Twenty-six episodes of ‘The A-Files’ air throughout Alcohol Awareness Month on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Alcohologist.com and AddictedMinds.com, among other web and social media sites. Episode N is on nutrition: You are what you eat, right? So what does that say about the notorious alcoholic diet? If we eat at all while practicing our craft, it is usually some fried, fat-laden, over-processed food to stave off the hangover or quickly satisfy a rumbling stomach.
Alcohol-related malnutrition is often reflected in body weight loss, mainly
muscle tissue. You’re not growing huge guns lifting 12 ounces at a time. Nutritional imbalance is often compounded in drinkers by the effect alcohol has on gastrointestinal function. These effects include increased transit times between when you eat or drink something and pass it as waste. Impaired salt and water absorption also play a role in malnutrition. (See related study)
Wet brain is a term used in treatment circles. We get it not because we’re alcoholic, but because of what alcohol does to B-vitamin absorption plus our notoriously lame diets. Malnourishment causes it, not alcoholism. Binge drinkers, people with the eating disorder bulimia and even women with severe morning sickness can get it too, again because the body is thiamine deficient. Wet brain is brain damage. It’s medical term is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a combination of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. A person with wet brain usually has trouble walking or poor coordination, memory loss or memories of things that never happened, hallucinations, vision changes.
Two things to know about wet brain. First, is that it has two stages. The Wernicke’s encephalopathy stage often is struck off by a surge of blood sugar in a vitamin-deficient brain. Alcohol doesn’t fry the brain or kill brain cells the way people commonly think, the B-1 protects the brain from glucose surges which gray matter doesn’t tolerate well. If the first stage isn’t immediately treated with thiamine injections, it cannot be reversed. If it goes untreated all together, the Korsakoff’s psychosis is the second stage. This is permanent brain damage. But people can relearn through rehab.
Only 20 percent of cases are diagnosed before death. For those who are diagnosed before the alcohol kills them, one in four cases require long-term care. Wet brain isn’t something that takes awhile to develop. It hits suddenly. There is no warning. Let the drinking serve as the warning.