Alexithymia in relation to parental alcoholism, everyday frontal lobe functioning and alcohol consumption in a non-clinical sample
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Background: Recent studies have indicated that 45–67% of those in treatment for alcohol use disorders suffer from alexithymia, a multifaceted personality trait characterized by difficulties identifying and describing emotions and an externally oriented cognitive style. The high reported prevalence rates of alexithymia among those with alcohol dependence led to speculation that alexithymia is a personality dimension that may predispose to risky or problematic alcohol use.
Methods: This notion was examined in 314 adult volunteers (54% female) aged 18–45 years (M=27.6 years), all of whom reported at least occasional alcohol consumption,who completed online surveys assessing alexithymia (Toronto Alexithymia Scale, or TAS-20), parental alcoholism(Children of Alcoholics Screening Test, or CAST), everyday signs of frontal lobe dysfunction (Frontal Systems Behavior Scale, or FrSBe) and risky alcohol use (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, or AUDIT).
Results: TAS-20 scores were positively correlated with the index of parental alcoholism CAST, index of frontal lobe dysfunction FrSBe and measure of alcohol-related problems AUDIT. Chi-square test showed an association between TAS-20-defined alexithymia and being the offspring of an alcoholic parent as defined by CAST. Regression analysis showed that frontal lobe dysfunction (FrSBe) mediated the relationship between alexithymia (TAS-20 total score) and risky alcohol use (AUDIT).
Conclusions: The findings suggest that alexithymia is related to deficiencies in frontal lobe functioning that may reflect a heritable predisposition to alcohol problems.
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