Symptoms of Alcoholism Mask True Diagnosis: Korsakoff Syndrome

How a correct diagnosis can help regenerate brain cells in the treatment of addiction:

The effects of alcoholism are many and varied, but sometimes what we think of as common symptoms of alcohol addiction are actually the results of other underlying physical or mental illnesses or disorders. One such disorder often co-emergent with alcoholism is Korsakoff Syndrome. Named after the brilliant Russian neuropsychologist Sergei Korsakoff, who discovered it during his studies of alcoholism in the late 19th century, this mysterious neurological affliction exhibits many of the same indicators as the advanced stages of alcohol addiction, such amnesia, blackouts, and the confabulation of events. Too often, these symptoms are simply dismissed as the result of brain damage caused by chemical dependency, and are never properly treated.

Korsakoff Syndrome is not directly caused by alcohol’s chemical effects on the body, but rather occurs as a result of malnutrition, often a concurrent condition in alcoholics. Specifically, Korsakoff Syndrome is caused by a lack of thiamine, a vital nutrient otherwise known as vitamin B1. Thiamine helps the brain convert blood sugar into energy, allowing it to make new neural connections that form memories. A chronic deficiency of thiamine is thought to cause damage to parts of the brain’s limbic system, which is involved in the creation of memory and the control of emotions.

Fortunately, much of this damage may be reversed in patients if they are properly diagnosed and receive thiamine supplements and good nutrition during rehabilitation. It is exactly this kind of underlying disorder that the Crosby Clinic seek to identify by treating the whole patient, not just their addictive behavior. Their non-12-step recovery programs include individualized treatment plans for the particular needs of each patient; rapid medical detox from chemical dependency; accurate diagnoses of underlying and concurrent conditions, and a multi-disciplinary approach using cognitive, behavioral and medical therapies. This “holistic” approach can make the recovery experience easier and more rewarding for the patient, encouraging their long-term success in freeing themselves from their addiction.