Heavy drinking sustained over a long time period can cause a deficiency in Thiamine, or Vitamin B1, in the body. If this deficiency is not reversed or halted it can progress into Korsakoffs’ syndrome.
The lack of thiamine in the system occurs due to a combination of poor dietary habits and an inflammation of the stomach lining characteristic to alcohol abuse.
The main indicator of Korsakoffs’ syndrome is memory loss or memory alteration. Events after the onset of the disease may not be remembered at all and long term memories distorted. The ensuing confusion makes learning new skills very difficult and retention of information low.
Characteristic of Korsakoffs’ syndrome is a distinct lack of insight into the disease itself. Rather than worry about the rapidly worsening symptoms, sufferers often do not realise that they have a condition at all. This state of involuntary denial often couples with a tendency to confabulate, or unwittingly lie to fill the gaping holes in the memory. For instance; a sufferer of Korsakoffs’ may confidently describe a recent sailing trip, whilst they have been in supervised care the entire time. These confabulations often reflect actual events, as opposed to being delusions, so Korsakoffs’ is often referred to as a delusory affliction. This is not the case however and Korsakoffs’ does not respond to anti-psychotic drugs.
Usually affecting men between 45 and 65 years old, Korsakoffs’ has a very gradual onset and can be effectively treated with abstinence from alcohol, improved diet and medication. The precursor to Korsakoffs’, Wernickes’ encephalopathy has a rapid onset characterised by a loss of motor skills and either jerky movements or paralysis of the muscles surrounding the eye. This too can be treated effectively if diagnosed early.
Recovery rates from Korsakoffs’ depend on quick diagnosis. 25% of sufferers recover well, the following 25% recover well but take very much longer to do so. The other 50% either make no recovery at all or deteriorate further, though this is usually due to a refusal to abstain from alcohol and improve their diet