Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Have you heard of wet brain syndrome? The true name for this disorder is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, but it’s better known by its colloquial name. Acute, chronic deficiency of vitamin B1, or thiamine, causes this brain disorder. There are two major causes of this nutritional deficiency: poor nutrition for a long period, and long-term alcoholism.

Wet brain syndrome symptoms include physical difficulties with balance and movement, but it also affects the mind. People who struggle with this disorder may also exhibit mental symptoms that are similar to dementia.

Further, this condition is deadly. If someone with this disorder is not treated for it, there is a 50% chance of death within eight years. But, if Wernicke-Korasakoff Syndrome is caught early, many of the symptoms are treatable and reversible.

Read on to learn more about this condition.

What Is Wet Brain?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is two separate conditions that appear consecutively if not treated early. Wernicke encephalopathy is the beginning of this issue and, as stated above, is caused by vitamin B1/thiamine deficiency, which creates lesions on the brain. This condition causes vision challenges, confusion, and balance issues.  Later, if Wernicke encephalopathy is not treated, Korsakoff syndrome arises. It is also caused by this nutritional deficiency and it affects the central nervous system, causing amnesia, memory loss, and behavior that is comparable in many ways to dementia.

These two associated disorders work together to affect those afflicted in both physical and mental ways. People who are diagnosed with WKS who are untreated often die from this condition; those who do not end up with life-long, permanent brain damage. As many as 25% of people who are diagnosed with end-stage WKS end up needing long-term, full-time care for the rest of their lives.

What are the Causes of Wet Brain?

Although this condition can arise in anyone who has long-term thiamine deficiency due to malnutrition or other issues such as cancer, chemotherapy treatment, or eating disorders, it’s most common in people who are chronic alcohol drinkers.

This is true for several reasons. First, many people who struggle with alcoholism also have unhealthy eating habits. It’s important to understand that for most people living in developed countries, it’s unlikely that simply a poor diet alone would cause WKS. The reason this condition is so common in people who are heavy drinkers is because ethanol interferes with thiamine storage in the liver and with the conversion of this vitamin into its active form. As a result, chronic alcoholics become thiamine deficient even if they eat a fairly healthy diet.

What are the Symptoms of Wet Brain?

Wet brain syndrome affects those afflicted in so many different ways. This condition has intense and noticeable symptoms that affect people with WKS both physically and mentally.

The presence of three symptoms, in particular, points to a WKS diagnosis. First, eye disorders are one of the symptoms: people with wet brain syndrome have impaired function of the muscles that control eye movements, so their eyes often involuntarily rotate or even sometimes move in different directions.

Second, clear changes in mental state are often evident. Wet brain syndrome sufferers are easily confused and may have trouble expressing themselves. People in the later stage of this syndrome may believe things that are not true and most struggle with both short and long-term memory loss.

Third, WKS affects gait and balance. People who experience this condition will have difficulties with walking and movement in general.

People with wet brain syndrome may not exhibit all of these symptoms initially or at all, but all three are common symptoms of this condition.

The Stages of Wet Brain

There are two stages of wet brain syndrome. Stage 1 is Wernicke encephalopathy; lesions on the brain form and symptoms like poor balance and coordination, abnormal eye movements, poor reflexes, balance problems, and cognitive processing difficulties arise. If wet brain is caught during this stage and is treated immediately – usually with thiamine injections – these symptoms can be reversed.

The second stage, known as Korsakoff psychosis, is irreversible and can be deadly. When WKS advances to Stage 2, individuals suffering from it will experience memory loss, learning issues, hallucinations, anger and agitation, disorientation, and confabulation, in addition to the symptoms they suffered during Stage 1. Their personality will change drastically and in time, they will likely even become unable to care for themselves.  These symptoms are all the result of permanent brain damage and are the final stages of wet brain.

Is Wet Brain Reversible?

Wet brain is reversible if it is caught in Stage 1, but if it advances to Stage 2, many of the symptoms are not reversible as many Stage 2 symptoms are due to permanent brain damage. Treatment for wet brain symptoms in Stage 1 is thiamine injections to help the individual’s thiamine levels return to normal. Once this is achieved, a healthy diet and consistent hydration will lead to continued improvement; in some cases, people will need ongoing thiamine injections over a long-term period. It may take a while for Stage 1 symptoms to go away, but most will in time.

Of course, no progress can be made if the afflicted individual does not stop drinking alcohol. If they want to recover from wet brain syndrome, they must be dedicated to recovering from alcoholism as well.

Prevention and Management

The best way to avoid wet brain syndrome is to stop drinking alcohol now. Heavy alcohol use is defined as more than drinking four drinks daily or more than fourteen drinks a week for men. For women, three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week qualify.

If you are a chronic drinker and drink on a daily or very regular basis, you should cut back or quit altogether. People can and do recover from alcoholism every day. If you need help to stop drinking, it’s available to you. At Clear Sky Recovery, we can help. Our innovative ibogaine treatment can help you discover the root of your addiction and help you break free from the unhealthy habits that can lead to wet brain syndrome.

Contact us today. We’re standing by to answer your questions and we’re waiting for you at our facility in Cancun, Mexico! We’d love to help you take the first steps on your path to a healthier and happier life.


How long does it take to develop wet brain?

The onset can vary widely among individuals, depending on factors such as the extent of alcohol abuse, nutritional status, and individual susceptibility. With some cases developing over a few weeks to months.

How long can you live with wet brain?

Wet brain, more formally known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a serious condition that can significantly shorten life expectancy if left untreated. Without treatment, the condition can be life-threatening within a short period, ranging from several weeks to a few months.

What does wet brain feel like?

Persons with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome might feel confused, struggle with forming new memories, experience a loss of muscle coordination (ataxia), and have difficulties with vision and eye movement. The emotional state can also be affected, leading to apathy or agitation.

How is wet brain diagnosed?

Wet brain, or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is diagnosed through observation and tests, as there’s no single test for it. Doctors look for signs of thiamine deficiency, such as abnormal heart rate, eye movements, and gait, alongside medical history and imaging studies.