Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and How it Can Affect You

Chronic alcohol abuse destroys a person’s body, but perhaps one of the most devastating effects of alcohol abuse is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Also known as “wet brain,” Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a severe mental disorder that occurs when malnutrition creates a thiamin deficiency. It is the ultimate and tragic consequence of years of heavy drinking. If caught in the early stages, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can be partially reversed through thiamin treatment. Late-stage Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, however, has no effective treatment.

What is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a combination of two disorders: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome. Both disorders are believed to be two stages of the same condition.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is caused when poor nutrition, specifically low thiamin levels, damages the brain. A lack of thiamin, or vitamin B1, is common among alcoholics and can occur through liver damage (which affects thiamin processing), intestinal damage (which inhibits nutrient absorption) and poor eating habits (liquid meals). Heavy drinking inhibits the body from breaking down thiamin to the point that thiamin can’t be absorbed, even if a person eats a well-balanced diet.

Korsakoff syndrome is a type of psychosis that develops as Wernicke’s symptoms go away. It occurs when areas of the brain are so damaged from thiamin deficiency that memory, problem-solving skills and learning abilities are affected.

Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

People with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome will appear fairly normal at first: they are able to carry on conversations normally, have average intellect, and are able to recognize family members and old friends they met before the onset of the illness. After the onset of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, however, the ability to form new memories is nearly absent. A person with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome will repeat comments or questions several times during a conversation and will forget they already greeted you. This is because they have no memories of any event that occurs after the onset of their illness.

The symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome are:

* Inability to form new memories

* Severe loss of memory

* Loss of muscle coordination (unsteady or uncoordinated walking)

* Making up stories and believing they’re true

* Confusion

* Dementia

* Hallucinations

* Vision changes (double vision, drooping eyelids, abnormal eye movements)

How to Treat Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Patients suffering from the early stages of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome often respond well to intense thiamin treatment. This treatment consists of large intravenous doses of thiamin followed by supplemental oral doses. Once the patient’s thiamin deficiency has been reversed, they will see substantial improvement in their symptoms of confusion or delirium, vision problems and lack of muscle coordination. Their symptoms of memory loss and intellect loss rarely improve, however, and late-stage patients will not benefit from thiamin or any other known treatment.

Getting Help for Alcoholism and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Without treatment, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome will get steadily worse can be life threatening. In fact, 20 percent of patients with wet brain die. If you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol and exhibits any sign of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, seek treatment right away.

Depending on which stage of the disorder the patient is in, emergency treatment may be needed and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal must be monitored. After thiamin levels have been restored, the patient should continue recovery and treat their addiction to alcohol at an alcohol rehab. Alcohol rehab will provide a variety of treatment options, including detox, counseling, group and individual therapy, residential treatment programs, education and family involvement. Help prevent the damaging effects of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and other alcohol-induced consequences by seeking treatment at an alcohol rehab today.


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6 Responses to “Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and How it Can Affect You”

  1. Jessie

    I drink almost every day because my partner does…this is on going for years..I have symptoms occasionaly but only when I’m drinking,not when I’m sober.I don’t have insurance and haven’t seen a doc in years.how can I be sure I have the first stages of wet brain?

  2. Dee

    No matter what you think right now you need to go to the doctor and get a monthly thaimin shot to protect yourself. You can develop the disease if you keep drinking or not. Your chances of full recovery greatly improve. You should go to the doctor and be honest about how much you drink and request a shot. My family member is suffering from WKS and within the first month since its onset she has gone from walking and talking to not being able to carry a conversation. Change your life now before you cant.

  3. Jodi

    My husband was just diagnosed with late stage WKS. Does anyone know of any doctors that treat this syndrome? Any online support groups?

  4. Eric K.

    After I believe 10 years of heavy drinking and being homeless for most of those years, my brother is currently in a care facility (nursing home). I’m so glad he’s getting help he needs but the damage has already been done. When we speak to him , he does appear fine, but the minute he opens his mouth and starts talking , he says things that just don’t make sense..he thinks particular family members are still alive..it’s very sad and most of time, end up crying after I leave…I wish everyone who knows anyone who may be going through this much needed prayer and thoughts !

  5. Yvonne

    My brother was just diagnosed with this disease. It has only been a week since he started treatment, and he is doing all the things that you mentioned about not making sense and thinking that family members are still alive. It is very distressing. The hospital wants to send him home tomorrow, but we are not prepared for that, nor do we think it is in his best interest. I have found very little info on this disease. Today it really hit me what he is going through. I have been crying ever since.

  6. Kate

    Back in 2010 I lost my lovely sister to WKS, she was only 53. Although she drank everyday she wasn’t the typical “stereotype” alcoholic. She was incredibly intelligent, outgoing, caring and funny and always up and about. To see her become somebody that didn’t even want to shower alone due to the hallucinations she was having and could’nt recognise her favourite things when we went shopping was frightening and devastating. The night she passed away a friend was staying with her but in the early hours of the morning my sister threw her out, why? I don’t know. My sister died frightened and alone. People need to be made more aware of this disease as most I’ve mentioned it to have never heard of it. My sympathy and best wishes to all the people who are currently dealing with WKS.