A family history of alcoholism relates to alexithymia in substance use disorder patients

Hein A. de Haan, Evelien A.G. Joosten, Lydia de Haan, Arnt F.A. Schellekens, Jan K. Buitelaar, Job van der Palen, Cor A.J. de Jong

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Objectives Previous research identified alexithymia as a potential risk factor for substance use disorders (SUD). More insight into the relation between alexithymia and SUD is needed in order to treat SUD effectively. Therefore, we investigated whether a familial vulnerability to alcoholism relates to the presence and severity of alexithymia in SUD patients. Method Hospitalized, abstinent SUD-patients (n = 187), were assessed with the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and Addiction Severity Index (EuropASI). A maternal, paternal, and total continuous measure of the Family History of Alcohol (FHA) was developed. Kruskal-Wallis tests and Spearman correlations were used to relate the composite scores of FHA to alexithymia as a categorical and continuous measure. Multivariate regression models were performed to control for the effects of confounders on the relation between FHA and alexithymia. Results Compared to moderate (33%) and low (17%) alexithymic SUD-patients, high alexithymic (50%) patients were more likely to have fathers with alcohol problems (P = 0.004). Such a difference was not found for mothers with alcohol problems. The composite FHA-score was significantly associated with alexithymia (Rs = .19, P = 0.01). However, only a paternal FHA, independent from disturbed family functioning, related to the degree of alexithymia (β = .13, P = 0.06), especially to the Difficulty Identifying Feelings as measured by the TAS-20 (β = .16, P = 0.02). Conclusions The relation between a paternal FHA and a higher degree of alexithymia in SUD-patients suggests that alexithymia could mediate the familiality of alcoholism or SUD in the paternal line
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)911-917
JournalComprehensive psychiatry
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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