How do self-assessment of alexithymia and sensitivity to bodily sensations relate to alcohol consumption?

Betka, Sophie, Pfeifer, Gaby, Garfinkel, Sarah, Prins, Hielke, Bond, Rod, Sequeira, Henrique, Duka, Dora and Critchley, Hugo (2017) How do self-assessment of alexithymia and sensitivity to bodily sensations relate to alcohol consumption? Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research Online, 42 (1). pp. 81-88. ISSN 1530-0277

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Abstract

Background
Alexithymia describes an abnormality of emotional experience that is commonly expressed among individuals with addiction and alcohol abuse disorders. Alexithymic individuals are characterized by difficulties in identifying and describing their emotions. This impairment is linked to the development and maintenance of addiction. Moreover, an emergent theory suggests alexithymia is itself secondary to a failure of interoception (sensitivity to internal bodily signals, including physiological arousal states).

Methods
The present study tested for hypothesized contributory roles of alexithymia and dysfunctional interoception in the expression of binge drinking. Alexithymia, subjective sensitivity to bodily sensations, and alcohol consumption scores were quantified using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale, the Body Perception Questionnaire and the Alcohol Use Questionnaire respectively, in a normative sample (N=600). Regression and bootstrapping mediation analyses were used to test the hypothesis that alexithymia mediated the association between sensitivity to bodily sensations and alcohol consumption.

Results
Alexithymia was positively correlated with sensitivity to bodily sensations and with alcohol consumption. Mediation analysis revealed that alexithymia, and more precisely, difficulty in identifying feelings, mediated the relationship between sensitivity to bodily sensations and alcohol consumption, such that the predictive effect of sensitivity to bodily sensations on alcohol intake became non-significant when controlling for alexithymia.

Conclusions
These results indicate that alexithymia is associated with subjective hypersensitivity to bodily sensations. Moreover, our findings support the theoretical proposal that alexithymia is an expression of impaired processing of bodily sensations including physiological arousal, which underpin the development of maladaptive coping strategies, including alcohol use disorders. Our observations extend a growing literature emphasizing the importance of interoception and alexithymia in addiction, which can inform the development of new therapeutic strategies.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Addiction, Alcohol Consumption, Alexithymia, Interoception, Bodily Sensations
Schools and Departments: Brighton and Sussex Medical School > Neuroscience
School of Psychology > Psychology
Research Centres and Groups: Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science
Depositing User: Alexei Fisk
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2017 13:47
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2018 11:57
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/71263

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