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Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is also known as ‘wet brain disease’ (WBD). WBD is strikingly similar to dementia. Like dementia, WBD is irreversible for the majority of sufferers, although the symptoms may be effectively managed. WBD is caused by long-term alcoholism. WBD is also caused by prolonged malnutrition.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is in reality two separate conditions. Wernicke encephalopathy describes the initial illness. This is when lower parts of the brain (the thalamus and hypothalamus) are damaged due to alcoholism.

Symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy are typically treated and many of the dementia-like symptoms will go away. This is typically when symptoms of Korsakoff psychosis arise. Korsakoff psychosis is a result of damage to regions of the brain that allow us to form new memories.

The science behind WBD / Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

WBD occurs because alcohol depletes the brain’s store of vitamin B1/ thiamine. This deficiency in thiamine/vitamin B1 causes acute brain damage. Vitamin B1/ thiamine allows the brain to synthesise energy from blood sugar.

Thiamine and vitamin B1 deficiency thus means the brain is incapable of producing enough energy required for normal functioning. WBD essentially affects suffers’ ability to create new memories.

Long term memory is generally left unaffected by WBD. It is largely unknown why alcohol consumption damages the body’s ability to produce thiamine.

Who is susceptible to WBD

Male alcoholics over the age of forty are at an increased risk of developing WBD, for reasons that are unknown. Both males and females with a long history of alcoholism may suffer from WBD, particularly if the addict is over the age of fifty-five.

Symptoms of WBD / Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Wernicke encephalopathy typically arises before the onset of Korsakoff psychosis. Wernicke encephalopathy symptoms include confusion, loss of muscle coordination, vision problems and loss of mental activity. Symptoms of Korsakoff psychosis include an inability to form new memories, making up stories and hallucinations.

Getting help

If you suffer from WBD then you are urged to seek out professional help as soon as possible. WBD is a progressive illness and life-threatening if not treated.

Many people suffering from WBD require twenty-four-hour care and support. Your NHS primary care trust may treat WBD by injecting thiamine into your body.

This will help your brain synthesis energy needed to complete simple everyday tasks. If you are male alcoholic and approaching the age of forty then we urge you to seek out help as soon as possible in order to prevent the onset of WBD.

Contact Rehab 4 Addiction today. We offer alcohol rehab clinics across the United Kingdom.

If help is sought out quickly, you may be fortunate enough to make a full recovery. Experts say around twenty-five per cent of people diagnosed with WBD go on to make a full recovery following alcohol treatment and vitamin B1 injections.

Around fifty percentage of WBD sufferers make a partial recovery from the illness. Many of these people will struggle to make new memories and ‘assisted living’ arrangements generally must be put in place.

Unfortunately, around twenty-five per cent of those diagnosed with WBD will require round-the-clock attention for their condition. Those suffering from Korsakoff psychosis are generally injected with vitamin B1.

This reduces some of their symptoms such as confusion, delirium, lack of muscle coordination and difficulties with eye movement. Vitamin B1 injections will not affect loss of memory. Sufferers of Korsakoff psychosis must also cease alcohol consumption.

This is an essential step for the prevention of further memory loss. Korsakoff psychosis sufferers must also receive a diet rich in vitamins and minerals.


Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.