Long-term alcohol abuse can profoundly damage the brain, heart, and immune system. Furthermore, this abuse can result in a multitude of cancers that impact the head, neck, and esophagus.
One underreported effect of alcohol abuse is the occurrence of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), which is more commonly known as wet brain. WKS is also called alcoholic dementia, which is a hint at the profound neurological damage it can cause.
While WKS only occurs in 1 or 2 percent of the U.S. population, the most efficient treatment of this syndrome occurs in a professional recovery setting.
What Causes Wet Brain?
WKS is comprised of two conditions: Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome.
These disorders often occur together, due to long-term overdrinking.
Heavy alcohol consumption can hinder the body’s ability to properly absorb food, which can cause users to have a vitamin B1 or thiamin deficiency.
The symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy include:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Mental fogginess
- Leg tremors
- Significant vision changes
The symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include:
- Severe memory loss
- Inability to form new memories
Why Is Thiamin Important?
Thiamin helps the body change carbohydrates into energy. It’s one of the B vitamins, which are found in bread, pasta, rice, cereal, nuts, eggs, steak, pork, and tuna. Thiamin is also administered as medicines and manufactured as dietary supplements. Without thiamin, the body can suffer weakness, fatigue, psychosis, and nerve damage.
A severe type of deficiency is known as beriberi. In adults, beriberi can impact the cardiovascular system and the nervous system.
In addition to WKS, a thiamin deficiency can produce the following health complications:
- Heart failure
- Alzheimer’s disease
A lack of thiamin can also induce the following symptoms:
- Rapid heart rate
- Leg swelling
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness in hands and feet
In babies, a thiamin deficiency can cause vomiting, loss of appetite, lactic acidosis, changes in heart rate, and an enlarged heart.
Other conditions that can cause a thiamin deficiency include:
- Various cancers
- Long-term dialysis
- Extremely high thyroid hormone levels
- Heart failure
- Intravenous therapy
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
Even though alcohol is legal in the U.S., alcohol abuse can be a hazardous, all-consuming vice. It can be a gateway drug to more harmful substances, and it can cause alcohol poisoning and brain damage, both of which can be fatal.
Alcohol-related causes kill 88,000 people every year. Therefore, it’s in the Top 3 Preventable Causes of Death in the U.S., which also includes tobacco and obesity.
In addition to developing wet brain, long-term alcohol addiction can cause:
- Learning and memory problems
- Depression and anxiety
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
Furthermore, drunkenness frequently causes legal and social problems, including:
- Domestic disputes
- Car accidents
- Arrests and imprisonment
- Job loss
- Child endangerment
- Unplanned pregnancies
- Sexually transmitted infections
Why Does Professional Treatment Matter?
If you quit drinking “cold turkey,” you could experience severe withdrawal symptoms, which could cause you to relapse. These potential symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Irrational thinking
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
- Increased heart rate
Therefore, enrolling in a professional addiction treatment can be safer, more comfortable, less embarrassing, and more proactive than trying to treat it alone. The first step in professional treatment is medical detoxification. Generally, a detox lasts between three and ten days. You’ll be monitored round-the-clock by an experienced medical staff who will safely and comfortably alleviate your withdrawal symptoms with approved medications.
If your drinking has resulted in wet brain, you’ll receive thiamin to immediately address the accompanying vitamin deficiency.
After you’ve completed detox, the next step involves ongoing care at a treatment facility. For alcohol addictions that are advanced enough to produce wet brain, residential treatment is recommended. In a residential program, you’ll receive treatment at the facility where you’ll temporarily live. This step will allow you to participate in a range of long-term programs, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Addiction education
- Relapse prevention
- Individual therapy sessions
- Group therapy
- Support groups
- Constant supervision from staff and peers
Furthermore, residential programs offer holistic therapies that address the particulars of WKS. The treatment of this condition requires education about proper nutrition and substance abuse.
The duration of a residential treatment program is typically 30 to 90 days. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends a 90-day stay to maximize the benefits.
The next step is outpatient, which allows you to continue counseling while attending to your other obligations. Ultimately, this counseling will allow you to uncover the root of your addiction, and it will equip you with the life skills you’ll need to achieve long-term sobriety.
After treatment, a caseworker can connect you to aftercare and 12-step programs that can help you avoid relapsing.