).

Thiamine is a vitamin, which doesn’t occur naturally in the body, and this means that the body is reliant on intake from the diet.

Drinking a lot of alcohol over a prolonged period of time affects the body’s ability to absorb thiamine, and this is why wet brain syndrome symptoms develop.

In addition to reducing absorption, wet brain syndrome prevents the enzymes that convert thiamine into its active state from working properly. 

Wet brain syndrome is characterised by two connected conditions: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a neurological condition, which usually involves specific parts of the brain, including the hypothalamus.

Korsakoff’s psychosis develops after Wernicke’s encephalopathy and it is caused by permanent damage to the parts of the brain that are associated with memory. This wet brain syndrome video contains more information. 

According to statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, around 80% of people who experience alcoholism have thiamine deficiency. 

Wet brain syndrome symptoms

Wet brain syndrome causes an array of symptoms, some of which appear earlier than others. Early signs include:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Sleep troubles
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle twitches
  • Confusion

Up to 80% of people who experience Wernicke’s encephalopathy develop more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Loss of muscle coordination (ataxia)
  • Severe confusion
  • Abnormal eye twitching 
  • Severe memory loss

Korsakoff’s psychosis can also cause personality changes and confabulation. Confabulation occurs when you use stories to fill in gaps created by memory loss. 

Wet brain syndrome treatment

There is currently no cure for wet brain syndrome, but wet brain syndrome prognosis can be improved using treatments that control symptoms and prevent further damage to the brain.

The best way to protect the brain is to stop drinking, and doctors can recommend a host of treatments and therapies for those in need. In addition, increasing thiamine levels can help to reduce the severity of symptoms and improve quality of life. 

Merck Manuals suggest a mortality rate of 10%-20% for individuals with Wernicke’s encephalopathy. 

If you are living with an alcoholic, we have put together a useful guide to help support and alcoholic.


Wet brain syndrome is a condition, which is characterised by alcohol-related damage to the brain.

People who experience wet brain syndrome develop symptoms including memory loss, confusion, loss of focus and weight loss.

Wet brain life expectancy varies. Treatments cannot cure individuals, but they can be used to improve symptoms and prevent further damage to the brain. Attending alcohol rehab is recommended for those with a drinking problem, before the problem gets much worse.

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