Korsakoff Syndrome
And Alcoholism

Korsakoff syndrome is a brain disorder that is caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency. Another name for vitamin B1 is thiamine. When the brain does not get enough thiamine, the hippocampus begins to decay and develop holes that cause an individual to lose his short-term memory.

signs & symptoms

  • There are a number of symptoms for this disease, but probably the most common is amnesia. The sufferer experiences severe memory loss.
  • They may also appear indifferent to the goings-on around them and not be able to contribute much to conversations.
  • They experience apathy to other’s problems and lose interest in things quickly.
  • They may even invent imaginary events to fill in gaps in their memory loss during a blackout.

While most of the signs of this disease are mental, there are a few physical symptoms as well.

  • Paralysis of the muscles that control the eyes and body tremors are the most common.
  • The sufferer may also fall into a coma in a most extreme case.


Alcoholism and severe malnutrition are the primary causes of the vitamin B1 (or thiamine) deficiency that can result in Korsakoff syndrome.

There are a small number of exceptions, however, the cause of nearly all cases this disease is alcoholism.

The cause of the syndrome in alcoholics is not a nutrition problem. It is their body’s inability to absorb thiamine into their intestines. So, you can eat a healthy diet and still get Korsakoff’s with too much constant alcohol intake.

Even if thiamine is added to certain alcohols, Korsakoff dementia can still occur over time. However, most alcoholics substitute nutritional calories with the high calories in alcohol. As a result, they develop serious vitamin deficiencies in the body.

Consuming alcohol actually increases the body’s need for vitamin B but yet it won’t allow the body to digest and store this vitamin.


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Treatment of the disease often involves replacing thiamine into the blood stream by use of an intravenous therapy (IV). When you add proper nutrition and hydration, recovery may happen gradually over a 2 year period, depending on the severity of the case.

Of course any recovery will require total abstinence from alcohol.

What is the prognosis?

It has been estimated that about a quarter of those affected make a very good recovery. About half make a partial recovery and need support to manage their lives. A further quarter make no recovery, and may need long-term care.

If the person continues to drink heavily and has poor nutrition, the syndrome is likely to continue to progress.


The most obvious way of preventing the disease is identifying alcoholism early on and treating the addiction immediately. Maintaining a balanced diet is important as well.

‘Korsakoff Syndrome’ is a serious problem from which many never recover. Unfortunately, the sufferer usually doesn’t even realize that anything is wrong and has no desire to get help. This is where his family and friends need to step in and help him when he cannot help himself.

In the last couple of years of my drinking career, developing Korsakoff’s syndrome was my biggest fear. I knew my liver and pancreas were damaged; along with many other organs, yet it was slipping further into mental decline that haunted my more lucid moments.

I have seen many people suffering from various stages of ‘wet brain’ and it isn’t pleasant to witness. If you suspect someone you know is at risk, please take action and inform them of the risks.

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