In the world of alcohol addiction, there is a real threat of both short term and long term damage that comes along with drinking. Most people are familiar with the liver failure, the throat, stomach, and kidney cancers. However, most people are not aware of one of the most detrimental and potentially irreversible side effects of prolonged alcohol abuse; delirium tremens and wet brain.
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What is Delirium Tremens?
In the early stages of alcohol withdrawal, which are well known to be the most dangerous, there is a threat of developing delirium tremens. This occurs in heavy drinkers who:
- Abruptly stopped drinking after prolonged use
- Are not well nourished enough when they do stop drinking
- Are suffering from a head injury
- Are sick with an infection during the time that they stop drinking
Over time, the brain and body become very used to the suppression quality that alcohol has on the neurotransmitters in the brain. So much so, that when a chronic drinker suddenly stops their alcohol intake, their neurotransmitters can kick into overdrive as a result of the absence of the suppression, and this can send the brain and body into shock.
This is one of the most important reasons why people who are looking to get sober from an alcohol addiction are advised to seek medical attention. The symptoms of delirium tremens are:
- Agitation, excitability, confusion, anxiety, and fear
- Chest pain
- Delirium and Delusions (a “disturbed” state of mind and believing things that are untrue)
- Excessive sweating
- Eye and Muscle tremors
- Nausea, nightmares, sensitivity to light and sound
Delirium tremens most commonly take place between 48 to 72 hours after the last drink and are believed to peak at around 5 days. Leading up this point will be all of the physical withdrawal symptoms, followed by the hallucinations, then the seizures, and then a full-on state of delirium tremens if not treated properly.
Treatment for delirium tremens includes IV fluids for hydration and nourishment, anticonvulsant medications, sedatives for muscle spasms, antipsychotic medications to prevent hallucinations, medications to reduce any fever, which will hopefully be followed by an extended inpatient stay at a substance and alcohol abuse treatment center.
Early treatment can prevent serious long-term effects of delirium tremens, and with a rigorous treatment plan, individuals can recover from both the side effects of the DT’s, as well as from an alcohol use disorder.
What is Wet Brain?
In its most basic terms, wet brain is a form of brain damage that is the result of a vitamin B1, or thiamine deficiency. For people who engage in chronic, excessive alcohol use, the possibility of wet brain is much higher, as alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb thiamine into the system.
Contrary to popular belief, wet brain is not caused by a slow process of brain damage over time. Rather, according to studies that have been performed, it is a combination of two stages of brain damage, the first being reversible if caught and treated, the second, being irreversible and permanent.
This occurs because thiamine in the brain is what breaks down sugars into energy. When the levels fall too low, the brain cells go into a state of shock when they cannot produce enough energy to function properly.
The first stage of wet brain can actually be reversed. This stage is called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and is the state of the brain after a severe deficiency in thiamine. If treated immediately with thiamine injections, the effects can be reversed. The common indications of this stage are:
- Confusion and loss of mental activity
- Loss of muscle coordination causing leg tremors
- Vision changes: abnormal eye movement, double vision, eyelid drooping
- Stumbling, falling, passing out
If this stage of the brain damage is not treated immediately, it will progress into what is called Korsakoff’s psychosis, which can be somewhat alleviated through treatment but is considered to always have some permanent damage. Common symptoms are:
- Inability to form new memories
- Fabricating Stories and memories
While Wernicke’s encephalopathy is considered the be far more life-threatening in the present moment, as it can wreak havoc on the body, a long-term diagnosis of Korsakoff’s psychosis can present real, long-term challenges for the individual who suffers from it.
Can Wet Brain be Cured?
There are many treatment options available to those who believe to suffer from wet brain, and the sooner they are administered, the more effective they become. For example, if an individual is administered a dose of thiamine at the beginning or during the early stages of Wernicke’s, they have a highly probable chance of recovering. They will be advised to remain under medical care for around a week, while medical professionals can monitor their progress or lack thereof.
There are also studies that show that even for people who develop into the stage of Korsakoff’s psychosis, there can still be a chance for improvement and rehabilitation. Again, under the close monitoring of a medical team, treatment using thiamine injections and pills, along with other vitamins and psychoanalysis, there have been cases where a person has almost fully recovered.
Can Wet Brain Only Occur From Alcohol Use?
Although it is extremely rare, wet brain in both of its stages can actually occur from several other conditions, usually as a result of malnutrition. For example, cases have been discovered among patients with anorexia, late stages of AIDS, fasting, chronic infections, people who have undergone weight loss surgery, kidney dialysis, or cancer that has spread throughout the body.
Many people think that they can stop drinking on their own, however, the dangers that potentially face chronic alcoholics are high. It is much safer to seek professional help through medical detox or inpatient treatment.
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