Alexithymia and problematic alcohol use: A critical update
School of Psychology and Social Science
There has been a substantial growth in empirical research aimed at examining the co-occurrence of alexithymia and problematic alcohol use and alcohol use disorder (AUD) since Thorberg, Young, Sullivan, and Lyvers (2009) original review article. The objective of the present paper is therefore to provide a critical update review of research on alexithymia and problematic alcohol use published since 2009. A systematic search was conducted through PsychINFO, Medline, and ProQuest databases to obtain relevant literature published between 2009 and 2016. Studies that involved measures of alexithymia and problematic alcohol use among clinical and non-clinical samples were included. Prevalence rates of alexithymia among Alcohol Dependent (AD) samples were identified between 30 and 49%, and were therefore much lower than originally reported. The findings of this update review highlight an indirect relationship between alexithymia and alcohol problem severity that is mediated by a number of psychological drinking constructs (e.g., alcohol expectancy, drinking motives, craving and alcohol related intrusive thoughts) and psychological risk factors for the development of alcohol related problems (e.g., mood and emotion dysregulation, attachment, trauma, and cognitive function). In addition, this review provides reasonable evidence to support alexithymia as an independent risk factor for alcohol related problems among clinical samples only. In conclusion, alexithymia is a multifaceted construct that has a complex relationship with various risk factors and psychological drinking constructs. The growing body of research highlights the demand for understanding the interrelationships between alexithymia, psychosocial risk factors, and problematic alcohol use in order to tailor and target therapeutic interventions.