Alexithymia and alcohol use disorders: A critical review

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Journal Article

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Interim status: Citation only.

Thorberg, F. A., Young, R. M., Sullivan, K. A., & Lyvers, M. (2009). Alexithymia and alcohol use disorders: A critical review. Addictive behaviors, 34(3), 237-245.

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2009 HERDC submission. FoR code: 1701

© Copyright 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


All human beings experience emotion. However a number of individuals have difficulties recognising, processing and regulating their emotions. This set of emotional “deficits’ is classified as alexithymia. The prevalence rate of alexithymia in alcohol use disorders is between 45 and 67%. The objective of this paper is to review the published research on alexithymia and alcohol use, assess the methodological quality of this evidence, and draw the findings together to present a critical update on the relationship between alexithymia and alcohol use disorders. Yet, few research studies have comprehensively investigated alexithymia in alcohol use disorders, and a number of key issues still remain to be addressed in exploring the veracity of the link between alexithymia and alcohol use. For example, limited evidence exists regarding the association between alexithymia, alcohol consumption and severity of alcohol dependence. Furthermore, there is no current knowledge about the predictive utility of alexithymia in relation to more well researched and established psychological drinking constructs. Although alexithymia is often considered a risk factor for the development of alcohol use disorders, there is little evidence to support this notion. Given that alexithymia may have the potential to interfere with treatment outcomes, a better understanding of the role of alexithymia in alcohol use is needed.

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This document has been peer reviewed.