Residential Alcohol Detox | What is Wet Brain Syndrome?

Last Updated: Apr 2nd 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Patients who enter a residential alcohol detox may seek withdrawal treatment for any number of substances. While not exceedingly common, those seeking treatment for alcohol withdrawal may sometimes suffer from a condition known as wet brain syndrome. In general, patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal should not detox outside of treatment in the first place; however, those at risk of developing wet brain syndrome should consider withdrawal treatment an especially urgent priority.

What is wet brain syndrome, and why is it so dangerous? Find the answers to these questions below, along with more information about how residential alcohol detox can help you to recover from the potential symptoms.

What is Wet Brain Syndrome?

Wet brain is another name for Wernicke-Korsakoff, a combination of two conditions called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s amnesic syndrome (also known as Korsakoff’s psychosis). Both conditions result from a deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1. Many things can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, but the nickname wet brain syndrome refers specifically to cases caused by alcohol abuse. Most patients who suffer from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome will require extensive treatment, but residential alcohol detox will allow them to begin overcoming the initial and milder symptoms of the condition.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Symptoms

Alcoholics with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome will show symptoms of both conditions. Wernicke’s encephalopathy usually causes vision problems such as rapid back-and-forth eye movements and double vision, poor muscle coordination, confusion, and brain damage that may result in death or coma in extreme circumstances. In true cases of wet brain syndrome, it may also share symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, further necessitating the need for residential alcohol detox treatment.

Since about 80-90% of alcoholics with Wernicke’s also get Korsakoff’s, they will experience those symptoms as well. Korsakoff’s syndrome is a memory disorder that causes hallucinations, inability to form new memories, severe memory loss and confabulation of made-up stories with the truth.

Can Wet Brain Be Treated?

The good news is that those who suffer from wet brain syndrome do not always experience all associated symptoms. When a person experiences Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, what actually happens is that Wernicke’s encephalopathy develops into Korsakoff’s psychosis over time. Those who enter residential alcohol detox early enough may catch wet brain syndrome while it is still in the Wernicke’s stage, thereby preventing the worst of their symptoms with immediate treatment.

Symptoms directly related to thiamine deficiency will begin to reverse with proper medical care. Severe brain damage will be harder to treat, so those who enter residential detox in the initial stages of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may wish to choose a dual diagnosis facility with experience treating mental disorders.

Residential Alcohol Detox for Wet Brain

Based on the above, you should have a decent idea of what you can expect if your drinking has been heavy enough to result in wet brain syndrome. If you worry that you may be at risk, or simply require residential detox treatment for alcohol withdrawal, 1st Step can help. Call us at (866) 319-6126 to discuss your treatment options. You can also take our virtual tour for a better look at our facilities.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.