This picture is the functional MRI scan of someone with diencephalic amnesia in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS, also known as ‘wet brain’) with a normal brain on the left and the diseased one on the right. It is a manifestation of thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency, a spectrum of disorders which also encompasses beriberi, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and Korsakoff’s psychosis. WKS is usually secondary to alcohol abuse. It mainly causes vision changes, ataxia and impaired memory, such as diencephalic anmesia (source).
It is taken from a new report, Alcohol and brain damage in adults – With reference to high-risk groups by the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Association of British Neurologists which calls for clinical commissioning groups to support services that provide specialist care for patients with alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD).
Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) is an umbrella term that accommodates the various psychoneurological/cognitive conditions that are associated with long-term alcohol misuse and related vitamin deficiencies. ARBD tends to affect people in their 40s and 50s, with females presenting a decade younger than males. At one extreme is the classical presentation of Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (see images above) and at the ‘milder’ or less obvious extreme are the more frequent but subtle frontal lobe dysfunctions.
The report highlights how alcohol abuse can cause changes to people’s brain function and intellect, even though many will not be aware of it and you can access the full report here.
As unpleasant as it is to discuss, alcohol does cause brain damage and we have to acknowledge this fact. Assisted withdrawal within the report is recommended for those who ‘typically consume over 15 units a day and/or who score 20 or more on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test’ (Audit, Babor et al, 1992).
If you are reading this and considering stopping and are consuming over 15 units a day I would strongly recommend seeking medical advice to make sure that you are safe to do so.
71 days to go
Edited to add: August 2016